They might be N.J. Giants

Backers: The Ravens' Super Bowl foes are named for the Big Apple, but their biggest fans seem to live across the river from Manhattan.

January 21, 2001|By Todd Richissin | By Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

HOBOKEN, N.J. - Yeah, yeah, yeah. New York, New York. The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. The town so nice they named it twice, and blahty, blahty, blahty.

But home of the New York Giants?

Fuh-get-about it.

That is, if you ask the people of New Jersey.

While Baltimore is not only bathing but drowning in purple as Super Bowl XXXV nears, walk around Manhattan, and there's scarcely an acknowledgment that the Giants still have a season under way. And it's not easy to find euphoria over the team anywhere else, either.

The Empire State Building bathed in Giants Blue? "Go, Giants!" signs in storefront windows? The team's logo flying from flagpoles?

Nowhere to be found.

"Not taking anything away from New York, but you find the real fans in New Jersey," says George Palermo, who is 72 and from Hoboken and can recite accounts of past Giants teams as if he's reading from a stadium program. "They play in New Jersey; more than half the stadium is New Jersey fans every week. I don't know why they call them the New York Giants."

Well-schooled rooters

Don't be confused. New Yorkers certainly support the Giants. Waiters, waitresses, bartenders, cab drivers, men and women on the street, just about anybody asked will confidently predict a Giants victory, and most of them don't speak as casual fans rooting for their team but like sports talk-show hosts well schooled on not only their team but on the Ravens as well.

The line, not surprisingly, is this: The Ravens defense is outstanding. The Giants defense is outstanding. But the Ravens offense is pathetic, and the Giants' ability to score (see their NFC Championship 41-0 trouncing of Minnesota) will make all the difference.

Anybody who saw that last game in Giants Stadium knows their fans can be loud enough to wake Jimmy Hoffa, once said to be buried beneath one of the field's end zones.

Where the diehards are

But it is not in New York City where love of the team is worn, literally, on the sleeves of fans, or on their foreheads in the form of Giants hats. The colors are flying in New Jersey - in Jersey City and Newark, in Metuchen and Old Bridge and in the Oranges, East and West.

And in Hoboken, humble hometown of Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Rosselli, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

"Jersey's always been where the Giants fans have been," says Frank Totaro, 71, a bartender at Louise and Jerry's. There, Louise, until her passing a few years back, regularly got her patrons to stand as she belted out "God Bless America" with Kate Smith on the jukebox, as Al Pacino and Jackie Gleason stared down from posters on the wall.

"Any team that plays in Jersey," he adds, "you got to root for them."

Games of the past

Totaro and Palermo remember the past games, when the Giants won the Super Bowl in 1991 with coach Bill Parcells, when they lost to the Colts in the 1958 championship, in what, accurately or not, has been called the Greatest Game Ever Played. It broke the hearts of Giants fans, forever immortalized Johnny Unitas in Baltimore (and won each Colt $4,718.77). That classic was played in the Bronx, in Yankee Stadium, so the New York Giants seemed like the right name.

But, since 1976 the Giants have played in New Jersey, in the Meadowlands, a patch of land that could just as easily be called the Tar Pits but could never be called New York, and no way could it be called New York City.

Which has spawned the "New Jersey Giants NOW!" bumper stickers and the sentiments of fans in Jersey City, like Harold Carlsen, who at 35 is too young to be bitter but old enough to have a definite, if not well-honed, opinion on the New York-New Jersey matter.

"It's stupid," is his point of view. "The New York Rangers makes sense because they play in New York. But the New York Giants?"

Fuh-get-about it.

In Carlsen's Jersey City, Giants jackets can be spotted on people hopping off the train at Journal Square, and in Hoboken, bar owners eagerly awaited shipments of Giants paraphernalia with their next kegs of beer.

But, truth be told, not even Jersey has approached the level of excitement over the Giants that Baltimore has over the Ravens.

Neither has Queens, a New York borough that was once home to that other New York football team, the Jets, who played in Shea Stadium before moving to the Meadowlands in 1984. At least in Queens, the sports bars have their Giants gear hung on the walls, and the talk over the whiskey is all about football.

"Oh, people are excited, but it's not like they're jumping up and down every day. They save that for the games," says Sue Myerjack, a manager at the First Edition Sports Bistro in Bayside, Queens. "With the World Series and the Yankees, and last year the Mets, winning's getting a little boring around here. It's like, `What, another parade?'"

Check the helmets

In New York. Not New Jersey.

"They wear `NY' on their helmets," points out Jimmy Quinn, a New York City fire lieutenant. "When the parade comes, it's coming down the Canyon of Heroes."

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