Saturday, December 27, 2008

Dad's Last Games

It was January of 2001. The Giants just finished the 2000 NFL season as the number one seed with home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This was only the second time the Giants accomplished this feat in the Super Bowl era. The last time was the historic Super Bowl XXI Championship team of 1986. I was a sophomore in college in 1986 and was half the Giants fan I was in 2000. It's amazing how much more you get into the games when you are paying for the tickets!

The season had promise in the beginning, but doubt crept in after two losses dropped the team to 7-4. The media was having a field day in New York, as they always love to poor gasoline on any fire. Jim Fassel, the Head Coach, issued a provocative guarantee that the Giants would make the playoffs. The team responded with 5 straight wins and the #1 seed for the NFC.

I had been to several playoffs games in the past, but never two in the same post season. In 1986, my father kept only two tickets for each playoff game (still not sure how that happened???). My brother Pete and I went to the game against the 49ers, while Steve and Dad went to the Championship Game against the Redskins (see Steve's Blog entry for details on that experience). In January 2001, the four of us shared the experience of both the divisional game against the Eagles and the Championship Game against Minnesota. It would turn out to be the last two games our Father would ever attend.

The Philly game was amazing. I have never experienced such energy in a crowd of people. I am certain a large contributor to the energy was fueled by the intense rivalry between the Giants and Eagles. There are many Giants fans that consider a successful season when the Giants beat the Eagles twice, no matter what happens in the other 14 games. On this day, January 7, 2001, the stadium nearly crumbled to the ground from the thunderous cheering that started with the first play. This was a game that was over as soon as it started. The Giants won the coin toss and elected to receive. The opening kick-off was fielded by Ron Dixon on the 3-yard line. With a burst of speed, a few key blocks and some sweet moves, Dixon was rumbling in open field right toward us in the end zone. I have never experienced anything in live sports as exhilarating, before or since. After that start, the Eagles did not stand a chance. The other highlight of the game was the most spectacular athletic play I've ever witnessed in any sport. Jason Sehorn made a lunging interception, did a quick somersault, regained his feet and ran 32 yards for a touchdown. The final score was 20-10, but the game was never close.

I don't recall much from a personal side in that game. Maybe it is because I remember far more from the next game.

The following week, January 14, the Giants played the Minnesota Vikings for the right to go to Super Bowl XXXV. This was a rooting dilemma for my brother Steve, as he is a Vikings fan before a Giants fan. I am sure he will comment on this with his own Blog entry. The game was an absolute blowout, 41-0. In some ways, I think this made it easier for Steve. No tension when your team is getting it's ass kicked!

On the personal side, I recall a couple of interactions and occurrences from the day. It started out with a pre-game tailgate with my college buddies, Kevin, Tim and Rich. Kevin is as devoted a Giants fan as I have ever known. There is no one on this earth (since Dad past) that I can talk Giants with in more detail and perspective than Kevin (sorry Pete and Steve). Tim is a Giants fan convert from Baltimore who turned to the dark side when the Ravens came to town. Rich is a Jets season ticket holder. Enough said. My friends have always enjoyed coming to Giants games with me, my Dad and my brothers. From early on, Tim always took an interest in my Father's perspective on the team and players. They would talk in detail about draft picks and free agents. Before the Ravens, Tim was a season ticket holder for the Giants during a season when we had an extra seat. During the pre-game conversation on this day, I proclaimed to my father that he should have no worries for this game. I explained that I believed Kerry Collins would have the game of his life because of the porous Vikings secondary. I even labeled the game as "Mr. Collin's Opus", in an attempt to be clever. Dad always enjoyed the perspective of his sons, especially when they worked in the title of one of his favorite movies. By the way, Collins threw for 381 yards and 5 touchdowns. Sometimes, I get it right!

As I stated, the game was a blowout. With a 34-0 lead at halftime, I told my Dad I was going to visit my friends. They told me their section, which I recall as somewhere in the 300's, two levels above our seats in the opposite corner of the end zone. I made my way to the upper level, someplace I had never visited before this day. You rarely spend your time in the nose bleeds when your seats are three rows off the field!

When I reached the section, I had trouble finding my friends. As I searched, I noticed something odd in one of the seats. There was a gorgeous bouquet of flowers with a sign attached. It was obviously a memorial to a Giants season ticket holder who recently passed away. I was very moved by the sight and stood there for several minutes reflecting. I came to the realization that my brothers and I would someday perform a similar tribute for our father when his time comes. At the time, I assumed it was years away, as my Father was only 59 at the time. Little did I know that my Father would never attend another Giants game. He passed away from a heart attack 7 months and 12 days later. He was only 60.

Four months after the game, my brother Pete ordered an authentic Giants jersey to present to my Dad on his 60th birthday, April 30, 2001. The jersey was awesome. It was embroidered with the number 60 (marking his age) and our last name. Dad loved it. I never recall him wearing a Giants jersey, so I assume it was the only one he ever owned. Unfortunately, he never wore it to a game. As a tribute to him, his love of the Giants, and his love of his family, the jersey has been worn to every game attended by a Marchesani since his death. My brothers and I have pledged to make sure the jersey is at every game one of us attends. It will be worn by generations of Marchesani's for as long as it lasts.

My brother Pete and I believe the jersey holds some magic. This was reinforced last year, when Pete wore it as he watched every playoff game during the Giants 2007 run to the Super Bowl. When Pete arrived at my house on Super Sunday, he asked me to wear the jersey in a selfless act of brotherhood. We sat and watched that incredible game against the Patriots in the basement of my home with a picture of Dad over the TV and Steve on the speaker phone.

To some it may seem odd or sad to have such a strong connection to my Father through something like football tickets. To me, it's rarely been about the tickets. Its the time spent together and the memories made. Does a Father and Son relationship need much more then that?

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