PLAINVILLE , Conn. - An invisible line wends its way along the Connecticut River Valley south of Hartford. It divides husbands and wives, parents and their children, business partners and longtime buddies.
It runs right through the two glowing neon signs in the window at the entrance of Sliders Grill & Bar, one depicting the helmet of the New England Patriots, the other that of the New York Giants.
And on a recent night, it bisected a table of five close friends, two who will root for the Giants to win Super Bowl XLVI, two diehard Patriots fans, and one undecided. For this is the DMZ between Boston and New York sports fans, the part of the Constitution State where allegiances are in a constant state of confusion.
“This is your Mason-Dixon line,’’ said Mike Landry, of Plainville, who will be cheering on the Giants on Sunday. His friends, Rob Perrone and Donna Scott glowered with rage, Silvia Rydecki smiled, and his wife, Kara shrugged indifferently.
Fans in the Boston area and metropolitan New York are gearing up for what promises to be an epic rematch of the Giants’ stunning Super Bowl upset of the Patriots in 2008. But sports fans here are approaching the matchup with the sense of diplomacy needed to deal with the lack of a steady fan base in the “Land of Steady Habits.’’
“Ninety percent of people here have a family member who is a fan for the other side,’’ said Todd Weitz, manager at Sliders and a passionate supporter of the Patriots and Red Sox.
Weitz, whose brother is a Giants loyalist, said that fans of both allegiances mix easily at the bar, which features, besides the neon helmets, symbols of neutrality such as a painting that depicts New York Yankees legends Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle converging on a field with Red Sox great Ted Williams. Babe Ruth, who helped both teams win championships, is in the background.
“But it’s not lovey-dovey all the time,’’ Weitz said. “There’s nothing worse than having to serve a Yankees fan in the middle of a 19-8 trouncing in your Red Sox jersey and having to say, ‘How was everything tonight?’ ’’
Some bar owners and managers keep their allegiances in line with their ecumenical approach to decor.
“I have to stay neutral,’’ said Tony Uliano, whose establishment, Arch II Sports Bar & Grill, is a short distance from the halfway point between Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. And neutrality is a word heard often here.
“This is like the Switzerland of sports,’’ said Mike McCoy, who moved here from Maine. “Last night, I talked to a Giants fan. I talked to a Mets fan. You never know who you’re sitting next to.’’
McCoy has made his peace with life in the sporting Switzerland. He has made a friendly Super Bowl bet (for a bottle of Bud) with Al Peichert, a native of nearby Southington who worships the Giants and predicts a Super blowout for the New Yorkers. But McCoy has friends who drove to a sports bar in Quincy last weekend to watch the Patriots defeat the Baltimore Ravens to advance to the Super Bowl.
“They wanted to be surrounded by Patriots fans,’’ he said. “That doesn’t happen in Connecticut. Here, all the bars are neutral.’’
Even Switzerland had a civil war, the Sonderbund War of 1847. But it was quick and nearly bloodless. So, too, is the rivalry between Russell Outler, die-hard Patriots fan, and his longtime buddy Mike Carter, who last year burned a Tom Brady jersey, and on Sunday will be cheering on the Giants.
They sat at a massive bar nestled in a strip mall in Cromwell, Rookies Sports Bar & Grille, under two wooden signs that point to “Gillette Stad.’’ 110 miles this-a-way, “Giants Stad.’’ 111 miles that-a-way.
“The Giants are going to win by 30 points,’’ said Carter.
“He’s not serious,’’ Outler shrugged, pointing out that until the Patriots were ousted in the first round of the NFL playoffs last year, Carter considered himself a Patriots fan.
“In a place like this, it’s completely easy to jump ship,’’ observed their friend, Travis Levine.
Outler’s wife is a Yankees fan. (“We get along, depending on who is up in the standings.’’)
Another friend, a Giants fan, jeered him after the 2008 Super Bowl. (“He and I didn’t get along for a few days.’’)
You get the feeling that the stakes are low. And the bars benefit.
Ryan Kealey, general manager at Rookies, estimated that upwards of 450 fans of both teams would cram the place on Super Bowl Sunday.
Weitz, of Sliders, is also looking forward to a huge crowd. So what does he think when a crowd that big is divided into fans of the two teams?
He smiled, and said: “I think ‘fantastic business.’ ’’