Certain things a man does, he has no reason why. A long journey set upon that yields neither wisdom, knowledge, nor psychological benefit of any kind is a strange thing to volitionally enter into, year after year without reconsideration. I don't understand why Pete Hoffman and I go every season to watch our Redskins play the Giants at the Meadowlands. We could do other things with our time, like drink castor oil smoothies or fall repeatedly from a high cliff onto a mine field. The aggregate score of the last two games played by the Redskins at Giants Stadium is Giants 55, Redskins 3. During those eight quarters the Giants have heaped countless abuses on the Redskins — acts of morally indefensible cruelty. Right before the end of the first half on Sunday, the Redskins force a fumble on a punt return near midfield, and a mad scramble for the loose ball ensues. It was a pivotal play in what was then still a 6-3 football game, and I had something like a clairvoyant intuition as to how it was all going to turn out. As gargantuan men pile upon one another, participants from both sides begin frantically gesturing to the officials that their team had recovered. But when the mass of humanity is finally untangled, it is Giants offensive tackle Luke Petigout with the football, and Redskin Philip Daniels laying prone and suffering, the apparent victim of a Class III felony. Pete and I exchange grim expressions, as the Redskins players gather around Daniels kneeling in solidarity.
A shrill woman in her middle 30's sitting in the row directly behind us, attired in a homemade cheerleader's uniform emblazoned with the Giants logo, leans forward and says significantly to Pete: “Isn't it nice the way they pray for each other?” As the game progresses, it becomes gradually clearer that it is not football which interests her at all, but prayer. Late in the 3rd quarter when Redskins kicker John Hall pushes a 41 yard field goal wide left, she sensed the hand of God at work. Ebullient, she loudly proclaims to no one in particular: “It was headed straight through — just turned away at the very last second!” This is patently ridiculous — Hall's aim suggested that the kick was intended to strike someone standing on the sidelines near midfield. Still, even if he had somehow made the kick I would still have refused her overture to join hands and sing Psalm 12, which I do not know the words to without the CD booklet.
Tiki Barber is certainly a good to excellent NFL running back, but it is extremely unclear to me why every time the Redskins come to play at the Meadowlands he is suddenly transformed into some kind of terrifying hybrid of Walter Payton and an armored assault vehicle. Were Barber to play every game at home against the Redskins they would have to make rule changes to keep the sport equitable. For instance, he would have to carry not a football but a live goose, and be outfitted not in cleats but in the sort of high stiletto boots favored by Jane Fonda in Klute. Maybe then he would not shrug of Redskins tacklers like a light misting rain. And what happened to the vaunted complex blitzing schemes of Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, long championed as amongst the league's best minds and motivators? The Skins come after Eli Manning all day, sending safeties and cornerbacks from every direction, but failed to register a sack and rarely come close. After Manning sits in the pocket long enough to complete a 27 yard pass to Tim Carter just before halftime, setting up the field goal that would make the score 9-3, I can sense Pete slipping into the initial stages of a catatonic depression.
Several rows down, in the first section near the field, an exceptionally pasty, heavy set man in a Plaxico Buress jersey turns to face the crowd and began egging them on with a vigorous urgency. Despite his fidelity to the home team, he is immediately an unpopular figure and begins eliciting catcalls and insults from the other sections. “Sit down you jackass!” an elderly man two rows over from us shouts at the enthusiast with unbridled scorn, “I can't see the game!” Visibly affronted, the pasty man grabs the shoulders of his own #17 jersey and begins aggressively shaking the article as if to say: “I am Plaxico Burress! You have no right to speak to me in this way!”
Giants Stadium is a curious venue. Amongst many patrons, vestiges of an old fashioned but very particular sort of hardscrabble East Coast fandom is distinctly in evidence. It is the ritual duty of NFC East rivals to acknowledge one another only by means of sheer belligerence, and so accordingly Pete and I, outfitted in Redskins regalia, are subject to every manner of vile mockery. Indeed, never in my life have I been made to feel so utterly assured of my physical resemblance to the patently private areas of a woman's anatomy. And yet something in the derision feels half-hearted, almost apologetic. Some catch in their voice has me sensing that these men really do not hate me all that much for being a Redskins fan. In its purest, most unalloyed form the sort of regional hatred I am describing is something I associate with the brutal 1980's scene at Veteran Stadium in Philadelphia, where the quasi-criminal former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan used to put out injury bounties on opposing players, and the malevolent fans robustly cheered Michael Irvin's career ending neck fracture. But I can't imagine Giants fans conjuring this magnitude of belligerence. I don't even think they really want to kick my ass. Given the unseasonably warm weather, my supposition is that what they really want is a Gatorade. But at $7.50 a pop it's a better value to shriek bellicose vulgarities to the nearest individual in burgundy and gold.
The score is now 16-3, but the deficit seems much larger. New York has just scored the first touchdown of the day and are kicking off to what appears to be an increasingly hapless and ineffectual Redskins offense. On another occasion, in another locale, 13 points would not seem an insurmountable advantage. Today everyone involved — players, coaches and attendees — seem to prepared to concede the point and head home. Just as the Giants’ Jay Feeley kicks off, the public address announcer regales the crowd with a blisteringly loud spin of “Welcome To The Jungle.” Somehow, it feels unnecessary. Certainly the Redskin players look like they have no further interest in going to “the jungle,” and likewise the Giant special teams doesn't seem to really want to take them there. Quietly, almost imperceptibly, a deal seems to have been struck between them. “We're playing again in eight weeks,” they seem to be saying, “let’s settle this when it's not so hot.” A young couple seated next to us echoes this sentiment. “This game is over,” the man says, leaning into the drifting attentions of his young wife, “but this is a very good song for kickoff.” Perhaps. I'm surprised to see the Giants 300 pound backup quarterback Jared Lorenzen making an appearance on kick coverage. He looks likes like the old “Kool-Aid” man from the television advertising campaign of my childhood. I can't believe we're getting destroyed by the Giants again.
Few words are exchanged on the slow ride back to Port Authority. It's been a squalid and desolate day for two desperately addicted Redskins fans and the well-known rules of post-loss engagement forbid any attempt at mitigating rationalizations at times such as these. We suck. We absolutely fucking suck. The anguish is personal and visceral. I blame the coaching staff for the game plan and the players for the execution. I blame Pete for not rooting hard enough and myself for countless failings to manifold to measure on a charter bus to midtown. As we say our sullen goodbyes at 14th Street and 7th Avenue, Pete finally breaks the hour long silence with a novel notion: “Well, maybe next year will be a night game!” Pray for me.