Submitted by: Kiley Farrell
What saying goodbye to the era of Eli Manning means for my father and me.
I remember looking around my second-grade class and for the very first time in my life I felt embarrassed. I was a confident eight-year-old filled with energy and enthusiasm. I liked the person I was and stood up for what I believed in. My parents helped instill that confidence in me at a young age. My teacher Ms. Laurie was at her desk in a Tedy Bruschi jersey and nearly every other person in my classroom was also wearing a Patriots jersey. I sat there in a Bruschi jersey too, well sort of.
It was 2002 and I remember waking up early that morning to get ready for the Patriots Super Bowl party that my class was hosting, the first of three Super Bowls that New England would win in the next four years. My dad must have let my mom sleep in that morning because he was the one who helped me get ready. Coincidence? Hardly! I asked, “Who’s Sehorn, dad? Does he play for the Patriots?” “No Kiley, he played for the Giants,” he said, as he slipped the big royal blue and red NY Giants Jason Sehorn jersey over my head. “It’s a Patriots party dad I have to wear a Patriots jersey.” “No, you don’t, you’re a Giants fan Kiley, not a Patriots fan.”
My dad was a passionate person. I’m a passionate person. I shrugged my shoulders, brushed my hair, and walked downstairs. Dad and mom wrote “BRUSCHI” in bold black letters and taped that piece of paper over the big white letters of “Sehorn.” I could see that my dad was not happy about the ‘fake’ Patriots jersey, but he knew he couldn’t send his eight-year-old daughter to a Patriots Super Bowl party in an XL Jason Sehorn jersey.
I remember this day like it was yesterday. I was nervously folding my arms all day asking for anyone’s sweatshirt so I wouldn’t feel so embarrassed. My thoughts raced. What if people made fun of me? Why can’t I be a Patriots fan like everyone else? Why does my dad like the Giants so much?
Although, wearing Giants jerseys wasn’t new for me. As a baby, I wore a Giants onesie and at four years old my dad put my brother, sister and me in matching Giants’ uniforms for our annual Christmas card. I was always a Giants fan, but it wasn’t until that second-grade party that I realized no one else was.
Growing up there was no choice, we were Giants fans. I guess that made me think that everyone else was too. My grandfather, my Poppy, started watching the Giants back in the 1950s when New England didn’t have a football team. Poppy liked sports, golf in particular, but he also loved football and he loved the Giants. From that moment on, he passed that love and dedication down to his entire family. Almost every Monday morning phone call during football season between my father and poppy either started or ended with the Giants.
Now, at that moment, in the second grade, I did not enjoy being different. I did not want to be different. However, all of that changed in 2004. When Eli Manning was drafted No.1 overall to the San Diego Chargers and quickly traded to the New York Giants it was the beginning of a new era for the Giants and the beginning of an unbreakable bond between a father and daughter.
Now, most families would make some buffalo chicken dip, have a couple of beers and watch the football game in their warm living room. Not the Farrell’s. Not a chance. “Kiley put your winter jacket on. We’re going outside,” My father would say. He built a New York Giants house in my backyard and ever since I was a little girl, that’s where we all watched the games. Dozens of us would gather in the Giants’ house with minimal heat, subs, beers, and a whole lot of love. When I was young, I thought of Sunday as a day to hang out with my friends and cousins and eat a lot of food. The older I got, the more those days turned into me being a crazy Giants fan, intrigued by the impact football had on my dad.
I watched every season with my dad, almost every game since 2004. Once kickoff started there were no questions or commentary unless it related to the game. I would sprawl on the carpet near him or sit across from him with my eyes on the television, and I would constantly switch back to my father. I never saw him show so much emotion. One second he would be in a rage, and the next he would be jumping up and down cheering with joy. It was intriguing to see him like that. Only football, only the New York Giants could make my dad feel that way and I wanted to be a part of it.
As I grew up, I wanted to learn more and know the ins and outs of the game. I wanted to watch football, not just as a fan, but as an expert. My father taught me the game of football. He taught me what a holding call meant and what a bullshit pass interference call was. He taught me all about Lawrence Taylor, the baddest mother ****** football has ever seen. “Look Ki, did you see that sack? That’s a strip-sack, it wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for LT.” “Did you just see that play? Only Michael Strahan can make Tom Brady look like that.” I would always ask him why Eli Manning always fell down. “Because his offensive line sucks, that’s why,” my dad said.
My father and football taught me loyalty. They taught me that you can love a team with your entire heart but hate them with your entire heart all at the same time. “That stupid * bleep bleep* face I just want to smack it off him.
“Can he do anything, right?” I think I heard that line over a million times. I didn’t really understand how my dad could love Eli Manning so much one week and then dislike him even more the next week. But the more I understood football, the more I understood that my dad looked at Eli as if he was part of our family. He loved him unconditionally but hated him when he did something stupid.
Now, the irony of all of this is the fact that the beginning of my football journey was also the beginning of Eli Manning’s journey with the Giants. It was also the beginning of head coach Tom Coughlin’s journey with the Giants. Coughlin replaced Jim Fassel as head coach in 2004 and before winning two Super Bowl’s with New York he faced a lot of adversity and bumpy roads in the midst of trying to be the coach that he wanted to be. Coughlin’s job heading into the 2007 season was on the line after finishing the 2006 season 8-8. My father also faced a lot of bumpy roads trying to be the father and husband he desperately wanted to be.
Now, the Giants weren’t great. Even during the 2007 season when they won the Super Bowl, they weren’t terrific. The Giants started the season 0-2 and finished 10-6, sneaking into the postseason on a wild card after finishing second in the NFC East, right behind the hated Cowboys. From there, they did almost the impossible. They went on the road to beat Tampa Bay and Dallas, and then on to the most memorable win, the NFC Championship at Lambeau Field. I will never forget that game. Ever. I am sure my dad still smiles about it to this day. There he stood with his two best friends, holding hands and praying as Lawrence Tynes kicked a 47-yard field goal in overtime to lead the Giants to Super Bowl XLII. The snap was good, the hold was perfect, and Tynes struck the ball with a thump.
Ironically, Tynes had been incredibly inconsistent all season and missed two field goals in the fourth quarter during that game.
That overtime win and the way Eli led his team in subzero weather, through that frozen tundra, epitomized the 2007 Giants: underdogs who exemplified selflessness, hope, and perseverance and came together to achieve almost the impossible.
My father also showed all three of those values that year. Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin were two people who my father had never met, but they were all trying to beat the odds, beat the naysayers, and make a positive impact in their own lives and in the lives of everyone around them. That’s what makes the Giants journey and my dad’s journey in 2007-2008 so remarkable and so universally intertwined.
People questioned if Eli would ever develop into a winning quarterback and people questioned if my dad would ever be able to beat his drug addiction. My dad was a phenomenal father and the type of person who genuinely made you feel good about yourself just by having a conversation with you. He was also an athlete and dealt with excruciating pain during his entire adulthood after shattering both of his ankles in his early 20’s. His physical pain quickly turned into emotional pain after my brother was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury. My father cared deeply about his family but after my brother’s accident, it seemed likely that pain killers would quickly become a challenge in my father’s life. A challenge that took several years of perseverance to overcome. The reason he overcame it? He did it for his family. The reason the Giants overcame adversity? They did it for each other, their family.
Anyone who knows anything about Eli knows that his journey in the NFL has certainly been inconsistent but, more importantly, they know he’s tough and he’s determined. Eli led his team to ten road victories during the 2007 season, seven in the regular season and three in the postseason. Do you know how hard it is to win one road game in the NFL, let alone 10? That’s what we call toughness. My father was inconsistent during his journey as well, but he showed determination and toughness too. Do you know how hard it is to beat drug addiction? My dad once told me, one percent of addicts who go into rehab get clean. My father was one percent.
For the first time since I could remember, my dad was clean, happy and determined for an entire year. Ironically, that was the year of the Giants Super Bowl victory. That entire year we were able to watch every single game together, clean, present and happy.
If you ask me, the Giants were going to win Super Bowl XLII no matter what. That is what was destined to happen. I truly believe that it was my father’s subconscious dying wish to see his favorite team hoist that Lombardi trophy with his family surrounding him in our living room. My father sat on our blue couch in his Giants gear, with his wide eyes staring at the TV screen as he watched Eli Manning, our savior, escape from Thomas and Seau to launch that ball that was somehow caught by David Tyree. I thought I was in a movie. My dad thought he was in a movie. Because of that play, because of that passion, the Giants delivered one of the greatest upsets in NFL history. My eyes switched back and forth from a young Eli Manning holding the Super Bowl trophy with his hat on backwards to a clean and happy Kevin Farrell, smiling from ear to ear.
“Do we have any champagne in the house?” “We gotta pop something.” My dad didn’t drink but this was an exception. Ironically, we did have champagne, sitting in the pantry waiting to be popped. I went to bed with a smile on my face. We all did. The next morning, I woke up to see newspapers all around the house. One of them hanging above our dining room door with the headline, 18 and DONE.” “How about them NY Giants?” It felt like Christmas morning. Not only did the Giants win the Super Bowl, but they did it by beating The Patriots and their perfect season! There was no Patriots Super Bowl party at school the next day. Instead, there was a 13-year-old blonde girl proudly wearing a NY Giants Jeremy Shockey jersey to school because that was allowed.
Almost two weeks later, on February 16, 2008, my father, Kevin Farrell passed away in his sleep. The Giants season and my father’s life paralleled that year. A year written in the stars. If you ask my family and me, the Giants were destined to win that season and the universe and God made sure of it. Losing someone you love is never easy but sharing the 2008 moment with my father days before he passed away, brings my heart so much peace and joy.
Thank you, Eli Manning, for giving me that memory and all the other memories.
My father and I will never forget you.
Featured Image: New York Giants