I.

Ok, I’ve had it. My season-long optimism about this team evaporated on Sunday. It was a disgraceful loss at the Meadowlands, and I was there. Even before Trent Cole high-stepped across Eli’s face, I had chalked 2006 up as an underachieving, sour, and maddening season.

This game typified what this Giants team has been all about: tantalizing talent undone by ghastly mistakes, inferior coaching, and a knack for blowing it in key spots. Take your pick from Sunday’s game. What was the most infuriating? Was it:

–Jacobs’ fumble? Hey, Coughlin, if you can teach Tiki to stop fumbling, how about doing the same for Jacobs? Or Plax?

–Those two holding penalties that pushed us back from 1st and 10 from the Philly 42 to 1st and… 30! from our own 38? (Eli was picked off the play after that one.)

–Shockey’s personal foul? So asinine, but so not surprising.

–Those two consecutive 1st and Goals (one from the 10, one from the 7) that resulted in 6 points?

–Reno Mahe’s (or as my Eagle-fan co-worker Jarrett calls him, Mahi-Mahi’s) 64-yard kick return that immediately cancelled out our recent hard-earned field goal?

–Westbrook’s 28-yard untouched touchdown run two plays later? I’m sorry, but this because shit like this continues to happen, the only conclusion that you can possibly draw is that we’re being out-coached.

–The Shiancoe fumble? The way it stayed in bounds and was deftly scooped by Lito Shepherd was just cruel.

–Another sign that you’re being out-coached is when the other team converts their two-point conversion, and you don’t. Was there even any doubt that it would be different? It’s been that kind of season, because the 2006 Giants are that kind of team.

–Yet another sign that you’re being out-coached is when you run all over a team in the first half but get completely stuffed in the second half, while your opponent, in contrast, runs the ball on you with impunity with you in the second half. One of the most mystifying things about this game was the way we got utterly dominated in the trenches. Yes, I know that the players play the game, and no coach ever got physically dominated. But I refuse to believe that the Eagles interior players are better than ours – we’ve been strong up the gut all year. Therefore, logically, the only possibility is that as the game wore on, Coughlin, Lewis, and Hufnagel missed something.

–This goes for the pass rush too. Garcia is very crafty in the pocket and he deserves credit for that, but with the exception of a Torbor blitz and Will Demps’ forced fumble, we didn’t get near the guy all day. He had all the time in the world to sit back and find guys, many of whom were coming across the middle on crossing patterns on which a linebacker or safety was unreasonably asked to keep up with a wide receiver or Westbrook for, like, 4 whole seconds. An impossible task; the Eagles converted 3rd down after 3rd down on us all day on plays like those.

Now of course it’s football, and every team makes multiple mistakes each game, but it’s the consistency with which we make the biggest mistakes at the worst possibly time, week after week, that has made us a 7-7 mediocrity through 7/8ths of the season. This isn’t an isolated incident, but rather a self-destructive pattern.

 

II.

As far as the playoffs are concerned, yes, I guess we’re still in it. But this is solely a function of (to paraphrase Drago’s trainer) how pathetically weak our conference has become. Under normal circumstances, our seven losses would spell curtains on a season that began with such high hopes.

If there world were a fair place, the story should be over. Losing seven games, and five out of our last six, with the talent that we have should send the organization reeling into an early off-season of critical introspection, searching for ways to correct this team’s obvious flaws.

But because it’s 2006, and because we’re in the NFC, we get one more shot. We get one more shot to pull all of our shit together. Can we do it? Well, there’s certainly no evidence to suggest that we can. But who says we have to look at the evidence? Who says we have to be logical? Who says sports are reasonable? Who says life is reasonable?

Giants fans, I know you’re pissed. I know you’ve had it. But please, please stick with this team! I implore you. I know you’re tired of this team, but if this season isn’t meant to be, then you only have to deal with them for two more weeks anyway. Stay True, fellow Bleeders of Big Blue. Please.

 

III.

Okay, onto lighter matters.

There was definitely some hard-working, funny-ass dude in the Giants public relations department, or whoever is responsible for the scoreboard entertainment.

Before the game, the “jumbotrons” (if you really want to call them that at the Meadowlands – those things look pretty small compared to screens in, like, every other stadium) on each side of the field showed the famous training montage from Rocky. It was the one where Stallone picks up serious speed, and is practically in a full-on sprint for an impossibly long distance from the banks of the Delaware River to the steps of the museum (where he finally stops and does that both-arms-raised, feet-moving exultation thing).

When they first put it on the jumbotron, I let loose a vicious boo. “Fuck Rocky!” I thought. “What, are we the lovable underdog now? Pffpppbbffff!! Especially when we’re playing the Eagles!”

But a few moments later, I realized that whoever was in charge of the jumbotron entertainment was smarter and funnier than I had given him credit for, because as Rocky raised his arms, you heard the distant sound of thundering steps trampling through the City of Brotherly Love. You knew something was up, but you didn’t know exactly what until the camera panned out. Looming over the Philadelphia Museum of Art emerged a Giant man, clad in blue, a G-Man, dwarfing both the museum and the little Balboa.

The Giant stepped over the museum and without breaking stride, squashed the little Balboa, much to the delight of the Meadowlands crowd. It was on, and the Giants kicked off.

 

IV.

Some other observations from my afternoon/evening at the Meadowlands:

1) They continued the Rocky theme on the jumbotron for the whole game: They played Clubber Lang’s “Prediction: Pain” thing, Drago’s “I must break you,” Mickey’s “He’ll knock you into tomorrow, Rock!” and Adrian’s “You can’t win!”

It was pretty entertaining, especially for all of us Rocky buffs, but it became a little ridiculous when you realized that, um, Rocky beat all those dudes. Despite what Adrian said, he could win, and he did. (Besides, identifying with Clubber Lang is one thing. After all, no cooler man than Arnold Jackson idolized Mr. T. But Drago? It’s hard to respect a man whose wife wound up with Flavor Flav.)

2) I hate to say it, but the Meadowlands crowd was somewhat disappointing. It was a big, intense, night game, so it wasn’t exactly dead, but, like, the place really should have been more amped.

I don’t know – I think that the fans have an obligation to be as loud as possible. Every third down should be gotten up for. 76,000 person “Defense” chants should cascade down. “Asshole” chants should greet every possibly questionable call. I get to about one Giant game a year, and it really bothers me that these people with season tickets take it for granted.

I have seen pro football games in two other places: the Metrodome in Minneapolis (where I saw the G-Men beat the Vikes in 2002), and FedEx Field in Washington (where I saw the G-Men beat the ‘Skins in 2003, but then lose to them in 2005), and both of those places are much, much louder than the Meadowlands.

 

V.

One of the best things about going to NFL games is the pageant of jerseys – you’re always gonna see some jerseys and gear that generates reactions from, “Yo, that shit is hot!” to “Oooh. So not the move.”

The foursome with whom I rolled this past Sunday took a backseat to no other crew jersey-wise. My dad wore the Blue Tiki – not too flashy, not too original, but a necessary staple, a Big Blue Classic.

My brother rocked the White Osi. Two things make this jersey awesome: 1) The number 72 is so asymmetrical and random; and 2) Seeing the vowel-laden, Nigerian last name “Umenyiora” stretched across the back of a modest-sized white dude is… Well, it’s really what jersey-rockage is all about.

My brother’s fiancée, who has rapidly developed into a passionate, astute G-Men fan over the past couple of years, was adorned in the Red Pierce, rounding out the red, white, and blue tripartite Giants soul.

The red alternate jersey is a subject of debate among G-Men fans, but despite my usual aversion to alternate jerseys, I can’t help but liking them. Because they’re only broken out once a year, and only for big homes games, I consider them a welcome addition to the Giants’ uni-scheme. Seeing those red jerseys just fires me up.

The incorporation of the red as an official, game-used jersey makes the purchase respectable. The rule of thumb on jersey purchases is: DON’T BUY ANYTHING THEY DON’T WEAR IN GAMES! The Giants have been selling red jerseys for years, but it wasn’t until they started wearing the red that I went out and bought one for myself. (And you wonder why every pro sports team has a dozen different color combos.)

But if you’re gonna buy the Giants red jersey, you gotta get someone with some sort of attitude, some sort of edge. Like, you can’t be rocking the Red Eli, or even the Red Tiki. Pierce, Shockey, Plax, Jacobs, Sinorice, and Osi are the way to go.

Okay, back to the fearsome foursome of jerseys that rolled into East Rutherford last Sunday.

Last but certainly not least was yours truly, draped in a light blue, number 98 jersey. Across the front was embroidered “CAROLINA,” and across the back, “TAYLOR.”

Walking through the parking lot, enshrouded in that precious garment, I felt not unlike Joseph in his coat of many colors. To feel those longing gazes being cast in my direction, some parts envy and some parts awe, was like walking through a Venetian piazza with a beautiful woman clinging to my arm.

Those awestruck looks enveloped me as I ascended up the escalator, en route to my lofty perch in the third to last row of section 331. But before I got there, I was rudely asked by the usher who I had to show my ticket to, “Why are you wearing a Carolina Panthers jersey?”

Dumbass. I actually tried saying, “No, it’s an LT jersey from when he was in college,” or something like that, but whether my words were too panicked and garbled to make any sense, or whether she was just too stupid to understand the fairly simple (and not that uncommon) concept of college jerseys, the point didn’t register.

Either way, when I finally got up the neverending staircase of the Meadowlands’ upper deck, I realized I had met my match, when, about a section over from me, I saw an orange Clemson #20 jersey, complete with a paw-print logo on the sleeves and “Dawkins” on the back.

A sweet jerz, I must admit, and it wasn’t the only nice one that those Eagles fans had brought to the Meadowlands that day. At some point, I noticed a navy blue #20 jersey, a pretty bare-bones Penn State looking thing except for the “V” on the sleeves. It took a second to register, but it was a Westbrook at Villanova that was being rocked.

to be continued…