EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – When the Giants (4-13) faced the Washington soccer team (7-10) at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, both having already been eliminated from the NFL playoffs, was it possible to to find the beauty and meaning – or, at least, the warmth – in a game with so few stakes?
Giants center Billy Price slipped his cell phone into the padding around the goal post and started to stretch. On his headphones, he listened to Def Leppard.
Other giant linemen, with similarly sized triceps and thighs, were stretching nearby. Korey Cunningham did it on his back while listening to gospel music. Steam was rising from his head.
Over the empty stands of MetLife Stadium, the sky was gray as mud. The occasional plane slipped overhead. For a moment, it seemed like the blue sky could pierce the gray, but it didn’t. The punters, kickers and long snappers went to the field for their training, then all the rest of the players. The fans filled the stadium (sort of). The game has started.
The weather was gloomy, as was the Giants offense. Star running back Saquon Barkley kept getting pissed off. When he got to the sidelines, he wrapped himself in a blue cape. With all the Giants’ puntings, it happened a lot. Cap, cape, cape.
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- In search of joy in East Rutherford, NJ: An illustrated look at the Giants’ cold and wet loss to the Washington soccer team.
Linesman Mark Stewart was not wearing gloves (off season he breeds in Nebraska). He stared at the line of scrimmage, legs spread. Sometimes he wiggled aside, sometimes he blew his whistle or threw the ball to other match officials. Her ears started to turn pink.
On the bench, the Giants offense huddled in front of tablets with their coaches. The bench was heated; the rubber ducts were shaking and buzzing behind him. The offensive headed for the field, ran a few games, kicked, came back. The boos started to rain. The rain started to rain.
Lunch time! In parking lot G, the seagulls cleaned up after the tailgaters. Sometimes they would fly and circle over the stadium (in section 334 there were maybe more birds than fans). Seagulls are ideal for Sunday weather, with feathers that keep moisture out of getting wet and efficient heat circulation. But enough about seagulls! Back to inaction on the ground.
The Giants quarterback was intercepted by the Washington safety, who returned the ball for a touchdown. Fans started giving the Giants suggestions, ones that can’t be printed here. Then the referee announced: “No. 79 is eligible. He announced it again and the fans laughed. The eighth time he made the announcement, the crowd roared. It was the greatest joy of the day: NUMBER 79 IS ELIGIBLE!
A soggy day has become more soggy. Wet, cold. On the Washington sideline, fullback Alex Armah spun on a small stationary bike to keep his legs warm. Armah looked like a teenager on a tricycle. Then, quickly, get off the bike and return to the game.
Casey Kreiter had been perfect all day. Kreiter is the Giants’ long snapper and one of the best in the NFL. In the pre-match, he ran onto the pitch with a child’s smile on his face. During the match, he was all about business. Keeping his hands warm, look back between his legs, shoot the ball with precision, then block. There’s a lot to be said about doing one thing right (as opposed to, say, the GM of the Giants). His job done, he stood alone on the sidelines.
And then, with a crackle, the game was over. After a final interception by the Giants, players from both teams gathered in midfield. As it was the end of a sad season, there was real camaraderie and shared respect here.
Kreiter, the long snapper, caught up with a Washington lineman. They played together in Iowa. As they gave each other loud hugs and walked back to their warm locker rooms, a single lump of trash blew across the cold, hard grass.
Elisha Cooper is an author and illustrator of children’s books.