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New Yorkers like to think they have access to the best and most and worst of everything, and quite often they do, whether it happens to be pasta or murders, music or shouting, architecture or cab wrecks, or even, as in the year 1976, the most of the worst in professional football.
Last Sunday the two New York teams came home after four weeks on the road with a combined record of 0 and 8. The New Yorker who owed no particular allegiance to either the Giants or the Jets but had the know-how to obtain a ticket to one of two stadiums was faced with a curious dilemma. Should he try to find the New Jersey swamp where the Giants had moved and watch what used to be the darlings of Manhattan lose to the Dallas Cowboys while christening their new home? Or should he perhaps go out to windy old Shea and watch what used to be the darlings of Queens play a game they might have a chance to win, inasmuch as the Jets were matched against the Buffalo Bills, a team that is every bit as inept and possibly as unhappy?
There were side benefits to each choice. By going across the Hudson River into dark and strange New Jersey to watch the gang that still claims New York as its nest—but has carefully replaced the familiar "NY" headgear logo with "Giants," in case anybody from Essex Fells or East Orange notices—the New Yorker could at least be treated to seeing what a solid club looks like, this being the Cowboys. And by going out to the Jet-Buffalo game the extra treat would be to visualize a couple of millionaires, Joe Namath and O. J. Simpson, combating the media. Earlier in the week both Namath and Simpson had sounded off about the same press that has helped make them wealthy. Such ironies are not new to sport, however.
In any event, something special was happening on both flanks of Manhattan last Sunday afternoon, and about 135,000 people went to the trouble to see it live. In Shea Stadium the fans got very little of Namath passing or Simpson running, and while it can hardly be said that they were served up a thriller of a game, at least they could leave the place with the memory of a win. The Jets outgroped the Bills 17-14 for their first victory of the season but, as any hard-core New Yorker knew, even the old Titans with Al Dorow throwing end-over-ends won occasionally.
At almost the very same moment that Pat Leahy was placekicking the winning field goal for the Jets, a group of astute Giant fans over in the new stadium in the Hackensack marshes was hoisting a homemade banner which said it all as far as New York's other team was concerned: BRAND NEW STADIUM—SAME OLD GIANTS.
By then it was obvious that the Cowboys were going to christen the premises with a relatively easy victory (the final score was 24-14) and leave the Giants, for the first time in their history, with an 0-5 record. If these Giants are not really as bad as some recent Giant teams, they are going to have a splendid experience trying to prove it, for, as everyone knows, they are in the NFL East, tough as divisions go, and overall their schedule looks to be a horror.
It had been suspected by the more optimistic Giant enthusiasts that moving into the new stadium would inspire the Craig Mortons and Larry Csonkas and John Medenhalls into the sort of mood that might produce a spectacular upset. After all, they would have more than 76,000 partisan throats to call on for emotional sustenance. Realists knew better, if only by reading the local newspapers, in which the Giant press corps had of late been forced to retreat to the team's punter, Dave Jennings, to find any sort of hero to write about.
The game itself was hardly more than one quarter old when the Cowboys proved they could do just about anything they wished. Roger Staubach and his legions of outstanding runners and receivers made nine straight first downs and 14 points the first two times they controlled the football. It was 17-0 at half-time, and most Giant fans probably settled back in their seats to dwell on what the stadium will be like in future years when the swamp isn't seeping through the floor of the service level and the players in the blue uniforms more closely resemble the old fellows that were introduced before the opening kickoff, the Giant champions of 1956. Conerly, Rote, Grier, Webster and that bunch.
It is a fine stadium the Giants have, a pure football parlor with comfortable seats, but in obtaining it the club lost a lot of hearts, no doubt some soul, and probably in the long run an identity with New York City and the glories of its past. The loyal and faithful can argue all they want that Hackensack is as close to the womb of Giant love—midtown Manhattan's taverns—as Yankee Stadium was, but they cannot take it out of New Jersey. It would, in fact, be appropriate if the team one day became the New Jersey Giants, in name and logo, because, well, there is hardly anyone around these days who still refers to the Chicago Bears as the Decatur Staleys.
Actually, the Giants more than likely are no worse this season than the Jets, and this has been more or less true for the past few years. It could be argued that the Giants have tried harder than the Jets to do something about it. Getting Craig Morton, giving Csonka most of Wall Street, changing coaches, etc.