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Giants host hundreds of Newtown residents at game

Families from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown,

Families from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., gather on the field during the national anthem before the game. (Dec. 30, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the New York Giants trotted onto the MetLife Stadium field Sunday, Isaiah Williams, a third-grader at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and a team fan "since I was born," gave cornerback Corey Webster a high-five.

"You're boss," the 8-year-old said, offering the 30-year-old words of pregame encouragement.

Matthew Bradbury, 10, a fifth-grader at the school, slapped hands with defensive end Justin Tuck. "So far it's the experience of a lifetime, to be on field and high-five the players," Matthew said.

Mallika Suyal, 8, a third-grader, admitted she is not really a Giants fan.

"Not yet," said her father, Ved Suyal, 45. "But she's going to be one."

Newtown resident Kim Bassett, who was at the game with her teenage son, said she saw something on the field she hadn't seen in a while. "All the kids were smiling," she said.

Two weeks after a gunman killed six adults and 20 students at Sandy Hook, more than 400 Newtown residents -- about 200 students from the elementary school and families -- were guests of the Giants as the team took on the Philadelphia Eagles in their final game of the season before a crowd of 80,657.

For a moment before the game, the Newtown residents and the Giants held hands on the field in what the stadium announcer described as "a circle of faith." The stadium was silent and all attention was on the families once more.

The New England Patriots also claim the hearts of football fans in Newtown, a community of 27,000 people about two and half hours' drive from Boston.

But the Giants, who play in a stadium about an hour and 40 minutes away from Newtown, now have a hold.

Wide receiver Victor Cruz drove to Newtown after the shootings to visit the family of Jack Pinto, a 6-year-old who was buried wearing his jersey with Cruz's name. The strength of Jack's love for the team led Cruz to "go up there and pay homage to his family," he said. Cruz vowed to stay in touch with the family.

One little girl stood on the field holding a poster that had a photo of Pinto attached. Next to it, she had written, "To Victor Cruz, I was friends with Jack Pinto." Other residents carried photos or held banners thanking the team for its generosity.

The Giants' 42-7 victory over the Eagles "was the first time, probably in a long time, that somebody put a smile on their faces," Cruz said.

Safety Antrel Rolle said the Newtown residents' attendance, and their appearance on the field, "puts things in perspective."

"It's a heartbreaking feeling, at the same time we just tried to go out there and give those kids something to look forward to . . . something to raise their spirits," he said.

Guard Chris Snee shook hands and slapped high-fives with many of the Newtown children before the game. In the locker room afterward, he said the players wanted to win for the families.

"We played for them," he said.

But a football game -- even a Giants blowout win -- can only do so much.

"People are still trying to put the pieces together," said Nick Debellis, 32, a Newtown golf course superintendent said of life after the school attack.

Richard Wilford, 36, an IT manager and youth football coach, said he is still trying to answer his 7-year-old son Richard's questions about the shooting, but not in too much detail.

Adam Lanza, 20, forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, shot and killed 20 first-graders and six adults with an assault rifle, then killed himself with a handgun, police said. He fatally shot his mother in their home before going to the school.

Getting out of town and riding a bus to the stadium felt good, said Hunter Bassett, 18.

"Everyone was happy, kind of excited, all in good spirits," he said. "It was a nice change of pace for all of us. We had something to look forward to [and] be happy about."

With Tom Rock

New York Sports