"The first Wednesday that I covered the Giants in 2008, I took the elevator up to the press box and was looking out at an empty Giants Stadium and was like, 'Wow,'" said Mia Harris, a familiar voice on the tri-state airwaves as a reporter on WFAN. "This place is almost as magical without the screaming fans and the swirling winds than with.
"It was one of those moments for me that made me really think I was in a special place being able to cover one of the teams that play in one of the largest stadiums in not only the country but the world."
Which is why the facility will always be special to many fans out there. From an architectural standpoint, there is nothing much endearing about the stadium, which, simply put, is merely a place to watch a game. It doesn't offer the grand experience that newer, state-of-the-art facilities offer to visitors. Many view it as amounting to a concrete block atop asphalt in an uninspiring marshland. But to some, it will always remain home.
"Despite the lack of surroundings, I found the stadium perfect for viewing both football and soccer," said John P. Johnston. An attorney in Toms River, N.J., Johnston holds Giants Stadium season tickets for the Jets and the Red Bulls of Major League Soccer.
"I have been to stadiums all over the country and the world and found none better," Johnston said. "Newer stadiums may have wider concourses or more luxuries for wealthier fans, but none will do more for the average sports fan than Giants Stadium did."
Giants Stadium, like many other NFL stadiums of its generation, is function over form. A lumbering concrete edifice, there is hardly a bad seat in the highly sloped stadium. There are few reasons to love the stadium; nothing aesthetically stands out like the portico atop the old Yankee Stadium, or even the aura of Madison Square Garden. Yet, the stadium will always be dear to many fans in the greater New York area.
"I've had the opportunity to travel to many other NFL stadiums when I'm away for business, and I don't think there is a better sight line in the country," said Ira Lieberfarb, a Jets fan with season tickets in section 310. "The new stadiums have so many luxury boxes, which pushes the other seats up higher. The stadium doesn't have that issue. You might have wider concourses or more amenities elsewhere, but there isn't a better view in the country then at the Meadowlands."
Everyone, it seems, has a Giants Stadium memory. As the largest stadium in the New York metropolitan area, it has hosted some of the greats, from Pele to the Pope. Sports editors danced to Bruce Springsteen's "Jersey Girl" in the aisles when The Boss was in the house, and mild-mannered soccer moms paint their faces and ring cowbells when the Red Bulls are playing. The stadium seemingly has a way of endearing individuals to the simple, underwhelming suggestion, "History was made here."
Jets superfan Anzalone is a major part of that history. Affectionately called "Fireman Ed" by ESPN's Chris Berman, Anzalone leads the stadium faithful in the revered "J! E! T! S! Jets! Jets! Jets!" chant throughout the game and can bring the crowd to its feet by his mere presence.
For Jets fans, Anzalone might transcend the very game experience itself in a stadium named for and built for their in-town rivals. He is a source of pride for the green-clad throng, even as they are surrounded by the Giants' blue emblazoned throughout the stadium.
All it takes is for Anzalone to climb on his brother's shoulders and, instantly, a packed stadium draws to a hush. Then with a raise of his hands, the crowd in unison breaks into the chant:
"J! E! T! S! Jets! Jets! Jets!"
"It's amazing the power he holds over the fans, each and every week," said Jets season-ticket holder and lifelong fan Norah Grady of Jefferson, N.J. "Not very many people can quiet a stadium of 80,000 fans simply by raising [their] arms."
It is the stuff of goose bumps, to be sure, and the noise and passion almost makes one forget the Jets play in a facility named after New York's more famous football team. The Jets' franchise does not call the facility Giants Stadium in its official releases, simply calling the site the Meadowlands after the sports complex upon which it sits.
"I am going to miss the place," said Brooklyn native Lieberfarb. "Going there was like seeing family. You knew that every August for preseason you'd go back like you would to a shore house and it'd be there for you. In many ways, it was a home to us."
"I can't wait to get out of there, to blow that thing up," Anzalone said. "It wasn't home for us; it never was. It was 'theirs.' Get rid of it; it's a mistake. Let's move on to bigger and better things."
Kristian R. Dyer has spent more time as a fan at Giants Stadium, er, the Meadowlands, than he can remember. Now covering the Jets, he spends more time pestering representatives of the Jets' Media Relations than they can remember. Contact him at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com.