Thursday, 6 January 2011

Photoblog: Giants vs Eagles, New Meadowlands

Back in September, knowing I was visiting New York over Christmas, I decided to investigate whether there would be any sport worth watching while I was there. It turned out that NFL side the New York Giants would be playing the Philadelphia Eagles at New Meadowlands Stadium, New Jersey, about half an hour away from Manhattan.

I'd heard this game was something of a local derby, Meadowlands being about 100 miles or so from Philadelphia - which by American standards is a stone's throw. At the time, though, I didn't quite anticipate how important the game would prove.

Both teams went into the match with identical 9-4 win-loss records, knowing that the winner would most likely clinch the NFC East Divisional title and guaranteed passage into the play-offs. Or, to put it another way, not only would the victor get one over their local rivals, but they'd give them a kick in the balls just in time for post-season too.

The game didn't disappoint. Far from it. 

The Giants came out of the blocks fast and took a 24-3 lead at the half and the home fans were delighted. The Eagles fans sitting around us were enduring a torrent of light-hearted but relentless piss-taking.

Mid-way through the fourth quarter the Giants led 31-10, and fans of both sides started to head for the exits - as seems to be the way in America. Those who did - particularly Eagles fans - would miss one of the most spectacular finishes in NFL history. The Eagles picked up four unanswered touchdowns, including a punt return from DeSean Jackson with no time left on the clock, to win the game 38-31, sparking wild celebrations on the field and in the locker-room.

Such was the momentousness of the occasion that the game has even been given its own place in NFL lore with a nickname - "The Miracle at the New Meadowlands". It even has its own wikipedia page.

Here are some photos of the day:

 Another subtext to this game involved Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. Playing for Atlanta Falcons back in 2007, Vick was suspended after admitting involvement in an illegal dog-fighting ring. He was jailed in December of that year for 23 months, but was offered a route back into the NFL by the Eagles.

Despite his status as a hate figure for opposing sides, Vick's form has been simply magnificent. Beginning the 2010 season as third-choice quarterback, he displaced Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb to become number one. 

That still hasn't satisfied many, and on the morning of the Giants game the New York Times ran an advert by an organisation for the human treatment of animals, citing Vick's crime in criticising a competing charity which has stated that Vick could now own a pet dog.

Vick was a strong candidate for NFL Most Valuable Player this season, though that award looks like going to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. However, Vick remains a controversial character.

New Meadowlands Stadium. Opened 2010. Cost $1.6bn. Capacity 82,566. Breathtaking.

 "I can see my house from here."

It was a pretty cold day in New Jersey, only a little above freezing. Still - two sweaters, warm gloves...and shorts?! Go figure.

The Giants offense huddle. The interesting thing to the uninitiated is that at this point in the game the video screens tend to flash up a message which reads "Quiet! Offense at Work". This is where watching live American football runs rather counter-intuitively to the instincts of an Englishman.

At times like this those used to watching football (by which I naturally mean soccer) would be building the atmosphere. But American football fans recognise that their team need to be able to communicate effectively on the field, and so when the home side are on the attack the atmosphere remains fairly placid.
On the other hand, when the home side are in defense - particularly on a clutch play such as third down and short - the atmosphere builds to a deafening crescendo. It can be electric.

 Kosher hotdogs on sale in the stadium. You know you're in New York when...

The ubiquitous pretzel. $3 apiece.

 Why are you people leaving? It's 31-10 with eight minutes to go, there's still a chance of a comeback!

 Miracles can happen.


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Always glad to hear your thoughts. Be nice now! James