I've rooted for the New York Giants since I was born. As a fellow Giants fan, my father made sure to dress me in Giants gear and have me by his side on the couch for every game.
While I may have been watching Giants games before I knew how to walk, I didn't really become a Giants fan until the 2002 season.
You see, there's a big difference between being a fan of a team and being a follower of a team. A fan is die-hard. A fan supports their team no matter how incompetent they may be on the field and/or in the front office. A fan knows the ins-and-outs of the franchise's history, and can hold their own in any debate regarding their team.
Now, a follower is much different. A follower may know the entire roster, but you really don't become a fan until you have a real emotional connection to the team. When that team loses and it stings you for days, you know you're a true fan.
Which brings me back to the Giants. In 2002, the team was a bit inconsistent, but ended up making the post season with wins in the final four weeks of the regular season against the Redskins, Cowboys, Colts, and Eagles to earn the Giants a spot in the NFC Wild Card game with the San Francisco 49ers. This is one of the few games that will forever be etched into my memory no matter how hard I may try to forget it.
The Giants led the 'Niners by 24 with four minutes left in the third quarter, but Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens, and the 49ers offense started to suddenly click. Garcia led the 49ers offense down the field with surprising ease, connecting with Terrell Owens on a 26-yard touchdown pass over the middle. The Niners went for two and Garcia found Owens again, making the score 38-22.
At this point the young Tommy Barnett was thinking, "Oh, no problem. Kerry Collins is torching this defense. We'll march down field here."
Let's just say I wasn't too wise back then.
The Giants went three-and-out on their following possession. The 49ers scored again, this time on a 14-yard scramble by Garcia. The score was now 38-30 after another Garcia to Owens two point conversion.
New York went three-and-out yet again. Uh-oh. Somebody has to step up for us here. Right? Nope.
Instead, San Francisco put together a long drive lasting around six minutes, which ended in a 25-yard field goal by Jeff Chandler. Giants still held on with a slim lead, 38-33.
Now was the opportunity for the Giants to get their act together. This is the playoffs. It's do or die. The Giants would drive all the way down to San Francisco's 24 yard line, only to have Matt Bryant miss the 42-yard field goal attempt, mainly due to the bad snap by Trey Junkin in his first and only game as a Giant.
San Francisco's ball with 3:16 left on the clock. Great. Garcia continues to play like he's the new Steve Young, torching our secondary. Garcia to Tai Streets for a 13-yard touchdown pass. One minute left. 39-38 49ers. I taste vomit in my mouth, yet I can't even open my mouth to vent my frustration due to complete and utter shock.
Delvin Joyce gets a good 33-yard return to set us up at our own 48 yard line. Collins led Big Blue all the way to San Francisco's 23 yard line with just six seconds on the clock. No way! We're coming back! All we have to do is hit his kick! Trey Junkin snaps the ball low—too low for the holder, Matt Allen. Allen attempts to pass the ball downfield, only for the Giants receiver to be tackled clearly before the ball reached him. Game over.
A FLAG! Pass intereference? No, wait, the flag is on us for having an ineligible receiver downfield. That's the ballgame.
I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I walked around with a frown on my face for the next week or so, just playing the game back over and over in my head.
Not only was I frustrated by my favorite team's epic collapse, but the next day the NFL came out and admitted the officials missed the pass interference call on the 49ers on the final play of the game. If pass interference would have been called the penalties would have offset each other, giving the Giants one more play un-timed.
It was at this moment after the game I realized I was a true Giants fan. I had poured everything in my heart cheering for them, only to be teased at the potential of a blowout turned collapse at the end.
This game made me come to the realization I'll bleed blue for the rest of my life. I'll always be there by the side of my team, whether it's through the good times or the bad.