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Christmas Eve 2011: Curtains for Jets

New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz scores

New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz scores on a 99 yard touchdown catch during an NFL football game against the New York Jets on Saturday December 24, 2011 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey (AP Photo/Evan Pinkus) Credit: AP/Evan Pinkus

It’s been less than a decade since the Giants and Jets met in what was one of the most intense regular-season games in New York pro football history, but even for those who were a part of that Christmas Eve contest in 2011 it’s almost a forgotten piece of history.

“Thanks for the reminder,” Giants long-snapper Zak DeOssie told Newsday when asked this week about the curtains that the Jets hung over the Giants’ Super Bowl murals at MetLife Stadium for that game. “Wow. How long ago was that?”

Eight years. And plenty has changed, both in terms of the teams’ makeup – DeOssie and Eli Manning are the only players on either roster who were around for that epic clash – and how they relate to each other.

At the time, the curtains infuriated the Giants. It was another keg of gunpowder in a stadium that was burning with passion. Several players – including DeOssie, kicker Lawrence Tynes, and offensive lineman David Diehl – sprinted, still in full uniform, to tear down that drapery immediately after the Giants’ 29-14 win, declaring the shared stadium and the shared city to be theirs alone.

“This is Giants Stadium!" Diehl yelled as he finished his redecorating. “This is Giants Stadium!"

While they were doing that, running back Brandon Jacobs was out on the field nearly coming to blows with Jets coach Rex Ryan. The two traded insults rather than haymakers, with Jacobs getting the last word: “Shut up, fat boy!”

The build-up to that game had been simmering all season. The Jets, who had been to back-to-back AFC title games, were tired of being considered the “little brothers” in the city’s football landscape and wanted to prove they were better than the Giants. The Giants, under the strict direction of Tom Coughlin, wanted to show that their disciplined philosophy was more conducive to winning than the wild and loose culture that Ryan embraced and embodied.

And that was months before the game was played!

By the time kickoff rolled around, the two teams were both 7-7 and fighting for a playoff berth. The Jets took an early lead, but Victor Cruz scored a 99-yard touchdown late in the first half and Ahmad Bradshaw bulldozed his way into the end zone to seal the victory with a fourth-quarter score. The Giants beat the Cowboys the following week to win the division and went on to win Super Bowl XLVI. The Jets lost the following week to the Dolphins, did not make the playoffs, and have not appeared in the postseason since.

Sunday’s game between the two teams certainly lacks the playoff significance of that 2011 meeting. They have three wins between them and have both played uninspired football for the last few seasons.

It also lacks the animosity that the Giants and Jets had for each other back then. That Christmas Eve battle felt as exciting and dangerous as a flaming glass of whiskey. This game feels like a cup of milk. One percent milk.

Even for those who once raged over the sight of the opposing team and found insult in every gesture no matter how routine (the Jets insisted that they covered the Giants’ murals for every home game), tensions are so reduced for this one that they are nearly comical. Maybe it’s because each team has so many of its own problems to worry about they don’t have time to be concerned about the other. Asked what he would do if he walked into MetLife Stadium on Sunday and saw those curtains hanging over the Giants’ championship markings once again, DeOssie shook his head.

“I think I’ll look at it and have a laugh if that’s the case,” he said. “But I’m not really focused on those sorts of things. I’m just focused on playing the game.”

New York Sports