Justin Tuck remembers the first time he was in Giants Stadium. It was the 2002 Kickoff Classic; his Notre Dame team faced Maryland. He didn't realize at the time that he'd wind up playing the first five years of his NFL career in that same building, or that he'd be on the field when the Giants played their final game there.
But what he did realize right away was how special Giants Stadium was.
"It was the first time I played in an NFL stadium and it was a great place," Tuck said. "I remember walking into the locker room and saying 'Hey, why isn't our locker room this big?' I thought to myself: 'That's how the NFL is, bigger and better.' It was an awesome experience."
The Giants have had dozens of "awesome" experiences in their 34 seasons of calling Giants Stadium home. Sunday, they will play their 283rd and (most likely) last game before moving to a new, nearly complete $1.6-billion stadium that is so close, it practically butts up against the north side of the old one.
And though the game has its implications for this season - the Giants need a win over the Carolina Panthers to keep their playoff hopes alive - the historical significance has been hitting the players throughout the week.
Guard Chris Snee said he was having breakfast with his sons earlier this week when it struck him. "We'd like to send it out the right way," he said.
Defensive tackle Barry Cofield came to the same conclusion during the week. "It'll probably hit us on the field when they announce it before the game," he said. "That's very big for the fans. We would love to win one for them, for Giants Stadium in the last game, and also for the importance that this game has in the season."
Every member of the Giants will bring his own memories down the tunnel, into the locker room and out onto the field for the final time Sunday. Many players recalled their first game with the Giants as a lingering impression. Some, such as Tuck, harked back to their college days. Tom Coughlin, who coached at Syracuse and Boston College, remembered coming to Giants Stadium for Big East football media days.
"I remember . . . sitting there in the stadium and doing interviews with people and having some of the Giants' players walk by," Coughlin said. "That was pretty cool. That was kind of neat."
Others, such as Rich Seubert, a nine-year veteran and the longest-tenured Giants player, had only NFL moments. Seubert recalled the game in which Michael Strahan broke the single-season sack record with a takedown of Brett Favre as one of his top memories, along with the game against the Redskins after Wellington Mara passed away.
Seubert has played more games at Giants Stadium than any other active Giant, but he still can't be trumped by Ronnie Barnes. The team's head trainer joined the organization in 1976, the same year it moved to Giants Stadium.
"The thoughts and emotions for me will obviously be the same as everybody else, because we are leaving a building where we have had some great success," Barnes said. "But I think we are so excited to be moving to new facilities. We go to all the stadiums around the country that have large locker rooms, much like this new facility. We are very anxious to go there and create new memories for the new building."
The Giants have an overall record of 162-120 at Giants Stadium, which includes 7-4 in the playoffs and 4-1 in games in which they were technically the visiting team (3-1 against the Jets, 1-0 against the Saints after Hurricane Katrina).
Though fans might not be aware of the old basketball hoop or the distant bathrooms at Giants Stadium, most are aware of its most recognizable characteristic: the wind.
"I love the wind," said Tuck, who has never had to throw a football in it. "Everybody talks about how cold the stadium gets when it gets windy, but I like it like that. I really think that can be and has been some home cooking for us, especially those teams that come in here from the West Coast or the South who aren't used to it. That's one of the more evident things I know about this stadium and one of the things I look forward to each Sunday."
The significance of the game is slightly diluted because the Jets actually will play the final regular-season game at Giants Stadium next Sunday against the Bengals. "They have as much right to play the last game here as we do," Tuck said. "Obviously, I'm biased about it. If I had a say-so, I'd have had it the other way around. But I don't."
The Giants also know that not all of their fans will be making the short journey to the new stadium. With PSLs pricing some longtime fans out of the new building, the Giants know that this will be the last live Giants game some will get to see.
"Obviously, there's a situation where a lot of people had season tickets and for different situations might not be making the transfer over to the new stadium," Mathias Kiwanuka said. "This will be an emotional game for them as well as for us. The most rewarding thing we can do is come out with a big win."
The memories won't belong only to the Giants. Panthers coach John Fox was the defensive coordinator for the Giants from 1997-2001 and recalled the playoff wins in 2000 over the Eagles and the Vikings, a 41-0 smackdown against the latter that sent the team to the Super Bowl.
"That whole run was tremendous," Fox said. "That stadium, it's almost indescribable the energy and the excitement in that stadium. In those two games, I don't know if I have ever been in an outdoor stadium that loud."
When the loud quiets sometime this evening and the Giants make that final hike up the hill to the parking lot, they'll be carrying plenty of memories. But they also might be carrying a bit more.
Snee said he'll be on the lookout for memorabilia from the day, and from his career, at Giants Stadium.
"I'm proud of the tradition of this organization," he said. "Any little piece I can get, I'll look around and see what I can sneak out of there."