This was probably one of the longest, yet best weekends of my life. It started early Saturday morning. I was playing high school basketball at the time. Pete and Frank had been to the divisional game the weekend before as we had 2 tickets for each playoff game. My Dad and I had the NFC Championship game. As most of you know, I am a Vikings fan first and foremost. But whenever I get a chance to go see Big Blue I take it and enjoy it immensely. It alleviates the frustration of being a Vikings fan. But I digress.
So, I have a game Saturday afternoon in Cumberland, Maryland. For those who don't know the logistics, Cumberland is the land of flannel and mullets. Dental hygiene is worse than in a British taffy factory. The wind through the mountains sound oddly like banjos and you can hear a sound like Ned Beatty squealing at every turn. Scary place. The distance was like 1 more left turn and you are in Sasketchewan. Well, the only way for me to get to go to the Giants game was for my Pop to follow the team bus in his Chevy Spectrum and pray he doesn't get stuck in the snow. A Spectrum is not exactly a high performance vehicle. So, we go to my game, we lose.
Now, to this point there has already been 4 hours of driving just to get to Cumberland. Cumberland is West... New Jersey is East. After the game, we hop in the car and have to drive 8 hours roughly to my grandmother's through bad weather and some snow and ice. Not all of you who read this will know how my father drives or have seen the movie The Big Bus. My father drives like a character in the movie called "Shoulders" because he can't resist driving on the shoulders. It is harrowing to say the least and occasionally heart stoppingly terrifying. Also, no comments can be made as to the ability of my father to drive. He could be a tad terse if it were mentioned. So, 8 hours of fairly tense silence unless you count the movement of my lips in prayer as a sound.
We get to New Jersey at about 1am. My father and I were exhausted and a little bitter. We smelled like a herd of yak and looked like the floor of a cab. If you remember Grandma's apartment you know that the ceiling was measured to exactly 1/4" more than my height. That didn't matter to Grandma because she was 2 foot 6. But for me, I never took off a shirt in that place and came away uninjured. And the fold out couch was just glorious. I still have a welt in my back from the bar across the middle of that damn mattress. So, between the drive, the tension, the mattress and the Marchesani snoring symphony I was about as uncomfortable as a Klansmen at an Obama rally.
So, we wake up the next day, we hang out with Grandma and George and the wonderful, but more than slightly odd crazy cat lady Kathy who lived across the street from Grandma. At 16 one of the worst places you can be is hanging with your Grandma, bizarro uncle, crazy cat lady and your father. That ranks up there with sitting next to Sister Karen on a long road trip on the team bus for basketball. (Been there too)
Ultimately, Pop and I pack up some serious dagwood sandwiches we made from cold cuts from Schiavicchio Bros. deli and a few drinks and head to Giants Stadium. Now we must discuss the weather...
Ok, in Cumberland, MD we drove through some snow and some cold. It was January in the mountains, no big shock there. When we go out to the car to drive to the stadium the next morning it was cold. About 18 degrees. But in Union City there wasn't a lot of wind. So, we head out listening to the Giants pre-game and feeling the anticipation build. We are passing cars of bare chested morons with face paint screaming like little girls, but for once I didn't think they were idiots. The Giants had gone a LONG time without winning much at all, let alone a championship, and an opportunity like this can bring out the crazies. Besides, I was wrapped up in so many layers that I could have taken a bullet and it never would have reached my skin so the barechestedness just made me feel cold. Pop was equally Michelinized. He had on his Army coat and his Army scarf as always. And those butt ass ugly yellowish insulated pants. What was the deal with those... better than the ZuBaz he wore though... But I digress again.
We get to the stadium about an hour and a half before gametime and park near the Brendan Byrne Arena as usual. The sky is thick with clouds and the wind is just whipping us like we stole from the poor box in church. It is so loud that we can't even talk to each other and every time we smile or open our mouths it feels like someone has put ice cubes on the nerves in our teeth. We walk to the stadium occasionally screaming something along with the other rabid fans.
We get inside and walk down to our seats and the place is packed and louder than a Metallica concert. The wind is howling and I am watching the Resdskins warm up and the ball is doing U-turns on every pass and punt and no one can catch a thing. As we sit in our seats we look and see the opposite tunnel is lit because they have the outside doors open. Dad looks at me and says, "home field advantage" and smiles.
All of his old cronies are there. Vinnie, Gene, John, and the crew that are on all sides. I feel oddly out of place. Like I haven't paid my dues to be there for this. I watch them all shift 20 years younger as they smile and scream and hug each other. It was amazing to behold and something that I will never get to experience. It was then that I realized that I don't have any friends from when I was much younger that I could share something like that with. I had more than a touch of envy. At the same time, it was awesome to behold.
So many things have happened since that day that changed us, but on that day, we were happy and young and there was nothing but optimism.
The game starts and the crowd is going absolutely nuts. Harry Carson was the lone captain during the coin flip while there were like 37 Redskins up there. The announcer says the temperature with wind chill was negative 18 degrees. There is paper swirling around the stadium like $100 bills in one of those cash wind tunnels on a game show. Not a person I saw felt cold or uncomfortable. We all just stayed completely engorssed in the experience and the feeling of raw electricty in the air. I don't remember a single person sharing any doubts.
The Giants elected to kick and the Skins on their first posession sent Gary Clark down the sideline away from us and he was wide open. A perfect pass by Schroeder right in his hands and they have a touchdown and steal the momentum from us and it becomes cold and windy again. But not today. For some reason, he just misses it. Right through his hands. Maybe it was the wind gusting changing the ball flight, maybe he lost concentration, maybe it was the hand of God that said, "This team has been through enough and it is there time." All I know is that he dropped it. And I was reminded that a week earlier Jerry Rice is running free and open and that same hand pokes the ball out and the Giants recover and steamroll the 49ers and Joe Montana along with them. It just felt meant to be and we were all witness to what was already predetermined to happen. I really don't remember much about that game after that. The Giants won fairly easily as the Skins never scored. Everyone screamed and had fun and was just on such a high it was amazing. The trash was swirling and growing and the noise in the crowd building. It is all a blur in my head. They won and Pop celebrated with his friends and I celebrated with them and the stadium didn't begin to empty for a good 40 minutes afterwards. As cold as it was... nobody cared.
We walked back to our car and on the way home we ate at Mom's in Edison. That was the only time I remember eating there with Pop alone. Our hair was like a rat's nest and our faces were windburend and our chapped lips burned with every drop of tomato sauce we ate. It was a damn fine meal.
17 hours in a car and 650 miles: $70
Finding out what it is like to see what your father was like as a kid: Priceless
When people ask me why I am such a sports fan and why I spend money and invest time in it, I think back to this game and my father and pure sublime joy and I smile. I know they won't understand and I know I can't explain it to them.