The New York Giants are heading to Indianapolis for their fifth Super Bowl. 25 years ago, I spent a perfect day in Pasadena.
“Tommy, want some action?” Al said to me on the school bus.
“No, the Giants are favored by 9 ½ points.” I answered.
“What about over and under, it’s 39 ½?”
Now he had my attention. I felt the Giants defense and running game would keep the score low.
“OK, twenty times under,” I said.
“Good boy!” Al smiled.
So I bet one hundred dollars that the combined score of both teams in Super Bowl XXI would be 39 points or lower.
It was January 25, 1987, an 80 degree cloudless Sunday in the warm California sun. I was headed to the Rose Bowl to see the New York Giants play the Denver Broncos. The trip started two weeks before. The day after the Giants beat Washington in the NFC Championship game I called airlines for a round trip to Los Angeles. They were sold out. Instead I bought a reservation to San Diego. Over the next ten days, I tried to locate a game ticket and had no success. On the Thursday afternoon before the Super Bowl I began calling travel agencies to try to sell my flight back to them. The first place asked me why I was selling it. I told her I couldn’t get a game ticket.
“I have one,” she said.
I swallowed and said “Yes.” Face value was $75.
An hour later, the messenger arrived, and I examined my ticket.
Gate B Tunnel 27 Row C Seat 111.
Possibly the worst seat in the 101,000 capacity Rose Bowl, but I was going to see the Giants.
I left the next day and prearranged staying with my friends Al and Janet an hour from Pasadena. The problem was traveling from San Diego to a hotel lobby in Irvine where Jane and I had worked out a pick up. When I landed, I started working the rental car counters. “Anybody driving to L.A.?” A guy my age in a suit said he was driving to San Francisco. I told him if he dropped me off at my hotel on the way north, I’d pay his first day rental cost. He agreed. Jim was an Encyclopedia Britannica salesman and tortured me for the entire ride on how my future children would thank me forever for buying this gift for them and their children. I declined, he pouted. When we got near the hotel Jim pulled the car over to the shoulder of the highway and said he was late. He took my money for the day rental and left me on the side of the road. I climbed down the embankment and over a six foot fence into the hotel’s parking lot. Jane was in the lobby when I ran in. It was Saturday morning three a m. The game of my life was only 36 hours away.
Jane found companies running buses to the Rose Bowl. For $15 I bought my ride. At noon on Sunday I was on the yellow school bus, with one other Giant fan and 40 Denver Bronco fans. I was excited and surrounded by the enemy. I waved goodbye to Al and Jane. They looked like proud parents, except for the fact that Al was counting on me giving him money to pay his bookie if I lost the bet.
Gliding over the California roads the bus was a happy land where Bronco fans, the other Giant fan and I joked together. The New York guy shared his blue tortilla chips with me, and kept asking, “Would you like another Giant chip?”
Off the bus I strolled around the Rose Bowl a few times to kill time and who do I run into to? Andy Rooney in his lucky Giant ~ Columbo looking raincoat. We talked about our love for the Giants and old Yankee Stadium.
Stepping through the dark tunnel into the Rose Bowl my heart smacked inside my chest. My long suffering was over. The New York Giants were my father’s and my unbreakable link. Our passion for football was unconditional. When I was 7 to 9 years old the Giants lost three consecutive NFL Championship games. Turning 10 in 1964 I knew that would be our year, the Giants, Dad and me. But they stunk, and kept on stinking.
After a good Bronco start the New York defense rose up and by half time I sensed victory even though the Giants were losing 10-9. In the third quarter the Giants exploded, scoring 17 points and led 26-10. Thinking of my dark fan days, thinking of my Dad and me going, watching, listening to hundreds of Giant games together I started to well up, but then I remembered my bet. My stupid $100 bet. Every time I had a good thought about what was happening on the field, I also thought 4 more points I lose my bet.
As I’m having these feelings, the Giants are driving towards my end of the field. On a trick play a receiver ends up wide open. Phil Simms throws the ball to him and I’m mumbling, “Drop it! Drop it!” The receiver catches the ball and my heart lifts then drops at the same time. How could I ever root against the Giants? Best day of my life and I tarnish it.
Final score was 39-20. The place rocked like a Springsteen concert. Giants carried Coach Parcells off the field. I couldn’t wait to talk to my father.
Back on the bus: silence and 40 broken Bronco fans, me and the guy with the blue chips. The Rose Bowl had only had two exits and all the VIP cars exited first. We idled in the parking lot for an hour. When we began to move I felt like I was in a funeral home on wheels. I could hear sad heaving coming from the grim Bronco fans. A tall woman had a tear rolling down his cheek. I felt bad for them but remembered how many times I had sat in their seat. Once in a while, the Giant fan and I would look at each other across the aisle and exchange a quick hand raise, a small yip and one word “Giants!”
Several hours after the game we arrived back at the hotel. I called Jane and asked her to delay one hour so I could celebrate at the hotel’s bar with any other Giant fan I found. I put money down on the bar and a sea of blue started forming where I stood. I remembered something important and slipped away to make a collect call to New York.
“Dad, we won, I love you.”
“I love you, Hon.” he said and we both hung up.