Playing in the Meadowlands

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - MAY 25: Demolition continues at Giants Stadium, adjacent to the New Meadowlands Stadium on May 25, 2010 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

I do not have fond memories of the old Giants Stadium in East Rutherford.

This mostly stems from a very bad first impression while attending my very first game there. It was on December 13th, 1997 - a day I can only remember because of the year, and the knowledge that the visitors that day where the Redskins. I can remember following the team to some extent going back to the tail end of the Bill Parcells era, but it doesn't seem like team allegiances really solidify until some point in adolescence. Unfortunately, I did not see Scott Norwood's kick live, as that was certainly way past my bedtime at the time (my first salient football memory actually was watching Dennis Byrd's neck injury.)

During the midpoint of the nineties, the New Jersey Devils were the only game in town, or at least it seemed that way to my young imagination. I would always cajole and beg parents, relatives, any available figures for tickets, and ended up spending many the night in Brendan Byrne Arena (with corporate sponsors Continental Airlines and Izod not to come into the picture until later.) Being a lifelong insomniac, it was never too much of a stretch to lawyer my way into games here and there on a school night. That, or Mom and Dad just were wore down by all the incessant begging, lacking the will for to say "no" when I was obviously far more invested in prevailing.

I don't quite recall the circumstances (the holidays?), but eventually I got it in my mind to make the pilgrimage up the Garden State Parkway again, this time to partake in a Giants football contest. In retrospect, I'm not sure how my mother ended up getting the tickets (for the two of us, plus my best friend). The Giants have one of the longest season ticket waiting lists in football, and were on the verge of clinching a playoff bid. This was pre-dating the internet secondary market, so it would have had to been one of those unadvertised Ticketmaster releases. My pal spent the entire car ride eagerly recounting the (now, discounted) legend of Jimmy Hoffa being buried in under one of the end zones, much to my mother's consternation.

All I can remember on the day was how freakin' cold it was. We had all dressed warmly, and even brought a blanket, but there was so much wind chill that everyone's breath was visible. I remember lots of teeth chattering, with my face getting really numb, painful, and red. We couldn't focus at all on the game because of the conditions, but even then I took note of a what an utter dump the whole place was. The final straw was when the bathroom sinks had no hot water to relieve the blistering cold. Feh! We all agreed in unison to leave at halftime, which unfortunately was not my finest hour as a fan. I did get a blue winter cap from the gift shop on the way out though, which I treasured for a year or two before it was most likely liberated by an unscrupulous classmate.

Thirteen years later it's a much different story. A couple times a year my father will tag along to Rutgers games, which always leads to inevitable complaints about the bleacher seating being hell on his back. When there were discussions about replacing Giants Stadium with a domed field a couple years back, I was adamantly against the proposal. Yes, SWIRLING WINDS are no picnic (as I learned first hand), but it would be crazy for the Giants and Jets to give up part of their natural home field advantage.

Unfortunately there isn't going to be a Medieval Times-themed halftime show, so outside of the actual game I am mostly looking forward to the amenities. Reviews generally deem the structure as a generic gray slab straight out of design committee hell, but at least everything is new (and looks snazzy at least on television.) There'll be nice seats, shiny new scoreboards, and better concessions (although I hear Aramark does a lot better with CitiField.) New Jersey taxpayers had to shell out hundreds of millions for the new rail line to the stadium, so everyone ought to at least get some use out of that too. Be sure to bring a pair of shades to make sure that the image of Xanadu doesn't get seared into your retinas.

Coach Schiano had it right the other day: moving this game was about the money. Rutgers football can play on the moon if it means getting closer to operating in the black, but otherwise home games (especially marquee ones) for the most part need to stay in Piscataway. The Meadowlands should remain an occasional foray for generating a little extra scratch, whether in terms of up-front guarantees, or hypothetically if there would ever be a game that needed the increased seating capacity. That's my story for now, and I'll try to stick to it even if I am seduced by the luxury and opulence on Saturday.

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