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GIANTS WIN: Torn Between Three Teams ... In The Jersey Shore

No longer feeling like a fool

The first football player I ever liked was a quarterback who got sacked all the time. Every year, his New York Giant teams lost more than they won. Every game, he got battered, booed-at and berated, tossed-around, tackled and "turfed."

Every snap, he was there, ready to give it another try, preparing himself for another heap of abuse.

His name was Phil Simms, and guys with 300-pound Herculean bodies mauled his protectors and threw themselves on his blindslide. The QB would lift himself from the rock-hard artificial turf, his shoulder pad popped out of his sleeve, and his helmet slightly askew.

After each brutal pounding, all he'd do is tuck that pad back in, just behind the number 11 that was sewed to his sleeve, and get ready to call another play.

He just happened to be wearing the blue, red and white uniform of the New York Giants. That was his team, so it became my team. They were one of the three local teams, all of them within an hour drive from Point Pleasant Boro, where I grew up.

Who knows? If he had have been wearing green, the color that represents the other two local football franchises, the Philadelphia Eagles or the New York Jets, I might have rooted for one of them instead.

In the Jersey Shore, you could do that, just as easily as you could switch the channels (literally). You remembered that rooting for a sports team was not like watching the stock market collapse, or embroiling yourself in a brutal military battle. Labels of cities or nicknames or Giants or Eagles or Green Dragons or Panthers didn't matter as much as how the game was played.

Sure, I'm excited that the Giants won their fourth Super Bowl, led by Simms's prodigal legacy, Eli Manning, who is the only quarterback who looks dirty while playing on artificial turf.

But, in the end, it is, after all, only a game.

That may sound like blasphemy to the Giant fan of Passaic, N.J. or Manhattan, or the Eagle fan of South Street or Cherry Hill. Rooting for the Giants AND the Eagles? How unholy. How duplicitous. How dumb.

In those areas, the rivalry is an intense thing, the cause of drunken fights of the stands of each team's respective stadium, or testy email exchanges between coffee-addicted co-workers.

Yeah, I know. You've seen that MTV show. Drunken fights? Testy exchanges? Don't ALL people in the Jersey Shore do that? Doesn't everybody walk around, looking like those buff "Too Tall" specimens who brutalized Simms, slapping smaller-bodied people to the rock-hard street?

Ironically, if you want some sense of what it's like to live in a happy sports utopia, where three football cultures broken apart by bitter rivalries can break bread and live life in peace - and not in pieces - come to the Jersey Shore.

There are certainly exceptions to the rule. Indeed, the area has had it's share of Dallas Cowboy fans, something that a Giant or Eagle fan of any stripe never takes kindly. Wearing the Cowboy pom-pom hat was done at your own peril, particularly in the halls of the local high schools.

But in the Jersey Shore, who roots for whom never really mattered. All three - the Giants, the Jets and the Eagles - have had their games on our cable systems. All three have given out ticket coupons through the youth groups and Little Leagues.

The fans of all three are glued to the TVs at Leggetts Sandbar in Manasquan on Sundays in the fall, and the locals who inhabit the place will root and holler at their teams, holler at the players, with nary a fist nor expletive thrown at each other.

When I was young, all three teams sponsored Happy Meal toys at the McDonald's on Route 37 in Toms River, just off the Parkway exit, or Route 35 in Wall (until the mid-1970s, they were the only McDonald's we knew about).

They gave away those small plastic helmets at Gino's on Route 35 in Point Pleasant Beach, the same ones that cost a nickel at Spader's on Beaver Dam and Bridge in the Boro.

But, no matter how hard you tried, and no matter how hard you pushed down on their tops, they couldn't fit on the head of your GI Joe without cracking in half. If the sticker fell off my tiny Jets helmet, I'd yank the wings off the Eagles and slap them on the green headgear of the New York team.

Hey, I thought. Close enough.

Ultimately, we usually picked one team over the other. Usually, they were the teams our parents rooted for. But we always kept the other two teams close, and we still followed their plight - and it usually was a plight, because all three teams stunk - through the 14 or 16-game season just as much.

My father was funny, literally, about that. He liked teams from Ohio, so he used to rub the then-successful Cincinnati Bengals in our face. He was a principal in Brick Township, and he was friends with Warren Wolf, the 50-year football coach at Brick High School, who also didn't always root for the local teams that were within a 50-mile radius of where he grew up.

But they were like a lot of people who moved from Philly or North Jersey or New York to the Shore in the 1950s and 1960s. When they were young, they rooted hard for the big cities nearby. But when they grew up, they moved away, put off by the changes each city felt, and purposely keeping a distance from the places they once considered their own, the places they no longer considered "comfortable."

We, of the Philadelphia and New York melting pot, also shared another bond: Our teams always lost. In the post 1967 Super-Bowl era, only Joe Namath's Jets gave us a hiccup of excitement (I was way too young to remember), winning the 1969 Super Bowl.

Only two years later, they stunk again.

The Eagles went to the Super Bowl in 1981, but they were embarrassed by the Oakland Raiders. Within two years, they were horrible again, too.

With these three teams, the feeling was, hey, if a team extended their season into January, great. They were going to get their butts kicked by Dallas, Miami, Pittsburgh or the 49ers anyway. Winning was a novelty.

Then came Simms, and then a linebacker named Lawrence Taylor, and a cast of field generals named by some as the "Lunch-Pail Crew." They went to the Super Bowl in January 1987, and won it handily. They came back four years later, and won it again.

In 2008, led by Eli Manning, they won it a third time. Now they're back again. When I saw Manning get pummeled by the 49ers two weeks ago, but still win, I thought of Simms.

That day, I didn't see the color of his uniform. I only saw the jersey stained by the Candlestick Park grass. I saw that shoulder pad popping out. I saw that same toughness Phil had no matter whether they lost or won.

The Giants are playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday against the New England Patriots, and I'm very excited. And, yet, there is a part of me that feels a little hollow, because I wish the Jets could be there, too.

It is, after all, only a game.

Sean Conneamhe February 03, 2012 at 10:23 PM
"Giants: 24-17."
DD Smith February 03, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Giants 31 to 7
Project Bluebeam February 04, 2012 at 01:03 AM
When do pitchers and catchers report?
Vinny Varvaro February 04, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Nice job Tom (Christine Zsomboran's husband). I will be rooting for the Giants as I always have, just cannot do the Eagle thing, no way.
BN February 04, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Giants will lose 42 - 6.
NJ785 February 04, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Anyone who's been at the shore most of their lives can relate to this story in one way or another. Go JETS !!
Tom Davis (Editor) February 04, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Hi Vinny---I know what you're saying!
Jay Santos February 04, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Patriots 35 - Giants 21. GO PATRIOTS!!!!
Project Bluebeam February 04, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Patriots 36 Giants 17
Michael Anthony Pasquale III February 04, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Giants got lucky. The Packers and Niners folded like a house of cards. I hate NE, but they are gonna kill the freakin' Giants!
J.JONES February 04, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Giants 28 -- Pats 17...
Trish February 05, 2012 at 12:21 AM
GO GIANTS!
StayCalm February 05, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Are we (my husband and I) the ONLY two people in the entire country who really couldn't give a crap about football, or the Superbowl?? We don't care who made it to the super-bore, who wins, or who loses. I swear, the way people carry on and prepare weeks ahead of time, spend hundreds of dollars on food and drinks, you'd think it was (the real) Christmas or something. Sheesh. It's just a GAME for goodness sakes!
DD Smith February 05, 2012 at 03:35 AM
@StayCalm, The answer is YES, YOU BOTH ARE!!
DD Smith February 05, 2012 at 03:35 AM
ARE YOU NUTS
StayCalm February 05, 2012 at 03:50 AM
LOL Yeah, I had a feeling we were.........
Phineas J Whoopee February 05, 2012 at 10:30 PM
and Christmas is just a day. If you don't care about football why are you reading a story about it and commenting?
Sean Conneamhe February 05, 2012 at 10:46 PM
"Giants 24-17"
Sean Conneamhe February 06, 2012 at 03:02 AM
"21-17" "Close enough!"
Noneofyourbusiness February 06, 2012 at 03:09 AM
BN, You lose!
Noneofyourbusiness February 06, 2012 at 03:09 AM
Jay, You lose!
Noneofyourbusiness February 06, 2012 at 03:09 AM
Project, You lose!
Noneofyourbusiness February 06, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Michael, We are the champions and your teams are not! They did not kill the freakin Giants!. You Lose!!
Noneofyourbusiness February 06, 2012 at 03:12 AM
@Sean, Hats off, you were right on and Close enough! Hats off to the Giants, they have great defense!!
copperpot February 06, 2012 at 08:31 PM
i heard the giants won.
Shore Skeptic February 07, 2012 at 10:15 AM
Let me get this straight.....the giants win the super bowl and your first inclination is to within minutes, run and post on the patch?
Lman February 07, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Staycalm: No you are not. But We must remain hidden fearing being pelted to Death by Chicken Wings. :) Too each his own.!

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