By Peter Schwartz
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This Sunday, the Giants will host the Jets in the “Battle of New York,” a game that now takes place every four years. However, this game will take place at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, the shared home of both teams.
This game, as well as all Giants and Jets home games, takes place on New Jersey soil because of the vision and desire shown by the Giants in the early 1970s, when they were in search of a home of their own.
“Jersey Guys” is a story that will be told as part of the NFL Network’s “The Timeline” series, and it debuts on Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. The show is a terrific look back at one of the most important moments in Giants history, with new details and backstories.
“We knew that this would be a great one, and one that afforded fans a detailed look at the story they think they knew,” said Ken Rodgers, a coordinating producer for NFL Films.
The documentary — narrated by New Jersey native Jon Bon Jovi — takes an in-depth look at Big Blue’s long and winding road from Yankee Stadium to Giants Stadium, and a championship that validated its efforts.
“We’ve done all these different treatments of the Super Bowl Giants,” said Rodgers. “We discovered a part of the story that I wasn’t very aware of and I don’t think a lot of people were aware of, and that is how this team embraced what was once seen as unthinkable.”
What was unthinkable was that a team that called New York City home and had the “NY” on its helmet would ever think of crossing state lines to New Jersey. But that was what the Giants ultimately did in order to secure something that they were looking for.
What they wanted was a stadium that they could call their own.
“They were playing in venerable and hollowed, but sort of decaying, Yankee Stadium,” said Ryan Kelly, the producer of “Jersey Guys.” “The opportunity arose to have one of these sports palaces of their own and they jumped at the chance.”
That chance came to fruition on August 26, 1971, when the teams and the New Jersey Sports Authority announced that the Giants would be moving into a new stadium, to be built in the Hackensack Meadowlands. The Giants signed a 30-year lease, and the plan was to move into their new home by 1975.
Even though the team’s plan was to remain the “New York Giants,” officials in The Garden State were jumping for joy because New Jersey finally had a professional sports team.
“It was huge,” said Kelly. “We interviewed former governor Thomas Kean, and he couldn’t stop going on about how big a deal that this was for New Jersey and how it kicked off an economic boom for the state that lasted throughout the 80s.”
While New Jersey was happy, New York City officials were livid, especially Mayor John Lindsay. He immediately called the Giants “callous, selfish and ungrateful.” He even directed corporate counsel to “initiate proceedings to restrict the right of the Giants to call themselves by the name of the city they have chosen to leave.”
While the Giants’ future was in New Jersey, they continued to play at Yankee Stadium, where they had a lease that ran at least,through the 1973 season. But “The House That Ruth Built” was set to close for renovations after the 1973 baseball season, and was scheduled to re-open in time for the 1976 baseball season.
New York City informed the Giants that they could only play two games at Yankee Stadium in 1973.
“New York sort of unofficially kicked them out,” said Kelly.
The Giants played the rest of 1973 and the 1974 season at the Yale Bowl in Connecticut, and then played at Shea Stadium in 1975 before moving into Giants Stadium in New Jersey in 1976.
The Giants finally got to say “home sweet home!”
“This story shows how much foresight the Mara family had. The Giants organization had to do something that was pretty controversial at the time and hadn’t been done before, to move to a state that you’re not named after,” said Rodgers.
An integral backstory that “Jersey Guys” delves into is the connection of the Giants to the borough of Moonachie, New Jersey, which is right down the road from the Meadowlands. As the Giants made their way through the playoffs following the 1986 season, New York City Mayor Ed Koch said that he would not allow a ticker tape parade for Big Blue if it won Super Bowl XXI.
The mayor of Moonachie and three local firefighters pushed for the parade to take place in their town, but after the Giants beat the Broncos, the Super Bowl celebration took place in Giants Stadium. To this day, those firefighters gather in their firehouse to watch Giants games on television. And they would eventually get a surprise visit from former Big Blue players.
“They were over the moon,” said Kelly of the firefighters.
I don’t want to give away too much of the show, but I’m guessing that many Giants fans might well up when they see that scene.
In pursuing their move to New Jersey, the Giants were visionaries. They wanted their own home and left no stone unturned in their quest for what former head coach Bill Parcells would eventually call “our house.” As the years went on, the Giants would welcome some sports neighbors to New Jersey.
In 1977, Pele and the Cosmos soccer team joined the Giants in the swamp, and then later that year the NBA’s New York Nets relocated from Long Island to New Jersey. In 1982, the NHL’s Colorado Rockies joined the Nets in the Meadowlands as the New Jersey Devils.
While all of this was happening, the Jets were winding down their stay at Shea Stadium in Flushing. Gang Green also wanted a home of its own, but couldn’t come to an agreement on a new stadium with New York City, so it relocated to Giants Stadium in 1984.
The Giants welcomed the Jets with open arms.
“Governor Kean was very close with the Maras, and he ended up being very close with (Jets owner) Mr. (Leon) Hess,” said Kelly. “He said the Maras were really helpful and accommodating to the Jets and to Mr. Hess in inviting them out there and transitioning them to New Jersey.”
The Giants and Jets shared Giants Stadium through the 2009 season before moving over a few feet to MetLife Stadium, a facility they built together. But that project may never have happened had the Giants not had the vision to move to New Jersey in the 1970s.
Many former Giants players, coaches and staff members — as well as reporters — were interviewed for “Jersey Guys.” It’s a must-watch for any football fan, especially for the Giants faithful that endured the moving and the losing before Big Blue won it all in its new home.
You can watch the trailer for “Jersey Guys” at the top of the page.