Giants Stadium was symbol of sports in New Jersey
AP Sports Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It was brokered in the backroom of a state Senate caucus and built in a polluted, stinking swampland.
It was a bowl surrounded by parking lots and backstopped by the Big Apple's skyline. It was the dream of one of the NFL's founding families, who opposed New York's power brokers by taking the team across the river to New Jersey to a football-only stadium without frills.
Giants Stadium had the basics, good seats and sightlines. And brutal weather for the closing month of the season: wind, snow and cold.
During its 34-year run, the stadium was the home of the Giants, the Jets, the Cosmos, the MetroStars and the Red Bulls. It was the site of 124 college football games, including the Kickoff Classic for years and three Army-Navy games. It also hosted a papal Mass and more than 160 concerts featuring the acts such as the Jacksons, The Who, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, the Rolling Stones and, of course, Bruce Springsteen, who closed the run with five concerts that featured the song "Wrecking Ball."
And don't forget the rumors. It is the alleged final resting place of Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters president who disappeared in 1975, a year before the stadium opened.
Barring something very strange in the playoffs, the final game will be played on Sunday, when the Jets try to nail down a postseason berth against the Cincinnati Bengals.
During its run, the stadium played host to more than 1,600 events and had more than 70 million people pass through its turnstiles.
"It's been a great run," said Ray Bateman, the former New Jersey Senate president who was among the group that proposed the legislation to build the stadium. "... That stadium was New Jersey to millions of people."
The Star-Ledger of Newark first proposed that the Giants, who played in the Polo Grounds before moving to an aging Yankee Stadium, relocate to New Jersey in 1967.
New Jersey Gov. William T. Cahill appointed Joseph McCrane to lead the effort to lure the NFL team owned by Wellington Mara. The visionary treasurer was given permission to address a back-room Senate caucus and was the driving force behind the legislation in May 1971 that empowered the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to build Giants Stadium.
A little more than three months later, the Giants announced they were coming to New Jersey.
"It was a controversial move," recalled Giants chief executive John Mara, who said his father became public enemy No. 1 in New York. "He took a lot of criticism from the politicians, particularly (New York Mayor) John Lindsay and (New York Gov. Nelson) Rockefeller. ... It was a daring move, but he really wanted a building for football."
Bateman vividly remembers the groundbreaking in September 1972.
"It was in the middle of this freaking, steamy, smelly, miserable swamp," he said. "That's what it was, with a big fence around it with a platform from which we were all making speeches to ourselves, and around us there were a circle of environmentalists who were screaming and yelling how bad this project was going to be to this beautiful area."
The stadium opened Oct. 10, 1976, with the Giants losing to Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys. It would be the first of many losses in a lean decade, with none so brutal as "The Fumble" by Joe Pisarcik in a last-second loss to the Eagles in 1978.
"I couldn't move," Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson said. "When the game was over I stayed on the bench for about 15-20 minutes in shock."
The following decade was much better as Carson and defensive lineman George Martin combined with linebacker Lawrence Taylor and quarterback Phil Simms to turn the Giants into a champion under the leadership of coach Bill Parcells.
After making the playoffs in 1981, '84 and '85, New York captured the 1986 NFC title in a wind-whipped Giants Stadium, beating Washington 17-0. The key was winning the coin flip and taking the wind, which was blowing at more than 30 mph.
Two weeks later, Simms led the Giants to their first of three Super Bowl titles with a 39-20 victory over Denver.
No player stands out more in stadium history than Taylor, who revolutionized the linebacker position during his tenure.
Parcells led the Giants to a second Super Bowl in 1990 and Tom Coughlin got the last one in the 2007 season — a postseason that saw New York win every game away from Giants Stadium.
While the Jets haven't had similar success in the stadium, they have had some memorable moments.
On Sept. 21, 1986, the Jets beat Miami, 51-45 in overtime, with quarterbacks Ken O'Brien and Dan Marino combining to throw for 884 yards passing, still an NFL record.
That season, the Jets beat Kansas City for their first playoff win at Giants Stadium.
On Nov. 27, 1994, there was a lowlight. The Dolphins beat the Jets 28-24 in the "Fake Spike Game." After faking a clock-stopping spike, Marino hit WR Mark Ingram for the winning touchdown with 22 seconds to play.
Four years later, the Jets would advance to the AFC title game with a 34-24 win over Jacksonville.
The 2000 season saw a Monday night miracle. The Jets rallied from a 30-7 fourth-quarter deficit against Miami en route to a 40-37 overtime win.
The Jets will have at least one player from every season of their tenure at a halftime tribute Sunday, with Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Wesley Walker, Marty Lyons, Al Toon, Wayne Chrebet and Vinny Testaverde among those attending.
"Hopefully we can play a great game, win and get into the playoffs, and you never know — we could have one more there," said Jets placekicker Jay Feely, who has also kicked for the Giants.
Giants Stadium started the trend of sports venues hosting concerts, beginning with the Beach Boys in 1978.
Over the next three decades almost every major touring act appeared at the stadium.
"With any given event, with the fans and support staff, we were the sixth largest city in New Jersey," said Jim Minish, who has spent nearly 22 years running the stadium as the sports authority's executive vice president for facilities.
It wasn't just music and football that drew people to Giants Stadium.
In the early years, Pele and the Cosmos attracted near sellouts almost every game, with 75,646 attending the Brazilian's farewell game. Seven World Cup matches were played at the stadium in 1994, while four matches in the Women's World Cup, including the opening game, were held in 1999.
The stadium hosted its first Army-Navy game in 1989 after then chief executive Robert E. Mulcahy worked out a handshake deal with the service academies, Bateman said.
The stadium's all-time record crowd is the 82,848 people who attended a Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in 1995.
Following the 9/11 attacks, the stadium was used an emergency staging area, black smoke rising from the New York City skyline just miles away.
"When it was built it was considered a state-of-the-art building," Mara said. "Toward the end, it was the common man's stadium. It was just a good building for watching a football game."
The Giants and Jets will move into a new $1.6 billion stadium next season that is located less than a football field from the current facility.
The 82,500-seat stadium is being built privately by the teams, the first constructed to serve as the host of two NFL teams. It's also the largest privately financed stadium in U.S. history.
The NFL has already cleared the way for the teams to bid on hosting the 2014 Super Bowl.
Demolition crews will start tearing down Giants Stadium in February. Springsteen seemingly wrote the epitaph for the stadium with the lyrics to "Wrecking Ball".
"I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey, some misty years ago
Through the mud and the beer, and the blood and the cheers, I've seen champions come and go ...
If you think it's your time, then step to the line, and bring on your wrecking ball."
AP Sports Writer Dennis Waszak Jr., contributed to this story.