The New York Giants, who will play the 5-0 Patriots Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, are a big part of New England’s football history. Your awareness of Patriots-Giants linkage depends on your age.
If you are a Gen X or Millennial Patriots fan, you know that the Giants ruined the greatest season in franchise history, beating the undefeated Patriots in Glendale, Ariz., in February 2008. You know they beat the Patriots in another Super Bowl four years later in Indianapolis. This makes you hate Eli Manning, and curse the lucky catches of David Tyree and Mario Manningham.
Maybe you have read some history and are aware that Bill Belichick coached with the Giants for 12 seasons and won his first two Super Bowls in the Meadowlands.
Otherwise, the Giants mean nothing to you. They are just a mediocre (sometimes bad) NFC team that the Patriots play every August in the final preseason game.
If you’re a New England football fan over the age of 60, it’s a whole different story. You probably grew up rooting for the Giants. They were your team before the Patriots became your team.
I am in this group. Growing up in central Massachusetts in the 1960s, I had four teams: the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and the New York Football Giants.
Sure, we had the fledgling Boston Patriots in our midst, but it was hard to take them seriously. The Patriots were part of the upstart American Football League. They were just a cut above what the New England Revolution are now. They were not considered big-league. They were not regularly on television. They were homeless, moving from Boston University to Fenway Park to Harvard Stadium and Boston College.
They played the New York Titans, Dallas Texans, and Houston Oilers. They were minor league. The real professional football was presented to us every week on CBS, and our regional team was the New York Giants.
As a little kid, I loved the Giants, even though they played in Yankee Stadium. The Giants contended annually. They had star power. They played in the greatest game ever played, the 1958 sudden-death championship game against the Baltimore Colts. The Giants had Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, Y.A. Tittle, Roosevelt Grier, and Del Shofner.
They were broadcast into our living rooms every Sunday. They held training camp at St. Michael’s in Vermont. They played real football teams in real championship games, like the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers and the George Halas Chicago Bears. They had a big-league announcer in Chris Schenkel. The Giants were ours.
This went on throughout the first decade of the Boston Patriots.
“The first three years of the Patriots, we played our games on Friday nights because we didn’t want to compete with the Giants on Sunday,’’ says former Patriots general manager Patrick Sullivan, whose father, Billy Sullivan, was the founder of the Patriots. “It was an uphill battle.
“None of our home games were on television. Every game was blacked out because we wanted people to come to our games. But there was a whole generation of people following the Giants.’’
Listen to Upton Bell, general manager of the Patriots in 1971:
“My biggest challenge was changing the fan mind-set about the Patriots. Rabid New York Giants fans were all around New England. The Boston Herald had a full-time writer who covered the Giants.
“I knew that overcoming the area football fans’ great love for the Giants was bigger than any trouble with the Patriots. We needed to systematically wipe out the spectre of the Giants and forge a future for the Patriots with a fan base that wasn’t looking for Huff and Gifford.’’
When the Patriots finally built their own stadium in 1971, the first game was a mid-August preseason tilt against the Giants. It was the night that we learned it was a colossal mistake to put a “big league” stadium on narrow Route 1 in tiny Foxborough.
Bell: “All I could think of as I watched the traffic crawl down Route 1 was that, unbeknownst to the drivers, they were crossing the River Styx into Dante’s Inferno. Only Mel Gibson’s ‘Road Warriors’ could survive the night to come.
“We created the biggest traffic jam in Massachusetts history. Many people did not get to the game until the third quarter, and cars remained stuck in the parking lots until 4 a.m. If you look closely, there’s still a belt of rust where they were parked, 48 years later.’’
Patriots-Giants. Good times.
The Patriots have played 29 preseason games against the Giants, but only 10 regular-season games. The first Patriots-Giants game that counted was played at Harvard Stadium. The second one was played at the Yale Bowl.
New England is 6-4 in regular-season play vs. the Giants, including a thrilling 38-35 win at the Meadowlands to complete the 16-0 season in 2007. Alas, the Patriots are 0-2 in Super Bowls against the Giants.
The Giants-New England connections are many. Bill Parcells, grid godfather of Belichick, and the man who made the Patriots legit for the first time in 1993, came to New England after winning two Super Bowls with the Giants. Belichick whisperer Ernie Adams worked for Parcells with the Giants. Ray Perkins, an assistant coach with the Patriots under Chuck Fairbanks, hired Parcells, Belichick, and Romeo Crennel when he was head coach of the Giants.
Steve DeOssie of Don Bosco and Boston College fame played for both the Giants and the Patriots. His son, Zak DeOssie, played for the Giants in both Super Bowl victories over the Patriots and will be No. 51 in your program Thursday. Giants CEO/owner John Mara went to Boston College (1976).
“There’s so much history there,’’ Belichick said this week. “That’s a storied franchise and it goes way, way back.’’
Back to the days when the Giants were New England’s pro football team.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com