No Place Like Home
by Ed English
There’s no place like home. The Giants should know. During their long history the team has had 5 stadiums to call home. The Polo Grounds (1925-1955), Yankee Stadium (1956 – 1973), Yale Bowl (1973-1974), Shea Stadium (1975) and Giants Stadium 1976 – present. The Diner takes a tour of these historic stadiums.
THE POLO GROUNDS
The Polo Grounds is actually the name given to 4 stadiums in New York. The first was originally built in the 1870’s for the sport of Polo and was the only one to be actually used for the purpose. Besides hosting the Giants Football team, the Polo grounds was mainly used for Baseball and over the years 4 Baseball teams called it home. It also hosted the Baseball all star game twice as well as international soccer and world title boxing matches.
The stadium in which the Football Giants played was the 4 in the series. It held 33’000 when originally built and this was expanded in 1923 to hold 55’000. The Giants were not the only Football team to play there. The New York Jets/Titans played there from 1960 to 1963 and the New York Bulldogs also played there 1949.
This is the stadium where the Giants played their first ever game against the Yellow Jackets a 14-0 defeat. In the early years the Giants flirted with bankruptcy. In the first season the sell out crowd that game to see the Bears and Red Grainger is rumored to have saved the Giants from going under.
The Baseball Giants left the stadium and moved to the west coast in 1957 and this was the beginning of the end for the Polo Grounds. The stadium lay vacant for three years until the Mets and the Titans/Jets moved in whilst waiting for Shea stadium to be completed.
In 1964 the stadium was demolished. The demolition crew wore Giants Jerseys during the work as a mark of the esteem in which the Polo Grounds had been held for almost 100 years in New York.
The Giants called Yankee stadium home from 1956 to 1973. The Yankee had originally played ball at the Polo Grounds but the Baseball Giants became frustrated with their tenants the Yankee’s when the attendance at Yankee games began to outstrip attendance at Giants games. In 1922, the Yankees left the Polo grounds and began work on Yankee stadium. The owners of the Yankee’s set out with grand plans for a 70’000 triple decked stadium but due to costs this was scaled back considerably. The main feature which survived the cost cutting was a purely decorative 15 foot copper facade on the roof of the third deck. This led an air of character and class to the stadium which is sadly lost in many modern sports stadiums.
The whole thing was built in under a year at a cost of 2.5 million dollars and officially 74’000 people were there for the opening, a baseball game in which the Yankee coasted to victory with Babe Ruth hitting three home runs.
Yankee stadium although far more famous for baseball has some very fond memories for Giants fans. In our first year there in 1956 we went 8-3-1 and went on to defeat the Bears in the NFL Championship game by a score of 47-7. On the staff that year were two (unknowns at the time) legendary coaches by the name of Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry working under head coach Jim Lee Howell.
In 1958 we were again contesting the NFL Championship game at Giants stadium against Johnny Unitas the Baltimore Colts. This was a landmark game in the history of the NFL and is generally held to be one of the best games ever played. It was the first time a major TV network featured an NFL Championship Game. Millions would tune in, as the NFL was about rise from the shadows. With a crowd of 64,185 on hand, the Giants jump out to a 3-0 on a 36-yard Pat Summerall FG. However, the Colts would score twice, and would head into halftime with a 14-3 lead. The Giants would get back into the game on a 1-yard plunge by Mel Triplett, which was set up by an 86-yard gainer from Charlie Conerly to Kyle Rote with Alex Webster picking up Rote’s fumble. The Giants would later take a 17-14 lead on Conerly’s 15-yard TD throw to Frank Gifford. However, with 7 seconds remaining Colts PK Steve Myrah nailed a13 yard Field Goal to knot the game at 17 apiece. Time would run out and at the end of 60 minutes nothing was settled, and for the first time in NFL History Overtime was needed to decide a game. The rules were simple the first team to score won, and thus it was important to get the ball first. The Colts would win the coin flip, but would not score on their first possession. After the Giants failed to score on their first possession the Colts got the ball back and drove it the length of the field, and won the game on a 1-yard TD plunge by Alan Ameche. The Colts would win the NFL Championship, but the game won over new fans, and set the stage for the NFL’s explosion in popularity.
During our tenure at Yankee stadium the Giants contested 6 championship game but had only one victory in 1956. We had some great years but also the worst year in Giants history 1966 when we went 1-12-1.
Yankee stadium also hosted many many sporting and other events. World title boxing with 30 title fights and names like Ali, Joe Lewis and Benny Little fighting there. College football found a home here and in 1928 was the setting for Knute Rockne’s “win one for the Gipper” pep talk.
The stadium was expanded and improved over the years with the addition of the first electronic scoreboard in 1959 and the addition of floodlights in 1946 to allow for night games. There were also major face lifts and remodeling done in 1966-1967. In the early 70’s the stadium was almost completely demolished and rebuilt to bring it into the modern era. At this time both the Football Giants and the Yankee’s moved out. The Yankee went to Shea stadium and the Giants moved to Yale and later also to Shea stadium. The Giants would never return to Yankee stadium and instead began work on their own permanent home.
THE YALE BOWL
The Yale Bowl was originally built in 1913-1914 and has been host to Yale Bulldogs ever since. It has hosted hundereds of college football games, two seasons of NFL games when the Giants were there and in 1995 was the main host stadium for the Special Olympics. It was built to replace Yale Field which held 33’000 and had been in use since 1883.
The New York Giants and Detroit Lions brought professional football to the Bowl for their historic first meeting in 1960. The Giants also played the New York Jets in a number of memorable exhibition contests during the 70’s. It has also played host to world cup soccer.
With the renovation of Yankee Stadium into a baseball only facility the Giants are forced to find a new home 1973. Finding a permanent home was easy, as the Giants and the New Jersey town of East Rutherford agreed on the building of a state of the art stadium. However, the stadium would not be completed until 1976, and the Giants need to find a temporary home. The Giants wanted to play on the campus of Yale University however Yale officials were reluctant because of the NFL’s blackout rule. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle then with help of national politicians would persuade the FCC to change the rule so that the rule was only in effect if the game was not sold out in advance. This would clear the way for the Giants to play in at Yale after playing their first 2 games of the season at Yankee Stadium. Giants fans would probably rather forget the teams time there. In the two seasons we called the Yale Bowl home the Giants had a 4-23-1 record.
The stadium has been host to some of the biggest sporting crowds in New England history and has had 70’000 plus spectors on more than 20 occassions, the most recent being in 1983 for the 100th playing of the Yale-Harvard game. The attendance of over 73’000 at the Yale-Harvard game in 1981 was the biggest sporting attendance for more than 50 years anywhere in New England. The record attendance is 80’000 for the Army game in November 1923.
The cost of construction was just $750’000. The stadium has changed little in the intrim period. In 1958 the large scoreboard was added and a press box was added in 1986. In 1993 the pitch was renovated and new drainage and irrigation system was added. The stadium has no roof and no shelter of any kind for the fans, leaving them exposed to the full wrath of the New England weather. The Bowl remains in use today and is listed in the top 40 college stadiums in the US which is no mean feat given its age.
Shea stadium was home to the Giants for just one year. That same year, 1975, two professional Baseball teams (Mets and Yankee’s) and two professional Football teams (Giants and Jets) called the stadium home. This is the only time in the history of American professional sports that four teams have shared a stadium at the same time. On Wednesday April 15, the Yankees played Anaheim in a 12:05 p.m. day game and the Mets hosted the Cubs for their regularly scheduled 7:40 p.m. start, creating a very unusual doubleheader.
The stadium located in Flushing Meadows in Queens opened in 1964 as home field for the Mets who had played their first two years at the Polo grounds. It was designed to be the first all-purpose facility capable of hosting 53’000 fans for baseballs Mets and 60’000 for footballs Jets.
Over the years, Shea Stadium has hosted many other sports, entertainment and cultural events. The Stadium has opened its gates to college and pro football, soccer, boxing, religious conventions, a visit from Pope John Paul II, numerous musical events and even the Ice Capades. An overwhelming crowd of 60,000 screaming Beatles fans packed the stadium for the first major outdoor stadium concert on August 15, 1965. The Beatles were followed by other rock and roll legends including the Rolling Stones, The Who, The Police, Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John and Eric Clapton. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix also made a little known appearance at Shea for the 1970 Summer Festival for Peace.
A video screen was added in 1982 and in the mid 80’s major stadium renovations included the addition of 50 suites on Shea’s press level. The orange and blue panels were removed from the exterior and large blue wind screen panels were installed. Neon outlines of baseball players were placed on each of the six panels, making the present facade consistent with the stadium’s principal function and foremost association — the home of the New York Mets.
Shea also served as a relief center after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Most of the gate areas were filled with food, supplies and makeshift lodging for the massive rescue effort. Ten days later, on September 21, the Mets made a star-spangled return against the Atlanta Braves. On one of the proudest nights in Shea Stadium history, 41,275 fans attended the symbolic comeback for New York and its citizens.
The Giant’s stay at Shea was another forgettable season in Giants history. After two horrible seasons in Yale in which the Giants only won once in 12 tries the team return to New York to share Shea Stadium with the Jets. Shea was also used that season by the Mets, and Yankees making it the busiest facility in sports. However the Giants struggle with a 2-5 home record, on the way to another miserable 5-9 season.
The end was insight however as the Giants prepared to make the switch to their present home.
The Giants moved to their current home in 1976. In the beginning years the results did not improve however and this was some of the worst times in Giants history.
In 1976, after playing their first 4 games on the road the Giants finally move into their new home in the Meadowlands. Located just a short drive from the Lincoln Tunnel, the state of the art Giants Stadium final gave Big Blue a place of their own. However, the failures on the field continue as the Giants lose their first 9 games, along the way costing Head Coach Bill Armsberger his job. The Giants would go on to finish in last place with a woeful 3-11 record. In 1977 The Giants struggles continue as they suffered their 5th consecutive losing season while finishing in last place again with a terrible 5-9 record. In 1978, the Giants rock bottom finally came during a late November Game at the Meadowlands against the Philadelphia Eagles. Leading 17-13 late in the 4th Quarter all the Giants had to do to win the game was kneel on the football. However, QB Joe Pisarcik for some unknown reason tries to hand the ball of to FB Larry Csonka. The ball hit the Csonka, (who was not excepting it) in the chest and lands on the turf where Eagles DB Herman Edwards scoops it up and returns it the distance for a winning TD in a play that would forever be know as “The Miracle in the Meadowlands.” Had the Giants won the game they would have stayed alive in the Wild Card race with a 6-6 record. Instead the Giants would go on to win only 1 of their remaining games finishing with a 6-10 record.
Brighter things were to come however. Phil Simms arrived in 1979 and gradually over the course of the next few years the Giants began to challenge agian, culminating in Superbowl wins in 1986 and 1990.
Rewind back a few years and the history of the stadium becomes complex. In 1970, the William Cahill administration began serious efforts to lure the Giants. On Aug. 27, 1971, the Giants signed a 30-year lease for a 75,000-seat Stadium to be built by the 1975 season. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority was established by an act of the state legislature on May 10, 1971 to finance, construct and administer the complex. It was also decided that the complex would include a stadium for football and a racetrack. The Authority was granted powers through legislature to lease property, borrow money, issue bonds and conduct horse racing. To finance the complex the state was authorized to issue revenue bonds backed by the state-run racetrack proceeds. The complex was built and operated with no expense to the taxpayers.
Prior to construction of the facility, the project was hit with many obstacles. First, there were legislative disputes that resulted from objections to the complex, then environmentalists were concerned about the issue of wildlife preservations and air pollution from the increase of cars. Despite these problems, the Authority pushed the project along, hiring real estate consultants, accountants, bond attorneys and brokerage firms.
In Sept. of 1973, New Jersey Governor-elect Brendan Byrne negotiated a new lease with the Giants, and the sale of bonds began and was completed in 1974. Simultaneous construction of the racetrack and stadium began in 1972. Sept. 1, 1976 marked the opening of the Meadowlands racetrack. The Giants made their debut in Giants Stadium on Oct. 10, 1976 against the Dallas Cowboys before a sellout crowd.
Giants Stadium, also called The Meadowlands, is the home stadium for the Giants but also the New York Jets who moved in in 1984, and the Red Bull New York soccer team of the MLS. As of 2004, official seating capacity is 80,242, making it the second-largest stadium in the NFL behind FedExField. It is also the ninth-oldest stadium in the NFL. It also played host to the New York Cosmo’s before the league in which they played folded. Other professional football teams that have called Giants Stadium home over the years include the New Jersey Generals of the USFL; the New York/New Jersey Knights of the World League of American Football; and the New York/New Jersey Hitmen of the XFL.
Nine games of the 1994 FIFA World Cup (Ireland 1-0 Italy. Love it.) soccer tournament were held at Giants Stadium (including one semifinal), along with several games of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Currently the Red Bull Soccer team play their league matches there. The largest ever attendance was not for a sporting event but for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1995 when almost 83’000 showed up for mass in a rainstorm.
Concerts have also been a part of the Giants Stadium experience, with notable acts such as as Bruce Springsteen, Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Green Day, and Bon Jovi taking the stage before appreciative audiences. Bruce Springsteen played 10 nights in support of his The Rising tour during the summer of 2003. The majority of the Paradise City music video by Guns N’ Roses was filmed at the stadium in 1988.
For some years, a popular urban legend purported that the remains of Jimmy Hoffa had been buried under one of the end zones at Giants Stadium. This led a wag in Sports Illustrated to suggest that “This lends new meaning to the term coffin corner!”
Thanks largely to the dual occupancy of Giants Stadium by two NFL teams since 1984, it has surpassed Wrigley Field (home of the Chicago Bears for fifty seasons) as the venue to have hosted more NFL games than any other in league history.
While the stadium has a decidedly blue atmosphere, matching the Giants’ team colors, when the Jets play there, the walls are covered with green banners, matching their colors. In addition, the gates outside the stadium are covered with green Jets logos to hide the standard blue and red. The endzones also used to be repainted green when the Giants played with blue endzones, but ever since the Giants changed their endzone art to a white GIANTS with a green background, the painting of the entire endzone is not needed. However, Jets logos are still painted on over the Giant logo. In mid-December, traditionally the stadium hosts a Saturday-Sunday NFL doubleheader, with the Giants playing a home game one day and the Jets playing the other. The night between the games is a challenge for the stadium grounds crew, as they have only hours to convert the stadium from one team’s colors to the other.
The Notable points
October 10, 1976: 76,042 fans witness the Giants losing to the Cowboys in the first game ever played at Giants Stadium.
October 1, 1977: Soccer legend Pel played his last game, an exhibition match between the Cosmos and Santos. He played the first half for the Cosmos and the second half for his old Brazilian team.
November 19, 1978: Joe Pisarcik fumbles the handoff to Larry Csonka with just seconds remaining in the game, allowing Herman Edwards (later a Jets head coach) to scoop it up and run it back for a touchdown, giving the Philadelphia Eagles an improbable 19-17 win. This play would be known as “The Fumble,” and helped lead to the hiring of Ray Perkins as head coach, and later George Young as general manager.
September 1984: The New York Jets move into Giants Stadium. August – September 1985: Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band perform a mind boggling six sold out shows on the final leg of the Born In The USA World Tour.
1994: Giants Stadium serves as a venue for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
October 23, 2000: In what has been called the greatest game on Monday Night Football, the New York Jets come back from a 30-7 defecit by scoring 30 points in the fourth quarter and another 3 in overtime to beat the Miami Dolphins 40-37.
January 14, 2001: On a field of painted mud, the New York Giants shut out and blow out the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 in the NFC Championship game to send the Giants to their third Super Bowl.
September 19, 2005: The New Orleans Saints played as the home team at Giants Stadium versus the Giants (in name only, of course; no more than a few thousand Saints fans had been evacuated to the area or otherwise traveled to New York). The game was relocated from the Louisiana Superdome due to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, and the inability to prepare one of the team’s eventual temporary homes in time.