Friday, May 24, 2013
They might be natives and they might be transplants and together they can feel like strangers in a strange land. Careful when and where they remove winter jackets to reveal Eli Manning or Osi Umenyiora jerseys.
Mindful of how loud and long they cheer their football team's successes when outnumbered by Mainers who pledge alliegiance to Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Anxious for Sunday's Super Bowl and the opening kickoff, and wondering where they can find a safe haven to follow their team.
They are New York Giants fans who don't always see a welcome mat when they'd rather be in a public place than a private home for America's biggest game. "I think we were definitely an afterthought here until 2007 when we took the greatest season from them," said James Krams of Portland.
He was referring, of course, to the Giants' 17-14 win in Arizona, handing the Patriots their only defeat that year. In the days and weeks afterward, New England fans mourned what might have been. And cast the Giants and their fans as the new villains.
Dan Drouin compares the Giants' winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to Aaron Boone's home run off Tim Wakefield in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. Boone's 11th-inning home run sent the Yankees to the World Series and the Red Sox back to Boston.
Drouin was a salesman for National Distributors then. "When Boone hit that home run, you couldn't even do business the next day, people were so down."
Drouin now owns the Stockhouse Restaurant and Sports Pub in Westbrook. His place had a big crowd for the 2007 Super Bowl. Until David Tyree made his 32-yard miracle catch, setting up the Giants' winning touchdown.
"Everybody just stood up and started putting their coats on," said Drouin. Except for his Giants fans, who were cheering.
"People coming in for lunch the next day didn't want to talk about it. They were still stunned."
There is a large chalkboard on his outdoor deck this week. "Giants Fans are Welcome!" can be seen or not seen, depending if someone took an eraser to it and someone else grabbed the chalk, says Drouin.
"We have our Giants regulars. We've got 25 televisions showing different games, and if the Giants and Patriots are playing at the same time, people know the sound will always be the Patriots. If the Giants game is on at a different time, the sound will always be the Giants."
On the website of the Frosty Pint, a pub on Portland's Forest Avenue that proclaims itself a neighborhood sports bar, owner Jason L'Italien lists the Giants along with the Spankees and Jets as favorite teams to hate. He can spot Giants fans, he says. "I have to talk slow to them and give them my picture menus."
His place has pennants or banners from teams adorning the walls. The Giants and Jets stuff is upside down.
L'Italien laughs. He stands in solidarity with his Patriots clientele. But this can be a sensitive topic to Giants fans. They don't want to be confused with Yankees fans, who can't breathe the same air with Red Sox fans.
"Yankees fans are a little more arrogant," said Kevin Kassa of Portland, a newly arrived New Jersey native with 15 years in Michigan. "The Yankees will spend whatever it takes to win. Their fans expect them to win and they come across as arrogant.
"The NFL has figured out parity, a level playing field (due to the salary cap). We know we can have good years and not-so-good years. Right around Thanksgiving I thought (the Giants) were done."
Living about five minutes from Portland's Old Port, Kassa walked by The Thirsty Pig earlier this season and saw a sign touting it was a place for Giants fans. Of course he walked in. Not knowing anyone, Kassa, wearing a Michael Strahan jersey, sat by himself at the end of the bar, Krams, wearing a Bill Parcells Giants jersey, invited him to join a much larger group.
Kassa found his brothers and sisters. After the Giants beat the Packers in the playoffs, Kassa took off his Strahan jersey. He had to return to New Jersey the weekend of the NFC championship game to visit his ailing mother.
Please, he said. Have someone wear this for good luck.
Kassa and Krams will be at The Thirsty Pig on Super Bowl Sunday along with dozens of others. They found their safe harbor. Patriots fans, said Krams, are welcome.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: email@example.com