On the joy and pain of rooting for the New York football team
"Why did football bring me so to life?" Frederick Exley asks himself in the opening pages of his 1968 "fictional memoir," A Fan's Notes. "I can't say precisely. Part of it was my feeling that football was an island of directness in a world of circumspection. In football a man was asked to do a difficult and brutal job, and he either did it or got out." It's no surprise Exley was a fan of the New York Giants. His succinct answer is a compact manifesto on what it means to prize hard work over big championships, scrappiness over finesse—in short, to be a fan of the underdog.
On Sunday night, it was wet, windy, and cold at Candlestick Park. The New York Giants were meeting the San Francisco 49ers for the eighth time in the playoff history. In January 2003, the last time the two teams faced each other in the playoffs, the Giants lost by one point, a real heartbreaker. This game, of course, was going to be different. The mood in the air was tense. The 49ers fans booed the Giants as Kristen Chenoweth sang the national anthem. Old rivalries never die. The game was being touted as one to remember before it even started. Prior to the opening kickoff, it was reported that, during an emotional pre-game meeting, Giants coach Tom Coughlin told his players that the upcoming game was "one you will want to tell your grandkids about someday."
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In the week leading up to the game, Pete Prisco at CBS Sports continued to refer to the Giants as underdogs, even as he and the rest of his staff unamiously named them as their top picks of the week. Bleacher Report called the team underdogs while predicting they would win by at least ten points. Curtis Eichelberger at Bloomberg refers to the Giants as underdogs even as he salivates over the potentional television ratings for a rematch with the Patriots. Bill Barnwell at Grantland exclaimed that "the Giants can't keep playing at this high of a level," immediately prior to picking them as the winner. In a column last week, Mike Lupica casually mentioned the "two more underdog games" ahead for the Giants, as if the destinction, and winning, were assumed. It was as if being the underdog was a badge of honor, a compliment.