(I thought a lot about my late grandfather, a huge Giants fan, this week. It’s been more than six years since he died and I still miss him very much. I am sharing this column that was published in the Courier-Post on Dec. 31, 2002.)
For the last two decades, a telephone call always came from Virginia after the Eagles played the Giants.
Sometimes it was to congratulate and other times to console, but never – ever – to boast.
The phone didn’t ring after Saturday’s 10-7 Giants’ overtime win over the Eagles. Even though I knew it wouldn’t, I hoped like heck it would.
My grandfather – the one Giants fan who I considered a friend – died nearly two months ago. This was the first Eagles-Giants game he wasn’t around.
Pop didn’t introduce me to sports, but he helped foster my love for the games. Rarely did a phone call, an e-mail or an in-person visit go by without a discussion about sports. And, usually, the topic was his beloved Giants and my beloved Eagles.
I wonder what he would have said to me after Saturday’s game, a not well-played but nonetheless exciting affair. “That was some ballgame by (Jeremy) Shockey and (Kerry) Collins,” he could have said.
But more likely, “That was an exciting game. That’s some team the Eagles have. I think they’re going to go far in the playoffs.”
That’s the kind of man he was. Not one to gloat, always one to respect the opponent and the game. What beautiful lessons I learned from him.
He was a true fan, one who sticks with his team when they’re winning – and when they’re losing. He told me once, “Aaron, all you can ask for as a fan is for your team to be competitive.”
It wasn’t about winning the Super Bowl to him (although the mounting in his office of the 1986 Giants’ championship team was one of his most prized possessions), it was about having the chance to win it – getting to the playoffs, putting a good team on the field. Not the win-it-all or nothing mentality that grips many of today’s sports fans, especially my colleagues in Philadelphia.
The last time I spoke to him, six days before his death, we talked, of course, about the Giants. He was so sick he could barely speak, but I asked what he thought of the Giants and he managed this: “I wish they would use Ron Dayne more,” he said in slurred speech.
He loved his team, for sure.
I won’t soon forget that conversation, as short as it was. It was my last one with him.
And, I won’t forget one of our last outings together, and the last one before he got really sick.
I called with the excitement of an 8-year-old to tell Pop the great news – I had landed a pair of tickets to the 2001 Eagles-Giants playoff game at Giants Stadium and I wanted him to come up from his home in Fairfax, Va. to attend with me.
“Oh Aaron I wish I could but I’m just not well,” he said, breaking my heart although I understood.
While driving home trying to figure out what to do with the tickets, the phone rang: “Aaron, this is going to be my last hurrah,” said Pop, changing his mind.
I couldn’t have been happier.
We looked into the handicap accommodations at Giants Stadium and found that Pop wouldn’t have to walk to our seats – which were just a few rows from the heavens. We arrived early and waited at the gates patiently, until finally a golf cart drove us to our seats over an hour before kickoff.
It’s a day I’ll never forget. Pop, at 81, acted like he was 7 that day. He was so happy, watching the Giants defeat the Eagles to advance to the NFC Championship Game. Truthfully, I was too. There would be many more games for me – and hopefully more chances for the Eagles – but not many more left for Pop, I knew.
The day was capped off with first-class treatment by the Giants. Not only were we driven to the exits, but the golf cart continued into the parking lot and all the way out to our car. It was first-class treatment by a first-class organization that was only fitting for a first-class fan.
Pop couldn’t have been happier.
As wonderful as the day was, it was frustrating for Pop, at times, because his view often was obstructed as the excited Giants fans in front of him stood and cheered during big plays and key moments. Pop couldn’t get up and down easily and he would ask the people in front of him to sit down so he too could see the action.
I smiled at the thought that he didn’t have to do that this time. He watched last Saturday’s big game unobstructed, just a little higher than before.
This time, from heaven.
Post script: After the story was published, I sent a copy to late Giants owner Wellington Mara. I received a very nice, hand-written note back, saying “Dear Aaron, Although I didn’t know your grandfather, I feel as though I did after reading your letter and the article about him. I feel a share in your loss. Sincerely, Well Mara.” Classy. Very classy!
That’s all for now.