They're Giants in name, tradition
By SCOTT KEELER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2001
The tradition began for me in 1968 when my father pulled our car into the Yankee Stadium parking lot early one Sunday morning as an irritated attendant directed us to a spot.
"Closer!" the man yelled as my father gave him a dirty look. We parked so close to the next vehicle we could barely get out of the car.
"Go Giants!" the attendant yelled to my father as we began to unload our trunk full of tailgate party items.
After an hour or two of trading New York Giants stories while munching on fried chicken and Italian submarine sandwiches and washing it down with cold whiskey sours (I had chocolate milk), my dad and his friends headed toward their season seats in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium to see the team he referred to as "The Beloveds" or "Big Blue," who would face their Sunday afternoon foes in the Bronx.
My father, William Keeler, a high school principal from Basking Ridge, N.J., had purchased six New York Giants season tickets in 1954 at the suggestion of a friend. That was the start of a long tradition. He would attend almost every home game until his death in 1989. I still hold on to those six season tickets at Giants Stadium to this day.
He and his friends followed the team through bad seasons and good, to Shea Stadium in Queens and to the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Conn., while the franchise and its fans waited for their current home, Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., to be built.
The first game I can remember attending with my father was in 1968 at Yankee Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals toward the end of the regular season. I was 9 years old. The Giants' head coach, Allie Sherman, was being ridiculed by Giants fans for achieving a less than stellar record that year.
"Goodbye, Allie, goodbye, Allie," the fans would sing to the tune of Good Night, Ladies. "We hate to see you go." The Giants lost the game 28-21 to a mediocre Cardinals team. A quiet group of fans filed out of Yankee Stadium that day for the ride home.
The impressions that have stayed with me from those Giants games in the mid-to-late 1960s are of intense fan loyalty for the team and the camaraderie of the fans.
Each week as my dad would take his seat at the game with his friends, he would wave to a man he called "Big Mike from Connecticut," who smoked the longest, greenest, smelliest cigars known to man. The smell of Big Mike's cigars would waft throughout the stadium and assault your nostrils during the game.
The men would trade stories about their families, the Giants' record or their favorite player. You expected to see Big Mike sitting in his season seat at each home game for the rest of his life.
Behind us sat a man my father referred to as "The Judge," who was a local New York magistrate from Long Island. When things were going well for the Giants and their young quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, the Judge would refer to him as Sir Francis, but when things got ugly, he'd call him "#$%#* Fran."
"I'd hate to be in his courtroom on a Monday morning after a Giants loss," my father would say.
I truly enjoyed the pregame trips, traveling along the New Jersey Turnpike as we headed toward the George Washington Bridge and Yankee Stadium on those Sunday mornings.
There were the stories my father would tell about the great Giants games he attended at Yankee Stadium during earlier seasons. Like the time the Giants were defeated by the Baltimore Colts and their great quarterback, Johnny Unitas, in a sudden death overtime to win the championship in 1958.
Or when Pat Summerall kicked a 47-yard field goal from a frozen, snow-covered Yankee Stadium field to give the Giants a 13-10 win over the Cleveland Browns, forcing a playoff game for the conference championship also in 1958.
Or about the famous Cleveland Browns running back, Jim Brown, and his amazing determination to get the extra yard on a running play.
But the one story that always started a carload of laughs was the one my father would tell about meeting the famous crooner, Nat King Cole, in the men's room in Yankee Stadium.
"Hey Nat," my father yelled while standing in line to use the urinal. The two traded conversation while doing their business.
I'm not sure whether The Beloveds will defeat Trent Dilfer and the Ravens to win Super Bowl XXXV. The last time the Giants visited Tampa Bay for the big game 10 years ago, they certainly gave their fans plenty to cheer about. They defeated the Buffalo Bills on the last play when Scott Norwood's field goal attempt sailed wide right.
From my seat in Tampa Stadium that evening, I looked skyward after the missed kick and said, "That was for you, Dad." I cried and hugged a Giants fan, a stranger, sitting next to me.
The one thing I do know is that when I see the old New York Giants helmet logo on the field in Tampa Sunday, I'll be reminded of the smell of Big Mike's stinky cigar and a group of loyal Giants fans who loved their team enough to put up with it.
- Scott Keeler is a staff photographer for the St. Petersburg Times in the Clearwater office and is a native of Basking Ridge, N.J. He has been a Giants season ticket holder since 1991 and a die-hard fan all of his life.
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