EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It has been a while since a raucous crowd at MetLife Stadium had the opportunity to influence a truly meaningful New York Giants game. And the lack of opportunities have not all been coronavirus pandemic-related.
A case can be made the last big-time Giants home game was on a Sunday night, Dec. 11, during the 2016 season when Odell Beckham Jr.'s 61-yard catch-and-run was the difference in a 10-7 win against the Dallas Cowboys.
New York went 11-5 then (including 7-1 at home) and hasn't had a winning season since. That makes it 1,635 days and counting since Giants fans experienced a buzzworthy game at MetLife Stadium.
In other words, too long.
With word that MetLife Stadium is expected to be at full capacity for the 2021 NFL season, there is a chance the lack of big games finally changes. But only if the Giants can find a home-field advantage that hasn't existed in years. New York is 9-23 at home over the past four seasons and hasn't been a consistently strong home team since the doors to MetLife Stadium opened in 2010.
Still, there is hope with this current group it can be different.
"I couldn't be more excited to know there's going to be 100% capacity," said Joe Judge, who still hasn't coached his first game in front of the home fans because of the empty stands last season in response to restrictions from the pandemic. "I'm not going to speak for the entire team, but I know there's a lot of energy, upon hearing that announcement. ... I can't wait to walk in a stadium and hear it at a deafening level. It's something we've missed, and I've expressed before how much we value and thrive on as a team, going out playing in front of your home crowd and the animosity playing on the road against a visiting crowd."
The Giants haven't given their fans much to cheer about in recent years with an 18-46 record over the past four seasons. Their nine home wins during that span is brutal, even for a struggling team.
Take the crosstown rival New York Jets. They have been equally bad over the past four seasons at 18-46. They have played in the same stadium under much of the same circumstances during four straight losing seasons and have still won 11 games at MetLife Stadium during that span. They had a winning record at home in 2019 (5-3) and split their eight games in 2017.
The best the Giants have done at home was 3-5 this past season, when there wasn't a home-field advantage and road teams had a better record for the first time in NFL history.
The Giants' home struggles are magnified when you consider that in 2019, the last season there were packed stadiums, four teams that finished below .500 had winning records at home. It was the same in 2018, and eight losing teams finished .500 or better at home in 2017.
Teams that have finished with losing records the past four seasons have combined to win 39% of their home games, well above the Giants' 28% over the same span.
There are a lot of reasons for the Giants' home struggles, and a big one has been their slow starts. Winning matters, or at least the possibility of winning. And the Giants have dashed fans' hopes early with 0-2 starts or worse in four straight seasons.
Add on, the stadium doesn't seem to offer a unique home-field advantage. The Giants are 39-49 in 11 seasons at MetLife Stadium with two winning seasons there -- the inaugural 2010 campaign and 2016. Even in the Super Bowl season of 2011, they were 4-4 at home.
It's definitely not the old Giants Stadium, which was known for nasty swirling winds that left opposing players confounded while Giants players were used to the challenging conditions. It provided an edge that seems to be gone now with MetLife Stadium, which for whatever reason (whether it's the losing or the stadium design) also seems to lack the same distracting fan noise.
None of this has curbed the Giants' desire to get the stadium filled and create an extra buzz among fans.
"I feel great about it. I mean, I missed the fans a lot. Last season was a little weird playing without them," Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. "Happy to get them back in the stands, cheering us on."
A large chunk of the Giants' roster has never played a home game in front of New York fans. Of their 90 players, 68 fall into the category, whether they are rookies, second-year players or free agents from each of the past two offseasons.
"Definitely want to see the fans," said Giants second-year linebacker Tae Crowder, who only heard the cheers from his teammates on a 43-yard game-winning fumble return at MetLife Stadium in Week 6 last season against the Washington Football Team. "Want to see how things used to be."
The Giants wouldn't mind that being the case, either -- especially if it includes winning at home.