Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Love and the New York Giants: It happens when you least expect it
"It always happens when you least expect it."
Now that is a load of horseshit if I ever heard it. I've spent all but three years of my post-pubescent life not particularly trying in the dating world and the vast majority of that was all spent single. So clearly, not expecting it hasn't really been the elixir. In all of my life the only area in which not expecting anything has truly paid off has been with the first, most dearest thing I ever truly fell in love with: The New York Football Giants.
I was a wide-eyed optimist when I first was cast under the spell of Big Blue in the early 1990s. After all, the Giants were just a few seasons removed from their last Super Bowl title, an upset of the high-powered Buffalo Bills in 1990 that is unfortunately far more widely remembered for Scott Norwood's miss of a far more difficult than remembered game-winning field goal as time expired than it is for Bill Parcells' brilliant ball-control game plan -- the Giants had more than 40 minutes of possession -- or Mark Ingram's insane, twisting extension that earned a crucial New York first down. The first season I truly got invested in the NFL, the Giants battled with Dallas for the top seed in the NFC before the Cowboys, and Emmitt Smith, literally ran away with it in overtime in the final game of the season in 1994 -- on a separated shoulder no less.
Surely, I thought, it wouldn't be long before the Giants climbed to the top again though. And that's when the years of frustration set in, starting right with the nationally televised Monday Night Opener in 1995 in which the Giants got drubbed by the 'Boys on their home turf 35-0. For most of my life that had been the way for the Giants, a constant disappointment as I desperately searched for success in my football team. A few exciting seasons came and went, division titles in 1997, 2000 and 2005 and a Super Bowl berth in 2000 among them. But the frustrating, head-shaking losses came, too.
stunning loss to Minnesota in the 1997 playoffs, an embarrassing Super Bowl defeat to the Baltimore Ravens, an almost incomprehensibly absurd blown 24-point lead in the 2002 playoffs to the 49ers in a game that featured botched field goals and botched officiating aplenty, an embarrassing playoff loss to Carolina in 2005, Vince Young's coming out party in 2006 in which the Giants blew a 21-0 lead with 10 minutes to play and the entirety of the 2006 season in which the Giants were poised to enter the second half of their showdown for first place in the NFC with the Bears up 10-0 before a converted draw on 3rd and 22 for Chicago upended the game and Devin Hester slow-played a short field-goal return for a touchdown. All of this would send New York into a disastrous 2-6 spiral to end the season before it was mercifully put to an end on a last-second field goal by Philadelphia in the opening round of the postseason, which also had many questioning Tom Coughlin's job security as well as the state of the franchise.
Just to be clear, I didn't look any of those up. It was all immediate recall.
Losses like those and the disappointment they bred were all etched in the brains of Giants fans from my generation, people who had heard of the greatness of Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms in his prime or the superstar status of Frank Gifford and Sam Huff when they drank up at Toots Shor's in the 1950s, but who had no comparable success to call their own and only dashed hopes along the way. By the time 2007 came around, most Giants fans, including one contributor to this site in particular, had assumed the team was a lost cause, Eli Manning was a bust and another fallow period like the dark hole of the 1970s was about to set in.
And then something funny happened when we least expected it.
running through the heavily favored Cowboys and stunning the Packers in brutal sub-zero temperatures in the NFC Championship Game, but defeating, arguably, the greatest team the NFL ever saw in shocking fashion in the Super Bowl. In no uncertain terms, Super Bowl XLII, unquestioned as the greatest moment in the history of the franchise completely changed the calculus of what it meant to be a Giants fan. The next few seasons had their share of disappointments, like a frustrating collapse late in 2008 due in part, of all things, to Plaxico Burress accidentally shooting himself in the leg, and similar collapses in 2009 and 2010 that caused the Giants to miss the postseason after looking like sure bets to be there.
But despite those frustrations that was ok because we had finally found love when we least expected it in February of 2008 in Arizona. After all, despite the frustrations that followed that championship, we had reached the pinnacle, and as Alfred, Lord Tennyson had once made clear, we couldn't ask for more than that in this lifetime, could we? As the lot of us who wear blue on Sundays appeared prepared to settle in for another potentially prolonged stretch of irrelevance, in particular that same part-time Mambino contributor, the Giants somehow did it again.
New York was one overthrown pass to Laurent Robinson away from spending a third straight January at home before Jason Pierre-Paul played the game of his life and the team reeled off three wins in its last four games to steal a division title from the Cowboys and set off on another miracle postseason run, which included a shocking upset at 15-1 Green Bay, an absolutely gut-twisting overtime win at San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game and yet another wild Super Bowl win against the favored New England Patriots. All of this in a season that started with them embarrassingly faking injuries to win games.
After unexpectedly finding love once again this past February in Indianapolis, we, as Giants fans, don't entirely know what to expect. The facts, however, are the facts. For the second time in five years the Giants are opening the season as defending champions. They have a quarterback with two fourth-quarter Super Bowl-winning rallies to his credit and eight comeback wins last season alone, unquestionably placing him among the NFL's elite, which was laughable to most a year ago. New York has one of the League's top wide receiver tandems in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, an electric running back in Ahmad Bradshaw, who will finally be the designated no. 1 runner this season, and a defensive line that just might include three of the top five defensive ends in the league in Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
There are, of course, weaknesses, too. The offensive line is a unit in transition, the linebackers are relatively weak compared to the team's other units and the secondary is beaten up with injury before the season starts, but even with those issues there is a quiet, uncomfortable confidence with this team if you are a Giants fan. That is a mindset that was unthinkable five years ago, and a mindset that despite how rightful it might be, still leaves most of us uneasy, like someone who has finally found their beloved but constantly worries they'll realize someone better is out there.
Being a Giants fan is a wonderful, prideful thing, but that pride is utterly tenuous.
As a Giants fan who is cautiously optimistic at the start of the franchise's 87th season in just a few hours, that is the thought running through your head. Make no mistake, however. Even if being a Giants fan is fraught with uncertainty, it is uncertainty of the positive kind, unlike the other kinds of anxiety that I've alluded to before. Tonight, yet another faceoff with Dallas will start another unpredictable, but almost certainly to be tumultuous season, where we have, really, no idea at all of what to expect. Apparently, all Giants fans can really tell themselves with any certainty is that if we stop expecting love, maybe, once again, we'll find it in February in New Orleans.