The Battle for New York football supremacy begins for real today.
Will the city's football soul remain Giants blue? Or, will the upstart Jets paint the city -- and the headlines -- green?
The Giants kick off the battle today when they host the Carolina Panthers at 1 p.m. in the first regular season game at the New Meadowlands Stadium. That's a small victory for the Giants, as the Jets will wait until Monday night to play in the new building, hosting the Baltimore Ravens.
ESPN New York's Ian O'Connor wrote recently that the Giants have two opponents today -- the Panthers and the Jets.
When the Giants open the 2010 season and New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday, they won't be facing only the Carolina Panthers, an antagonist with a history of humiliating them in the regular season and playoffs. The Giants will also be competing against an invisible opponent, an adversary fixing to seize the marketplace and to do it with as much commotion as possible.
Jets coach Rex Ryan will be the elephant in the room.
No, the Jets aren't on the regular-season schedule, and no, Giants coach Tom Coughlin and QB Eli Manning aren't interested in stealing away the HBO parts granted Ryan and Mark Sanchez.
But truth is, the Giants have been blasted into obscurity by the blustering Jets, so used to playing the Mets to the Giants' Yankees before Ryan and his outsized personality barged through the saloon door.
So after the Jets reached the AFC title game, and after the Giants finished an 8-8 season punctuated by two gutless performances, Coughlin and Manning need to make themselves relevant again. They need to reclaim their field, their superiority, their long-standing rank as the lead team in a two-team town.
Can the Giants win it all this year? Probably not. But they should be good enough to contend for the division title, make the playoffs, and take their chances in the tournament.
They should be good enough to knock their neighbors back onto the lower-rent side of the fence.
"We need to re-establish ourselves as a power in the NFC," Mara said. "If we do that, it won't matter to us how many games the Jets win."
O'Connor is right that the Jets are looking over the Giants shoulder. In Ryan's mind the Jets are already the "biggest show in town." They are loud, they are brash, they have made themselves disliked by many with their bravado.
Will O'Connor also be right that the Giants will end up handling their opponents on the field this season, and beating the Jets back into junior status among NFL teams in the city?
For me, this is a little bit like the Yankees vs. the Mets. Remember back in 2000 when the two New York teams met in the World Series? The Yankees won, putting an exclamation point on their hold over New York's baseball landscape. Even if the Mets had won the championship that season, however, New York would still belong to the Yankees when it comes to baseball.
For me, this whole Giants-Jets dynamic feels a little bit the same way. The Giants have so much more history, and a recent study put them as the third-most popular franchise in the NFL while the Jets were ranked 18th.
The Jets cannot change the fact that the Giants are an original NFL franchise and they are not. They cannot change the fact that the Giants have three Super Bowl titles and four Super Bowl appearances while, up to now, they have one. They cannot change the fact that since winning their lone Super Bowl in 1969 they have only two AFC East titles while the Giants have won the NFC East seven times since 1986.
If the Jets back up their braggadocio this season and win the Super Bowl, sure, they will have temporary bragging rights. It will be Little Brother's time in the sun, and they will have earned it. They would, for the time being, have ascended to the top of the mountain. One season, however, cannot change decades of history.
The Giants, though, will always be Big Brother.
[See Steve Lepore's Sunday column for more on this.]