Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Goodbye Temple of Football

I was just reading the story by Jack Bell, on the NY Times Soccer Blog, regarding the 10 most memorable games at Giants Stadium. It got me thinking that I should post something on my personal Giants Stadium experience. So, alright - here goes:

This weekend (Saturday, October 24th, 2009, to be exact), there will be one final football match at Giants Stadium. Of course, I'm not referring to the so-called game where a pointy ball is thrown in the air (should it even be called a ball if it's not round?). I'm referring to the game where the ball is actually played with the feet. A game commonly referred to, around these parts, as soccer. It's a totally meaningless affair for our local Major League Soccer team, the New York Red Bulls, and a must win for their opponent, Toronto FC, who are desperately trying to nail down that final playoff spot. That's it! Giants Stadium will be torn down after the current NFL season and the new behemoth, being built next door, will take it's place.

Lucky for us Red Bulls fans, our team will never play a game there. No more ping-pong football, on a concrete-like artificial surface. No more horrible sight lines. No more NFL yard line markers. Instead, our team will be playing it's games at the brand spanking new Red Bull Arena (built by Makita) in beautiful downtown Harrison, NJ (right accross the Passaic River from beautiful downtown Newark, NJ).

That said, Giants Stadium was our Temple of Football and I can't help but get just a wee bit sentimental about the whole final game thing (excuse me, I have something in my eye). I've been to many sporting and musical events there, and will always have some great (and not so great) memories of the place.

In 1984, I saw my first football game at Giants Stadium. My father dragged me to a friendly between the now defunct NY Cosmos and Spanish powerhouse FC Barcelona, as he wanted to see some guy named Maradona play. It was a high scoring affair (the Cosmos won 5-3, if I remember correctly) and I was hooked. In 1994, I saw several World Cup games there, including Italy vs Ireland, Germany vs Bulgaria, Mexico vs Bulgaria and Italy vs Bulgaria. In 1996, I saw the first MetroStars home game (vs the New England Revolution) that ended with a Nicola Caricola own goal (and was a harbinger of things to come). In 2007, I saw the "Beckham" game where the NY Red Bulls defeated the LA Galaxy 5-4 in a real wild one. There are just so many more and I can go on forever (but I won't). Besides all that football action, I've also seen many a great band play there as well (Springsteen, The Police, Van Halen, Metallica, U2, the Stones, AC/DC - just to name a few).

Anyway, the thing I will miss the most about Giants Stadium will be the tailgate thing. There's nothing like hanging out with your friends and family in the parking lot, kicking the ball around, downing a cold one (or two, or three) and making drunken comments and predictions as a result. This season the games were an after-thought, as we usually expected the Red Bulls to lose. The camaraderie between Red Bulls supporter friends is what kept us going. Still, Hope Springs Eternal. I'm hoping for a much improved Red Bulls team next year. A team that will do justice to the new Cathedral of Football called Red Bull Arena (built by Makita).

But, whatever! The bottom line is: we'll be going to see our game in a stadium built specifically for football. A stadium with a REAL Grass surface, great sight lines AND a roof covering all the stands. A stadium built in a REAL neighborhood, with REAL pubs and restaurants nearby. Most importantly, we'll be going to a stadium with REAL public transportation options (TRAINS!). Fans will be able to travel to Red Bull Arena (built by Makita) via PATH trains (directly) or via NJ Transit trains (to Newark Penn Station, then transfer to the PATH). A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get a first-hand view of the place, as it nears completion. It's not even close! Going to see a game at the brand spanking new Red Bull Arena (built by Makita) will be a 1000x better experience than at Giants Stadium. So says the big viper!
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