By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 2, 2008
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., Feb. 1 -- Friday marked the point in Super Bowl Week when fans finally arrived en masse, bringing with them their team's branded apparel and clever insults for the opposition. And so as Patriots fan Rob McDonagh walked through Scottsdale early Friday afternoon, it was not surprising he drew taunts from New Yorkers. Instead, it was the nature of those taunts -- coming in February, in front of television analysts breaking down football strategy, in a downtown packed with Super Bowl memorabilia shops -- that stood out.
"Twenty-six championships!" McDonagh heard from the crowd. "How does that feel?"
McDonagh was, at the time, wearing a Boston Red Sox jersey. Naturally.
The run-up to Sunday's game has focused on the Patriots' quest for undefeated football immortality and the Giants' attempt to stop them, and the majority of fans strolling through the streets of Glendale, Scottsdale and Tempe are wearing the emblems of one of those two teams.
But there also are hundreds if not thousands of fans in greater Phoenix wearing Red Sox and Yankees hats, showing off Fenway Park and Mickey Mantle T-shirts, bringing baseball's best rivalry to bear on a football game that has taken on significant geographic ramifications.
Patriots fans are quick to point out they feel no natural hatred for the Giants. Many old-time New Englanders, in fact, grew up rooting for the Giants before Boston got its AFL franchise in 1960, and are more accustomed to rooting against the Jets. And Giants fans counter by discussing their great hatred for the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, traditional football rivalries based on history and divisional status.
"It overflows, of course it does," Boston fan Tom Morgan said of the baseball rivalry. "It goes back generations."
"I'm a Yankees fan. I hate the Red Sox, I hate all sports teams from Boston," New York fan Tom Ward said. "They can go to hell."
"We like to stick it to New York just like we stuck it to them in the World Series," Boston fan Steve Reilly said. "Now we're going to win the football championship, and we're going to win the basketball championship, too."
"They call Chicago the second city, but Boston's way below that," New York fan Sal Minardi said.
"It definitely means more to beat the city of New York than any other city, there's no question," Boston fan Greg Menzel said. "That's the city. If we've got to pick somebody to beat, it's them."
"Boston is a lesser city," New York fan Bernie Koen said. "We hate 'em. Red Sox, Patriots, hate 'em all."
Baseball rivalry aside, these Super Bowl participants are located closer geographically than those of all but three previous games: the New York Jets and Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, Giants and Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV and Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears a year ago.
Fans in Arizona this week have gone to non-sports stereotypes when discussing the upcoming game: New Yorkers playfully calling Boston a provincial wannabe and Bostonians calling New Yorkers crass and rude.
Such feelings have been flamed by the recent past between the Red Sox and Yankees, who have combined for 10 American League East titles and six wild-card berths in the past 10 seasons.
In recent days, promoters in Scottsdale have begun handing out glossy fliers containing the Yankees' and Red Sox' 2008 schedules.
Commentators in both cities have said by registering a massive upset on Sunday, the Giants could help assuage Yankees fans still smarting from the 2004 American League Championship Series, when the Red Sox won four straight games to erase an 0-3 deficit.
"That caused a lot of pain and anguish in New York; we would like to create the same pain and anguish in Boston," said Pete Ryan, who paired a Giants cap with a Yankees shirt Friday afternoon.
Of course, members of the Patriots and Giants have laughed away questions of this regional baseball rivalry affecting two football teams in different conferences that have played each other just eight times.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who spends much of his free time in Manhattan, was once famously photographed in a Yankees hat. Presumably he won't be thinking of the 2004 American League playoffs on Sunday.
But those steeped in the rivalry weren't surprised to hear that fans were talking baseball in the run-up to a football game.
"You know it matters with the fans, but when I listen to the two teams I don't hear that," said Reggie Jackson, who said his Yankees pedigree compels him to root for the Giants. "The fans are the rivalry more than the players; it's the excitement and the craziness and the enthusiasm from the fans that gets your adrenaline going."
"It's never gonna die, I don't care what sport," said Rickey Henderson, who played for both the Yankees and the Red Sox. "If you have the Knicks and Boston Celtics, you'd have the same rivalry, because fans still feel the same way about the other city."
And so when walking through Scottsdale Friday afternoon, it hardly was surprising to hear a Giants fan and two Patriots fans discussing whether the Yankees' Joba Chamberlain should be a starter or a closer this season.
At a nearby bar, dozens of Patriots fans were outside on a patio; many said Sunday's game was about finishing off a perfect season, not about the Yankees. Still, they said if the Patriots got up big, fans could expect to hear their trademark "Yankees Suck" chant.
"I guarantee it," Ed Lasater said. "I guarantee it."
Washingtonpost.com's Jonathan Forsythe contributed to this report.