EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 27, 2008

Giants fans feel more love than Yankees, anyway

By Terry Date , Staff writer

Leo Feeney knows the loneliness of New York Giants fans in New England - especially with a Super Bowl ring on the line.

"It's tough, it's tough," said the 69-year-old Salem, N.H., resident.

Sure it's tough, says Scott Menario, 49, also of Salem. But he loves the razzing he gets from - and gives to - the army of Patriots fans surrounding him.

And from the standpoint of Lawrence police Chief John Romero, a 57-year-old Giants and Yankees fan who grew up in the Bronx, the hassles he endures during football season pale in comparison with the ones that come with baseball.

Being a Giants fan in Patriots country isn't exactly easy as the Feb. 3 Super Bowl matchup approaches. But the rivalry certainly doesn't equal the Hatfields-and-McCoys, Capulets-and-Montagues, Yankees-and-Red Sox wars.

New Englanders are loath to dare any affection for a New York squad. But those who live here, and live and die for the Giants, say they can do so without much fear of retribution.

Feeney, whose Giants addiction was sparked in 1953 when he saw them play the Washington Redskins on his aunt and uncle's first television, thinks he knows why New England's aversion for the team lacks a certain vitriol.

He makes his point by way of example. Feeney was at a Patriots vs. Giants preseason game three or four years ago at Gillette Stadium, wearing his Giants gear. As expected, some Patriots faithfuls in the stands threw insults his way.

Then someone came to his defense.

"He's OK. He's a Y.A. Tittle fan," the person yelled, referencing the balding weather-beaten quarterback who landed in New York late in his career and led the Giants to unexpected success in the early 1960s.

Back in the day, the Giants were the fan favorite in these parts.

The Patriots weren't even a team until 1960, when they were called the Boston Patriots and were part of the upstart American Football League, thought to be inferior to the established National Football League. The two leagues merged in 1970.

In years prior, the Giants, founded in 1925, were the professional football team shown most often on televisions in Massachusetts and New Hampshire households where football-hungry fans, especially working-class ones, identified with the crew-cut, broken-toothed warriors of the gridiron.

Giants games of old conjure the smells of pot roast or boiled dinner, both the game and meal served early Sunday afternoon, some viewers balancing plates on their laps.

The Giants were us.

Feeney, who works at a manufacturing plant in Wilmington, Mass., and grew up in Dorchester and Wakefield, even has recruited a partner Giants fan, his wife of almost 50 years, Gail.

Leo Feeney doesn't sit for Giants games, he paces. From living room to kitchen to den to the upstairs. His four televisions are tuned to the game in those rooms, and nervous Feeney gets loud.

"Calm down, Leo, calm down," his wife will call out after he cheers a touchdown or hollers at Eli Manning for getting sacked.

Feeney has been a Giants fan through thick and thin, through the winning and the losing seasons. Even people who don't know him know his car, a mobile shrine to his beloved Giants decked out in duffel bags, hats and flags. The seat covers are made from Giants sweat shirts.

Scott Menario, who grew up in Portland, Maine, can relate.

Menario became a Giants fan in the early 1970s because a friend's big brother liked the team.

Menario's mother was constantly after her son to throw away his Giants sweat shirt. He wore it so often it looked like a rag.

He's since replaced it, but with more Giants shirts.

Menario has recruited a few Giants fans, too. His daughter Emily, 15, a Salem High School sophomore, wears a Tiki Barber jersey to school sometimes.

Gina Menario, 18, now a student at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, had one of her Salem High School senior photographs taken wearing an Eli Manning jersey. She gave it to her dad.

Scott Menario's recruits also include friend Steven "Benny" Callahan, 44.

Callahan's left shoulder is tattooed with a New York Giants helmet, right next to a similar New England Patriots one.

"The Giants are a fantastic football team," said Callahan, who got swept up in his friend's enthusiasm for the Giants. "But not as good as the Patriots."

Menario said he was the most rabid Giants fan among his peers growing up in Portland. There were others, though, often older people still loyal to their first favorite team.

Menario thinks New Englanders can relate to the Giants because they know the heartbreak of defeat, just like Red Sox fans.

And there may be yet another reason why anti-Giants feelings don't run so deep in these parts, according to Romero.

He said growing up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, it was ingrained in young people to give the Bronx cheer to the rival Red Sox. The chief has a commemorative Bucky Dent baseball on his desk, signed by the weak-hitting shortstop who ruined the Red Sox season in 1978 with a home run off pitcher Mike Torrez.

But the Patriots? That's a different story.

"You have to like the Patriots - the organization," said Romero, wearing a tie emblazoned with Giants logos.

Just then Detective Mike McGrath entered the police chief's office, and his assistant announced, "There's a Giants fan."

"No," McGrath said. "Where do the Giants play? In what state?"

And so began an office discussion about the New York Giants, who play in East Rutherford, N.J., at the Meadowlands, and the one-time Boston Patriots, who are now called the New England Patriots but play in Foxboro, Mass.

As the big day approaches, Feeney, Menario and Romero can't wait to watch the action with family and friends.

They aren't brash in their predictions.

Romero thinks the Patriots will win, but just barely.

Feeney believes the Giants will win, but just barely.

"If we play good football we can beat them," Feeney said.

Menario agrees.

He launched into a story from the other day at the gym where he works out in Methuen, when he was teasing a young New England Patriots fan. Menario asked the kid why in the world he wanted the Patriots to win another Super Bowl.

The kid said he wants those two famous players who haven't got Super Bowl Rings to get them.

Menario said, "Oh, you mean Amani Toomer and Michael Strahan?" referring to two ringless Giants.

"No, no, no," the kid answered, "I mean Randy Moss and Junior Seau."