MY TORTURED RELATIONSHIP WITH THE NEW YORK GIANTS
"One of the few aphorisms I have committed to memory is
a Nick Hornby line from “Fever Pitch”: “The natural state of the football fan is
bitter disappointment, no matter what the score.” Hornby is talking about
soccer, not American football, but the idea translates well. I am a lifelong
football miserabilist, and more specifically a New York Giants miserabilist.
Now, you might find it preposterous that anyone could
be made miserable by a team that has won two of the last five Super Bowls. But
the roots of my Giants miserabilism run deep. My father, otherwise an uncommonly
cheerful man, approached Giants fandom as a Viennese-style exercise in high
neurosis. I inherited this perverse trait from him. Whether it was in the
stadium or at home, he and I watched every game in a sustained state of anxiety,
forever envisioning worst-case scenarios.
It helped that the Giants were adept at realizing such
scenarios, being a losing team for all but two years of the ’70s. The lowlight
of my childhood came against the Philadelphia Eagles in 1978, when the Giants’
quarterback, Joe Pisarcik — who needed only to take a knee to preserve a victory
— was ordered to hand off the ball to the running back Larry Csonka. It’s well
documented that the handoff was botched and that the Eagles’ Herman Edwards
scooped up the fumble and ran it in for the game-winning touchdown. Less well
known is that my father, watching this scene unfold on TV, dove over the coffee
table and onto our living-room carpet in a futile attempt to recover the ball.
Our miserabilism was clearly a hedge against
heartbreak, but even when the Giants started winning in the Bill Parcells years,
it didn’t abate. The Super Bowl victories of ’87 and ’91? We greeted them more
with relief than with exultation.
In 2007, my father told me that he no longer felt up
to attending games at the stadium; at 76, he had become too hobbled to endure
the stairs and the crowds. The first Sunday of that season was like one of those
time-jump edits in movies — as if a P.O.V. camera, fixed on a 2006 view of my
dad to my right, swung forward to regard the field and then swung back to my
right to reveal . . . my new companion, my 8-year-old son. I felt a needly
sensation in my sinuses — the beginnings of tears. But I held them in. I was a
miserabilist, not a sentimentalist.
The Giants made an improbable run in the playoffs that
season, advancing to the Super Bowl with an overtime road victory over the Green
Bay Packers, an outcome my father and I discussed with wonderment over the
phone. But in the week before Super Bowl XLII, Dad fell gravely ill with
pneumonia and was hospitalized. One of the last things he said to me, mustering
all his strength simply to lift the oxygen mask from his face, was, “The Giants
are gonna win!” — a curiously unmiserabilist sentiment.
My father died that Saturday night, the eve of the big
game. The funeral was scheduled for Monday. In my grief, I didn’t want to spend
Super Bowl Sunday watching the undefeated New England Patriots dismantle my
Giants. But my wise wife insisted that my son and I turn on the game. A game
that the Giants, absurdly, won.
The miserabilist take on this sequence of events is
that it was just like the Giants: the team just had to pull off its
greatest-ever win a day too late for my dad and me to enjoy it together. But I
prefer to think of what happened as sweetly apt. My memories of that victory
will always be tempered by thoughts of my father’s death, and my sadness over my
father’s death will always be mitigated by the euphoria — yes, euphoria —
produced by that victory.
You’d think that this year’s Super Bowl victory, so
eerily similar to the last, would make me question the very foundations of my
miserabilism. Yet two Sundays ago, my son, now 12, took turns with me lamenting,
“That’s it, ballgame over!” every time the Patriots’ Tom Brady completed a pass
downfield. We just can’t help ourselves; the 2.0 iteration of father-son
miserabilism in our family is arguably more ridiculous than the original.
But when Brady’s final throw fell incomplete at Rob
Gronkowski’s ankles in the end zone, my son leapt into my arms, both of us
wailing primally — our emotions a whirl of joy, disbelief and remembrance of our
absent patriarch. Miserabilism is a volatile compound. But a part of it is, I