Thursday, October 23, 2008

never give up, never surrender

Today's guest blogger from beyond the grave is once again my father. When I visited my mother this Spring, she gave me copies of three letters he had written to various famous people. I posted the first two here and here. I think you'll agree that I saved the best for last.

I was reminded to look for this third letter one day last week when my mother wrote a comment on my blog entry about the B-17. She recognized the title of that post as an homage to my father. The phrase was a campaign slogan he came up with when a friend of his was running for city council.

As mentioned before, my father was a big fan of sports, especially of the New York Football Giants. They were a championship team when he was a young man but not so good during the twenty years he was a season ticket holder. Unfortunately he died before the Giants made their first Super Bowl appearance.

My father was set off by an article in the New York Times titled "Giants Shown Game Films; Csonka Is Ill." Coach Bill Arnsparger had decided to show game films to the team as a whole instead of dividing them into offensive and defensive squads. Here's the part that Dad highlighted:
The emphasis, said Jack Gregory, the defensive captain who had never before seen offensive films, was on the positive. "It accomplished what [Arnsparger] set out to do," said the defensive end. "I think he was trying to get us to have confidence in each other. He told us we're still his team, he hasn't given up on us and we shouldn't give up on ourselves.

"Let's face it. This is an ideal time for guys to start quitting."

Gregory, echoing the official team line, said the Giants' main problem has been "lack of concentration."
The day after the article was in the paper, my father wrote to Jack Gregory. At the time, the Giants were at a low point in team history. They were near the beginning of a nine-game losing streak in the 1976 season that would end with a 3 - 11 record. They were 5 - 9 in 1975 and 2 -12 in 1974. The previous year wasn't much better. They were 2 -11 - 1 in 1973.
September 23, 1976

Mr. Jack Gregory
Defensive End
New York Football Giants
c/o Pace University
Pleasantville, NY

Dear Mr. Gregory,

I was greatly distressed this morning by a statement attributed to you. And I would only hope that you might consider and pass along to your teammates the corrosive effect such an attitude, as implied in your statement, could have, not only on your current year but on the future of pro football and the security of the future of the pension program for all players.

I do not begrudge professional athletes their above average salaries (the median family income for the U.S. is about $13,000 per annum), their generous pension programs which beat virtually everything other than very top management gets in industry, or the emoluments, opportunities, adulation and favors that flow your way.

What I do resent, is the hint at the possibility that short of gaining the playoffs, the professional athlete does not deliver his finest performance. There are a lot of us in life that never make the playoffs.

This hurts. Those of us who work in offices all week genuinely look forward to just getting out on a Sunday afternoon to see a football game and enjoying ourselves. We love the sport. We love the competition. We stand in respect bordering upon awe, for the outstanding performances that we pay to see. There isn't a single person in the stands who could take your place on the field, for if there were they probably would be there.

So, we come and pay to appreciate your skills, your energy and your perseverance in a difficult, demanding and exhilarating sport. Whether you win or lose frankly only affects us in a vicarious way. We brighten to your wins, we regret your losses, but we don't get to share in your playoff purse. It hardly matters -- unless we bet -- what the score is. The most we can hope for is the opportunity of buying a ticket to see in person the playoffs, or divisional championship if it happens that they are being held in the home city of the Eastern Division winner that year.

We buy tickets because we love the game. And that means we expect to see a good, fair, even competition whether the team has a shot for the Super Bowl or not. It's a Sunday afternoon's entertainment and on those cold days in December -- in snow or sleet or rain i.e. Giants-Vikings Yale Bowl Dec. 1973 (sleet); Giants-Eagles, Yale Bowl Dec. 1974 (snow/sleet/rain) for even in a "meaningless game" (whatever that is) the fan is entitled to a good game. To us, it is the entertainment we pay to see.

We'd rather see you win. But we deserve more than to see you quit. And frankly, the team has quit several times in recent years. I have to go no further than the two games mentioned above for two miserable performances or two equally miserable days.

I realize that you were attempting to say that the Giants were not going to quit even after two disheartening losses. But I say that the notion of quitting should not even be a part of your vocabulary.

As a Giant fan, I have spent about $1,962 for season tickets since seeing the Giants beat Pittsburgh to win the Eastern Divisional title in 1963. In the years 1964 through 1975 the Giants have played 84 "home" games including 12 at Yale Bowl and seven at Shea Stadium. In all of those games, I dare say, there were fewer than a dozen or so interesting ones. I'm not talking about Giant wins -- although I enjoy them more than losses -- I'm talking about good, well played, evenly matched competitive games. In other words -- games in which neither side quit, the Redskin game at Shea last year, for example.

At present, Giants tickets are $9 and $11 each, and we send our money off to buy these seats, including those games in cold, windy, weather-uncertain December, by June 1st. With four seats -- so I can take my wife, children or friends -- that comes to an annual outlay of $322. That's a lot of discretionary income to tie up all summer and most of the autumn, before getting any return.

The cost of going to a Giants game easily approaches $50 to $75 each Sunday. Add to the $46 ticket price, the cost of tolls, parking, program, tip, refreshments, gas and oil, extra clothing, and time, and you have a pretty expensive afternoon. That's the price of four rounds of golf, or rental of an indoor tennis court for 3 hour-long sessions or a good steak dinner for four at Gallagher's.

Tickets for the Metropolitan Opera or New York City Ballet or a Broadway show are cheaper and I don't hear any of those performers "quit," even if it is late in their season. Maybe it's because they just concentrate on offering the best that's within them and devote themselves to excellence in each performance. Maybe that's because they don't have to worry about making the playoffs. You seem to lose sight of the fact that the playoffs are merely the logical product of the season. It's the season that counts. It's the four months of excitement, excellent performance, unpredictable entertainment we pay to enjoy. The season came before the playoffs and that season consists of 14 games. Don't sell the product short.

I mentioned both salaries and pension at the outset. If the prevalent attitude becomes one of quitting because a game has no effect upon the standings -- or because a team has lost the first two games of the season, there is great danger that the fans might become disenchanted with what they get out of this considerable investment of money, time and interest in pro football. And unless the stadium is full, and people are clamoring for tickets -- the wherewithal to provide those salaries and pensions will evaporate -- and so will your economic security.

Giant fans have stuck with you guys through 12 lean years and haven't quit yet. I don't think it's appropriate for you to talk of quitting at this stage or any stage of the season.

With kind regards,

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