After long playoff drought, Giants can bring party to MetLife on Sunday
The Giants have a chance to give their home fans a glimpse of something they haven’t seen in person in over a decade: A playoff team.
The last time one was spotted playing in these parts was January 2012 when the Giants beat the Cowboys at home in the regular-season finale to clinch the division title then a week later trounced the Falcons in the first – and so far only – playoff game at MetLife Stadium.
The euphoria of those two wins hasn’t been matched since, and the soundtrack of the stadium has mostly turned sour in the years between. Most of the players have heard more boos than cheers during home games of their careers, and that’s when Giants fans have bothered to show up or stick around. The abandonment of the building late in lost games and late in lost seasons has routinely allowed visiting team supporters to overrun it.
These current Giants players have probably withstood “Fly, Eagles, Fly” echo off the gray walls and seats more often than they have heard “Let’s go Giants,” including toward the end of their game two short weeks ago. It hasn’t been the fault of the fans. There just hasn’t been much to get behind.
Even the 2016 team that stands as the most recent postseason participants never got to appear as such in the Meadowlands. They backed into their berth after a road loss to the Eagles in Week 16, secured their seeding in Washington, then lost a wild-card game in Green Bay. You would have had a better chance of seeing those playoff-bound Giants aboard a yacht in Miami than in a stadium in New Jersey.
But Sunday can change all of that.
Sunday can be a party.
All the Giants have to do to launch it is beat the Colts.
It will almost certainly be the last home appearance for the team this season. Barring a string of January upsets there will be no MetLife playoff games for the Giants (or, for that matter, the stadium’s other residents who have already finished their home slate). A team that hasn’t always been warmed at its own hearth will have this chance to stoke the fires and cozy up with their long-suffering fans.
“I’m looking forward to the atmosphere for sure,” wide receiver Darius Slayton said. “It’ll be great to end the season on a high note. Every year regardless of whatever your predicament is you want to try to win that last home game just to send everybody off with good vibes. Obviously there is a bit more on the line than a good vibe this time around, but that mindset is always the same.”
There are other paths into the playoffs for the Giants than the direct win-and-in. They can get in with a loss or even another tie this weekend if a series of other results go their way. They could even find themselves in a win-or-else game next week in Philadelphia. There is even a pathway for them to make the postseason without winning another game this season.
Doing it with a victory rather than by backing in, doing it at home rather than on the road, is by far the most desirable route.
While there is a long history of disappointment – this is a franchise that hosted “The Greatest Game Ever Played” 64 years ago on Wednesday… and lost it -- those few times Giants fans have gotten an opportunity to celebrate have been epic. The two home games that ended the regular season and began the playoffs rocked MetLife like only Springsteen has done since. Odell Beckham Jr. almost single-handedly beating the Cowboys in early December during that 2016 season certainly sparked exuberance. The 41-0 rout of the Vikings for the 2000 NFC Championship was a rave from start to finish.
And has there been a more iconic symbol of the soul cleansing from pent up anger and dismay as the confetti snowstorm at old Giants Stadium that capped the 1986 NFC Championship en route to the team’s first Super Bowl title?
Sunday has a chance to rival those jubilations.
Several years ago John Mara spoke of his fondest memories with the Giants. There were championships and Super Bowls from which to choose, but he selected one a bit more obscure.
It was the last home game of the 1981 season and the Giants beat the Cowboys in overtime. The win didn’t even clinch a playoff berth for the team – that and the end of a dreadful 17-year span without a postseason appearance would come the following day when the Jets beat the Packers at Shea Stadium – but it was a victory that helped turn the narrative of the team from laughingstocks toward contenders.
After that win the elevators at Giants Stadium weren’t working so Mara and his late father Wellington had to walk down the spiraling ramps among the fans to reach the field level. As they did Wellington was hailed, cheered and huzzahed by the same people who just three years earlier had mocked and jeered him.
“To walk down with him, to have people congratulating him and slapping him on the back and all that stuff, that to me is a moment that probably compares with any of the Super Bowl wins,” Mara said.
It was only last September when John Mara experienced the kind of vitriol his father had endured, booed lustily during the ceremony that retired Eli Manning’s jersey number. Sixteen months later the Giants have a chance to make a statement about their turnaround from that depth with a win over the Colts.
Who knows? Mara may even decide to take the escalator down from his suite if they can pull that off.