Like everyone, I was appalled by the video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice striking his then-fiancée in the face and dragging her unconscious body out of an Atlantic City hotel elevator. Like everyone, I was even more appalled by the NFL’s initial ruling on Rice — a two-game, slap-on-the-wrist suspension — as well as commissioner Roger Goodell’s subsequent, questionable assertion that he had not seen the full video of the incident before the mild punishment was handed down. Like everyone, I’m really hating football right now…but it’s not because of any of this.
Yes, it’s unconscionable that the league has seemingly become a safe house for women batterers and, with the allegations levied against Adrian Peterson, child abusers (depending on how you feel about beating little kids with sticks) — but I don’t believe it’s a reason to wholesale hate a once-beloved sport. Like all big organizations that have royally fucked up, those in power within the NFL will eventually be forced to atone for their sins at the altar of public opinion. So, no, I don’t hate football because of Ray Rice.
I hate it because I’m a New York Giants fan.
There’s one experience in particular that, for me, sums up the epic, never-ending mindfuck that is cheering for Big Blue…It was well over a week before Christmas, but I was already getting a big lump of coal in the form of the pathetic Giants performance that was unfolding before my eyes at MetLife Stadium. My seat, just 20 or so rows from the end zone, allotted me a perfect view as Rex Grossman completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss, giving the Redskins a 10-point lead over the G-Men in the second quarter. Grossman was a schlub, but our hapless defense was making him look like Joe fucking Montana.
There are few experiences more anguishing than sitting through a bad, late-season NFL football game in New York…err, New Jersey. Sure, bad baseball games can be torturous, but at least there’s a plethora of pleasantries at the ballpark with which to distract one’s self from the pain of watching the home team go down in flames. There’s the warm kiss of the summer sunshine, the cold invigoration of a frosty beer and, of course, the occasional hit-by-a-pitch.
But when your football team hasn’t converted a first down all afternoon and the air temperature is hovering south of freezing, all you can do is shiver in your frozen, over-priced seat and pray for the quick passage of time. And that’s exactly what I did on that December day as I watched my beloved Giants fade out like the end of a sad movie.
After starting the season 6-and-2, the Giants executed their patented November tailspin and dropped four out of their previous five games. And now they stood at the precipice of playoff elimination, trailing the lowly Redskins just two weeks before the season finale, on their way to a 23-10 loss in which Eli Manning would throw three interceptions.
But there’s one detail I’ve neglected to mention here — the year. It was 2011, the year that Manning would set the NFL season record for most fourth quarter touchdowns. The year Jason Pierre-Paul would register 16.5 sacks. The year the team would go on to win their final two games of the season in thrilling theatrics. The year they would steamroll the Atlanta Falcons in the opening round of the playoffs, rout the Packers in the next and beat the 49ers with an overtime field goal to clinch the franchise’s fifth NFC title. And it was the year they would shock the Patriots in the Super Bowl for the second time in four seasons, and place a fourth Lombardi trophy in their clubhouse.
With a 9-and-7 regular season record, the 2011 Giants were arguably the worst NFL team in history to win a championship — and that’s a perfect encapsulation of the franchise as a whole, and of the heartbreak inherent to Giants fandom. It’s a series of dizzying highs punctuated by soul-crushing lows…and I can’t take it anymore.
I can’t think of any other team that alternates between legend status and bottom-of-the-barrel shittiness as frequently as Big Blue. This perpetual flip-flopping has engendered a decades-long identity crisis of epic proportions within the hearts and minds of us hardcore Giants fans. Are we winners? Are we losers? At least Cleveland fans and Jacksonville fans know their teams are perpetual shit — they’ve accepted their fates. But Giants fans are strapped into a gut-wrenching roller coaster ride every season, with a schizophrenic carnie named Eli Manning working the controls.
One never knows which #10 will show up to the game — the 27-interceptions-in-a-single-season Eli Manning, or the two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning (though some will argue those two Super Bowl wins came courtesy of our punishing 2007 and 2011 defenses). Sure, even the games’ greatest quarterbacks have their ups and downs, but I don’t think the likes of Dan Marino and Bart Starr had their jerseys burned by angry fans just one game into the season.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Eli Manning. He’s my quarterback, and one that will be remembered among the all-time New York Giant greats. But every time he gets picked off in traffic or commits a delay of game penalty, these awkward selfies I took in Dunkin’ Donuts become really embarrassing to have on my Facebook wall.
Listen, I know it could be a lot worse. I could be a Jets fan, having to suffer through a 46-year championship drought marred by pitfalls like Mark Sanchez’s “butt fumble” and Rex Ryan’s foot fetish videos. The truth is, no matter how bad the Giants are, they’re always just good enough for us to never give up on them. Sadly, like so many victims of domestic abuse, we’ll always blame the pain on ourselves, and we’ll always keep coming back for more.