This is the first entry in a series of posts about the lengths to which football fans will go to follow games that a cruel twist of fate has prevented them from watching. Got your own story of panic and resourcefulness? Send it to EMfootballstories@gmail.com. We'll publish the most inspired ones.
There comes a time in every football fan's life when insidious outside forces rip him or her away from a college Saturday, an NFL Sunday, or, criminally, both. That this occurs is good for Verizon and great for the advertising agency that creates Verizon's NFL Mobile commercials, but soul-annihilating for we consumers. Georgia coach Mark Fox knows what I'm talking about:
A wedding at a home near ours this afternoon. I told my son if ur girlfriend wants 2 get married during a Georgia game-find a new girlfriend — Mark Fox (@coachmarkfox) November 2, 2013
Such ultimatums were not an option for me when I received a "Save the Date" indicating that my cousin Alex's wedding would take place on January 20, 2008—the weekend of the AFC and NFC Championship games. Months later, as I was traveling from my home in Jersey to the wedding in Charlotte, and the Giants—my Giants—were traveling from their home in Jersey to the NFC title game in Green Bay, I reiterated my displeasure with the scheduling. “How could I have known that the Giants would make the NFC Championship game!?” Alex responded. Oh, I don't know: Better planning? Higher expectations? Blind faith?
The magnitude of my challenge was established immediately upon arrival in North Carolina, when my aunt—Alex's mother, and no dummy—informed me at the airport that the game wouldn't be shown at the wedding. "We’ll DVR it and watch it later," she offered, knowing full well that I was in little position to maneuver out of the unsatisfactory arrangement. I locked eyes with my brother Adam and then-girlfriend (now wife) Michele and made the unmistakable sound of grievous chomiting. Nearly 1,000 miles away, Tom Coughlin was game-planning for Brett Favre & Co. Our mission clear, Adam and I began outlining a strategy of our own.
We knew that kickoff, scheduled for 6:30 p.m., aligned almost exactly with the exchange of vows. In the historical wilderness that was January of 2008, the vast majority of people did not yet have phones capable of providing real-time scores, much less streaming video. Still, it was clear that phones were our only lifelines. Seeing no other option, we enlisted five friends to text message us with what would amount to comprehensive play-by-play, right down to down and distance. With the plan crystallized, we entered the synagogue.
The game started uneventfully enough: Through the first 18 minutes, the only scoring was a pair of Giants field goals. That gave me time to feign nuptial attentiveness while self-medicating with glasses of scotch to ward off creeping anxiety. Before long, the combined effects of the Giants' lead and the brown liquor began to make me feel confident in Big Blue’s ability to compete at Lambeau.
Text message: “Uh oh. Driver 90 yd td.”
I raced to the bar for more scotch, only to learn that Adam I weren’t alone: Among the 180+ wedding guests were roughy three dozen men from New York and New Jersey who were similarly fiending for game updates. The agony of the unknown, amplified.
Text message: “Plax caught long pass down to GB 32. 48 seconds left in half.
Of course the Giants didn’t score, and entered halftime down 10-6 despite dominating time of possession. I sought out the bartender to fortify for the second half.
Text message: “Coughlin’s face is a shade of red I didn’t know existed.”
My mind was elsewhere when the emcee introduced me, Cousin Brett, at the start of the reception. At roughly the same time the whistle blew to open the second half, I stiffened in my seat as the DJ fired up Dexys Midnight Runners’ "Come On Eileen." More like, come on, defense. By this point at a given wedding I'd typically be lighting up the dance floor with a mean fish hook or some graceless shuffle, but I couldn't bring myself to dance with my mind on the game and so much hanging in the balance. Instead I remained seated, taxing the screws that secured my flip phone's screen. Midway through third quarter and well into the reception, the Giants trailed 17-13. Enough was enough. Adam and I began surveying the landscape, devising an exit strategy.
Text message: Toomer 23 yd pass!!! Down to GB 12. Text message: GB challenging. Dude you have to get a TV, this is ridiculous. Ice Bowl 2.
The bride and groom had not yet made the rounds to our table, so we began discussing eventualities: We're family—would they feel it necessary to stop by our table? If they did, would they notice if we were missing? Would they want to take a table photo? Why do people even take table photos?
Then Ahmad Bradshaw put the Giants up 20-17 with just a couple minutes left in the third, and I found myself imbued with bravado and indifference. It was time. I was leaving—boldly going to my grandmother’s vacant hotel room to watch the end of the game. It didn't matter if anyone was willing to come with me. It didn't matter if wedding etiquette dictated that I take a table photo. This was happening. I bolted.
Adam followed five second later and Michele, per our instructions, trailed 30 steps behind. The rendezvous point was a remote hallway near an elevator, and everyone arrived safely, having successfully evaded any family members who might implore us to stay. We stormed into the hotel room and turned on the 20-inch tube TV just in time to watch Mason Crosby boot a 37-yarder to tie the game at 20-20.
Hello, paralyzing fear that we might be bad luck.
After Lawrence Tynes biffed a 43-yard field goal with 6:53 remaining, and then missed again on a 36-yard attempt at the end of regulation, I was certain that the football gods were dispensing punishment for my callousness.
But come now. There's no such thing as luck. There's no such thing as football gods. And there's no keeping Larry Tynes down. As we watched in our formalwear, the Giants' embattled bootman connected on a game-winning 47-yarder just a few minutes into overtime. Adam, Michele and I erupted, bounding about the hotel room, trampolining from bed to bed, pig-piling, shouting “We’re going to the Super Bowl!!!!” all the while.
By the time we returned to our table, everyone already knew— that the Giants had won the game, and that we had spent the last hour in a hotel room watching them do so. Even Alex must have known when he bumped into us and asked, “Where have you guys been?” If he didn't, I tipped my hand with a stammered, "Guh, we ... uh, we've just been partying."
No matter. We headed to the dance floor. It was time to fish hook.