In the winter of 1925, a couple of New York hustlers approached noted Wall Street broker and bookmaker – a legitimate profession back then – Tim Mara, looking for an investor. They had an idea of starting a new team in the fledgling National Football League. When Mara inquired as to the amount of his money they were looking for, the answer was either $500 or $2,500 – accounts differ to this day. Mr. Mara’s famous response: “Heck, a storefront with a couple of chairs in it in New York is worth $(2)500!” Thus were born the New York Football Giants. That first season, the Giants bumped along to middling-low attendance and were essentially a money-losing proposition – bad news for a toddling NFL, seeing as a successful New York franchise is generally considered crucial to the success of any nationwide business venture, and not many of their other teams were making money either. The only team with a bona fide gate attraction was the Chicago Bears, who snapped up college sensation Red Grange as soon as his Illini class graduated. The Giants featured a team with a shop-worn Jim Thorpe, but little else to recommend it.
On December 6, 1925, Grange and the Bears took on the Giants at the Polo Grounds. In short, New York City went nuts. 68,000 people crowded themselves into the green barn in Harlem and another 8,000 managed to crash the gates. The Bears beat the Giants 19-7 – ending the New Yorkers’ seven-game winning streak – but that game made Mara’s whole year, proving the NFL a viable enterprise in the process. Suddenly, this was where the action was: a young star bringing out the crowds in the big city. The Giants and the League have never looked back.
Now let’s take a look at the Mets and Citi Field. Since it opened in 2009 and went through all its teething issues with sight lines and décor and wall heights and such, the last thing missing has been a signature New York crowd and a big event. Friday night (4/19) has a chance to be that event. Two young National League pitching sensations will be opposing each other for the first time, when Matt Harvey and the Mets will host the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg. Harvey – as we know – has been opening eyes since he arrived in Queens last July. He’s gone from a pitcher whose stature as a lofty 2010 draft pick was questioned in his career’s infancy to a guy who makes you stop and look. Strasburg, of course was heralded since his selection first overall in 2009. He has not disappointed so far. To quote Reggie Jackson, when presented with the promise of a Ron Guidry/Nolan Ryan matchup in 1978, “This is a game blind people would pay to hear.”
To your intrepid columnist, this is really the first opportunity Citi Field will have to show itself off. This game has a chance to be the Wilpons’ version of Bears/Giants ’25. Sure, the Mets “sell out” Opening Day and the games versus the Yankees and Fireworks Night every year, but that all seems scripted. This is really the first time it’ll be organic – that the crowd will swell on buzz alone and not because of a specific date on the calendar or a tschochke giveaway. A quick check of StubHub — where Mets fans can re-sell their ducats – reveals only 765 seats available for the April 19 contest, most of them upwards of $100 apiece. That tells me that most of the Citi chairs will have backsides in them.
It’s about time.
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