THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Old-timers know there was once a Giant presence here

Email|Print| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / January 22, 2008

Patriots-Giants = Harvard-Yale?

Look it up.

The first time the Patriots and Giants played a game that counted, it was at Harvard Stadium in 1970, with the Giants winning, 16-0. Four years later, they met again, this time at the Yale Bowl, and the Patriots won, 28-20.

There will be no Ivy League boola-boola stuff this time. A week from Sunday, the Patriots and Giants will be playing in front of a global audience at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Super Bowl XLII at Glendale, Ariz.

The international sports media machine was rooting for Patriots-Packers. Cheeseheads, Lombardi ghosts, Brett Favre and all that. Not me. I was sick of the Tom Brady-vs.-Favre story line before it ever got started. And did anybody around here really want revenge for 1997, when Desmond Howard was MVP of the Packers' 35-21 Super Bowl win over the Patriots at the Superdome?

You might remember that game as the one after which Patriots coach Bill Parcells didn't take the plane home with his team. Tuna was on his way to becoming HC of the NYJ.

A pivotal moment in Patriots history transpired on that Parcells-less charter. New England owner Bob Kraft, still learning how to be a good owner, sat next to assistant head coach Bill Belichick, and somewhere in the air space between New Orleans and Boston, the seeds were planted for Belichick's eventual ascent to the top job in New England. Belichick wound up going off to New Jersey with the Tuna for three years but ultimately was hired to coach the Patriots. You know the rest of the story.

Which is another reason I was rooting for the Giants Sunday night. A Patriots-Giants matchup means we have two head coaches who simultaneously served as assistants under Parcells in New York. Both Belichick and Tom Coughlin won Super Bowl rings with the 1990 Giants. That was the Scott Norwood "wide right" game.

Patriots-Giants also means we get to see the Patriots beat another Manning brother, this time in the Super Bowl instead of the AFC Championship. It means we get to see Steve DeOssie's son, Zak, long-snapping when the Giants punt. It means we get to torture New York fans again.

Despite the Harvard-Yale connection, there's not a lot of on-the-field history involving these two franchises. The Patriots and Giants have met only eight times, with the Patriots holding a 5-3 edge. Most recently we recall the thrilling 2007 regular-season finale when the Patriots held off the Giants, 38-35, to finish the first 16-0 regular season in NFL history. That was the game in which the Giants got their mojo back. Risking player injuries (and probably his job), Coughlin went for the win in a game that had no postseason permutations. It put the Giants and Manning back on message, and they subsequently went out and won playoff games in Tampa, Dallas, and Green Bay. Not bad.

Oddly, the most memorable Patriots-Giants game was a preseason event. The date was Aug. 15, 1971, and like the blizzard of 1978, no one who was there ever will forget the experience. It was the first game ever played at Schaefer Stadium. Later named Sullivan Stadium and Foxboro Stadium, Schaefer was built for $6.7 million and one cheese sandwich in 327 days. It was quite possibly the most pathetic stadium of all time, and in 1971, no one was prepared for the massive gridlock that paralyzed the region on the night of the first game. There have been traffic jams before (and after) most Patriots home games since the grand opener (won by the Patriots, 20-14), but the first night was the worst night, and many fans never made it to their seats.

It was in those days - the first 15 years of the Patriots franchise - that the New York football Giants were the true rivals of the Boston/New England Patriots. And it had nothing to do with games played between the teams. Fact is, when the Patriots were spawned as part of the upstart AFL in 1960, the Giants were the local pro football franchise for most of the New England market.

Giants games were telecast into Greater Boston homes, and a lot of us grew up rooting for Y.A. Tittle, Sam Huff, Roosevelt Grier, and Del Shofner. It was an odd allegiance given that the Giants played their home games in Yankee Stadium, where we saw our beloved Red Sox pummeled regularly. But the Giants were all we had. They were our team. The immortal Chris Schenkel was the voice of the Giants and served as our autumnal Curt Gowdy.

At the outset, Patriots owner Billy Sullivan struggled mightily to carve into the enormous bloc of Giant fans, and it was not an easy sell - sort of like promoting the Revolution in 2008.

Sitting atop the model NFL franchise in 2008 - perhaps the greatest football team of all time - the Krafts can't possibly imagine what it must have been like to own a football team in Boston when the Giants still ruled. The Krafts can (and will) remain jealous of the Red Sox and their Nation, but at least Bob and Jonathan don't have to compete with another NFL team - a New York team no less - in their own market.

It took a couple of decades for the Giant phenomenon to fizzle entirely, and today it's difficult to find any old-timers with allegiance to New England's team of the 1950s. It's like trying to find a guy who still roots for the Braves because they played in Boston in 1953.

But I still love those "NY" helmets and I was rooting for them Sunday. If you're over 50 and grew up watching sports in New England, you know what I'm talking about. Patriots-Giants. It's much more fun than Patriots-Packers.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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