I started loving the Giants when I was growing up in Brooklyn, and I've never been able to get them out of my heart, nor have I wanted to, not even after they crossed the river to the New Jersey Meadowlands.
I've lived in Washington 25 years now, and I like the Redskins too. But they'll never replace the Giants. The Redskins are a diversion; the Giants a lesson in life. To be more specific, a lesson in dealing with adversity.
It was Allie Sherman who taught the Giants and their fans about adversity, starting in 1961, five seasons before the first Super Bowl, during Sherman's first year as anticoach. His victim was one of the most marvelous of all football players, the celebrated quarterback Yelberton Abraham Tittle, who had just been voted by fans as the most popular Giants player.
Some details blur, but, aided by old newspaper clips, this is how I recall it:
It was a raw Dec. 17, a day after a snowfall, and my feet got soaked walking from the subway to Yankee Stadium. Giants vs. Cleveland Browns, and the home team, heavily favored, needed only a tie to edge the Philadelphia Eagles for the Eastern Conference championship. The game quickly turned into a defensive battle. Sam Huff was doing a good job keying on Jim Brown; other defenders, such as Andy Robustelli, Roosevelt Grier, Dick Modzelewski and Joe Morrison filling in as safety, did their part.
Tittle mounted three first-quarter drives. One ended with an Alex Webster fumble on the Browns 1-yard line; one with a penalty around the 20. Tittle finished the third, however, with a seven-yard touchdown pass as the quarter neared its end. The halftime score was 7-0; it could have been 21-0 with Tittle's strong play.
As the Giants opened their first series of the third quarter, there were 12 players in the huddle. One emerged and raced off the field like an embarrassed high school kid. Lo and behold, it was Tittle, yanked without even being told so by Sherman. That's not adversity, it's humiliation.
The game ended in a 7-7 tie. In that one day, Sherman introduced management bungling to the Giants as much as he did humiliation to Tittle's marvelous career. Unfortunately, the bungling became as much a part of the Giants' tradition as their ever-solid defense. Later on, Sherman got rid of many of the best players. Thus began two decades of decline.
But in New York and across the river, all that is changed now.
Being a Giants fan in Washington has been easy this season. It's not just the 10-0 start and getting to the Super Bowl, it's the extras that go along with being a winner for much of the '80s. Like having 11 (count 'em, 11) Giants games on TV here during the regular season. What a feast. Like having a Washington Post columnist eat his words after writing the Giants couldn't possibly beat the 49ers. Like watching Mike Ditka and Don Shula and other coaches say their teams couldn't compete with the Giants; and, of course, like beating the Redskins twice.
I think my team will win today. My preference is for the usual Super Bowl procedure, in which the NFC team takes control early. The Giants' awesome defense will stop the run and pressure Jim Kelly, huddle or no huddle, into one or two early interceptions. On our side, Jeff Hostetler has been playing better than Phil Simms did before he got hurt. Mark Bavaro is back, wide receivers Stephen Baker and Mark Ingram have come into their own; Dave Meggett could break open the game.
But I'm a lifelong Giants fan, and what that means -- much as I hate to think it -- is that I am prepared to lose. Winning is nice. Giving it your best shot is more important. Giants fans, steeped in adversity for so long, may be the last in America who still believe that. The annoying "We're No. 1" sign -- the twitching index finger -- well, few of us do that.
For most teams and their followers, it would be hard to be humble with a season record of 15-3; it certainly is for Buffalo. Not for us. The symbol of a big-game Giants victory is dousing the coach with Gatorade. Even Lawrence Taylor has learned humility.
Regardless of what happens today, reaching the Super Bowl for the second time in five seasons probably means that next year also will be a cushy one for Giants fans in Washington. I'm looking for another 11 games on TV, maybe even 12. Go Giants.
Barry Sussman is a former Washington Post editor.