News

Giants win will honor J

Thursday, February 2, 2012

By MICHAEL CLEVELAND

Staff Writer

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cabinet staffers Joe Marchilena and Mike Cleveland give dueling perspectives on this weekend’s Super Bowl.

The Giants will win the Super Bowl because my brother is dead.

This victory will be his memorial.

My brother, Jeff, died on either Christmas eve or Christmas day of 2010 so, obviously, missed this remarkable run by a team that he never called THE Giants. They were always HIS Giants, as in:

“Hey, Mike, you see what MY Giants did Sunday?”

“Hey, Mike, MY Giants are gonna win it all.”

He was as big a Giant fan as one could be without owning all the paraphernalia of fandom. He had no jersey, he had no season tickets, he had no money for either. My brother, J – never in the 56 years of his life did I ever call him Jeff; it was always JP or, usually, just J – was a street guy with an apartment in Bangor, Maine. He was a Jersey kid who tried Maine years ago, tried New Jersey again but couldn’t live at the Shore because there was no public transportation, so he fled back to Bangor and to disability, hanging out in the massive town library on cold days, wandering the streets on warm days, and then finally getting a real apartment.

Which is where he died under circumstances still unexplained and probably never to be explained. His roommate posted his death on Facebook while I was in Florida for my daughter’s wedding. There were no details; that’s all I know. But I think I know what happened, how he would have dealt with his favorite holiday with our parents dead. Even after many years, the holidays without them were difficult for him.

So I think, given our history, our family dynamic, our way of dealing with sadness, depression, stress ... I’m pretty sure I know what happened.

So, for my brother, the Giants will win. I’m afraid I have to insist. Anything else – in other words, a Patriots’ victory – would be unthinkable. J has no headstone; we are a cremation family, followed months later by a memorial service always organized by our aunt, Catherine, who is, one wonders why, a Mets fan with no interest in football.

My brother and I grew up in New Jersey in a Giants family. We were a Giants family in baseball, too, when Willie roamed center in the Polo Grounds and Leo ran bellowing from the dugout to kick dirt on the shoes of Bill Klem.

We were a football Giants family because of Joe Sulaitis who played for the Giants from 1943-53 at guard, running back, receiver, linebacker and defensive end, and was a friend, along with his wife, Dottie, of our family. I have no idea how my parents met them, I have no idea why they were friends, but they were and Joe talked Giants a lot, even to me.

I remember one Sunday at our house in Tenafly after Joe retired from football, we were watching the Giants play somebody and they were losing with about a minute left to play. I was probably 13 or so and I said, to no one in particular, “That’s it. They can’t win. There’s only a minute left.”

Joe said something like, “A minute is a long time in football.”

The very next play the Giants quarterback, probably YA Tittle, hit Kyle Rote on a slant across the middle and Rote ran a long, long way for the winning touchdown.

So I was a Giants baseball fan because my family was and a Giants football fan because my family was because Joe Sulaitis drank beer with my father, and my brother got caught up in it because, on Sundays in New Jersey, what’d you do? You watched the Giants and eventually the Jets, although we hated the Jets because they were the Jets, New York’s second team, although I secretly liked Joe Namath.

My brother’s Giants would be the New Jersey Giants, if Gov. Chris Christy had any sway. On “Meet the Press” two Sundays ago, after he had savaged Newt Gingrich and praised Mitt Romney, Christy was asked about the Giants’ chances against San Francisco and he predicted they would win and then segued into why they were really the New Jersey Giants – they play in New Jersey, obviously, and most of their players live in New Jersey.

“The only thing New York about the Giants is the NY on their helmets,” Christy said.

My brother would have agreed. My brother was a New Jersey guy – not a Bangor guy, really, and certainly not a New York guy, although he used to hang out a bit at CBGB’s and I took him to Carnegie Hall once to see Phil Ochs and we sat right on the stage, which was really pretty cool.

My brother would not be able to explain the whys and wherefores of football to you. Neither he, nor I, would be able to explain in Xs and Os why we think the Giants will win the Super Bowl. He might say:

“They’re MY Giants, so they’ll win.”

And I, being ever the idiot, would demand a more reasonable explanation, as if I were Lenny in “Of Mice and Men”:

“Tell me about the wideouts, J.”

But my brother would not be able to explain any of that stuff, except maybe to say, “I like Eli,” and that would be enough, or he might just say, “Because they’re MY Giants,” and that would be enough.

I like Eli, too, although not quite as much as I like Peyton, whom I have followed with some whacko form of adulation since he was at Tennessee, and I cannot explain it, although I will insist that it is admiration, not envy. He is just, apparently (as much as one can tell without really knowing the guy) so decent, so accomplished, so nice, so ... so unlike me, there are those who would say.

And there are those who would say the same of my brother who drank too much too often and could be, as we all can be at such times, stupid.

But he was a decent guy for all that. He was really very kind and caring, often to a fault: You need money? If he had, you got, and then he ended up short, but that was J.

He never swayed from his support, but I did: I became a Colts fan in the Bert Jones days, then I moved to New England and began to follow the Patriots. Then the Colts, now in Indy, drafted Peyton and I went back to the Colts, with a minor in Patriotfandom. The Giants were an after thought for me. But not for J. During the season, when we talked on the phone, he’d talk Giants.

Well, on Sunday, his Giants play in the Super Bowl. His Giants play the Patriots.

His Giants?

MY Giants.

Michael Cleveland can be contacted at 673-3100, Ext. 301, or at mcleveland@nashuatelegraph.com.

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