It has been a horrible year for the New York Giants, and no need to wonder why. In the sequence that these three examples amount to anything, the Giants have won only two of their games, they have all but despaired of ever recovering Quarterback Y. A. Tittle from decrepitude, and they have lost what some people say they can never, in the near future at least, reclaim: their image as a status symbol. For the truth is. according to the testimony of those who take pains to keep themselves up to the modish minute, the Giants and all they represent are currently on the way Out, having become detectably non-U, old-shoe, not smart and passé. Hence, the man of fashion, who, a year ago, sported with pride his possession of Giant season tickets the way some other men might wear American Legion lapel pins, now stuffs those tickets into his billfold along with hardware-store receipts. Sometimes he will even give his tickets away, provided he can find somebody who wants them.
You are cautioned that there is no full-scale rout evident this early, for this is trend-spotting developed to a high degree. Indeed, as one man who makes his living on Madison Avenue and his home in an O.K. suburb points out: "The leaders are in on it, even if the followers, although vaguely aware something is up, have not yet found out." But astute status-seekers, intent on being among the first to make the right moves, no longer care deeply about what goes on at Yankee Stadium on a Sunday afternoon in fall. And because the New York suburbs arc the scat of America's advertising and journalistic influences, and tastes set there presumably infiltrate suburban culture all over the country, professional football as an upper-middle-income necessity may, on the whole, have had it.
The tastemakers' affection for the Giants, after almost 30 years of total indifference, became an earnest, abiding preoccupation in the middle '50s. To this day season tickets—tickets of any kind—are almost impossible to come by in New York, and may yet become a commonplace item in wills. And suburbanite attendance at Giant home games is so ingrained as a habit that it follows certain ritual procedures—early start, sometimes tailgate lunch on station wagon, always abundant gaiety and fellowship. Expense-account entertaining at the games rivals in popularity the three-martini lunch. "'It reached the point," says one advertising man, "where you felt you and the team were members of the same club. It was—I don't know—our little thing, sort of a Mafia in shoulder pads. But now, ask just about anybody and he can tell you what a flare-out, a blitz and flooded zone means. I try to keep myself as In as I think is necessary, and I'd say making the Giant scene will soon be a thing of the past."
Since Giant social pressures have been a long time building and have a little more substance than uncapped seltzer, they will not bleed off overnight. It is still easy, therefore, to find those upward-mobile achievers around New York who have not wavered in their allegiance to the team. One place to find them is in any of a couple or three sports-oriented bars and restaurants in midtown Manhattan. There, guys in narrow-lapel suits and signet rings dissect Sunday's game from Monday through Friday, and can tell you more about the inner workings of Coach Allie Sherman's mind than the man's own analyst might.
Elsewhere, scattered throughout the worlds of publishing, broadcasting and manufacturing, are men like Vernon C. He first took a fancy to the Giants back in 1930, had worked up enough enthusiasm by 1936 to buy season tickets, and has had them ever since. His attention to the team does not end there. In the late summer, for example, he is apt to sail his 38-foot sloop down the Hudson River and up Long Island Sound in order to drop in on the Giant training camp on the Connecticut coast, and once (in 1957) he made it all the way to Lake Champlain when the team was training in Vermont. Further, his occupation—marketing textiles—obliges him to do considerable traveling during the football season but he doesn't mind; he can set up his out-of-town schedule to coincide with that of the Giants and he usually manages to see most of their away games. Then there is Bob K., the personnel director. Yankee Stadium is a large, irregularly shaped, roundabout structure which is held up by plenty of pillars and posts and beams. "Our season-ticket seats," this man explains, "are high, off in a far corner, and behind a post, sort of, but we've gotten used to the angle."
In the circumstances under discussion here, Vernon C. and Bob K. are, of course, of no concern. At issue, in essence, is the associate magazine publisher who explains "good seats or bad seats, you don't brag about having box seats anymore. You're expected to have them, you know what I mean, and if I heard a guy popping off about his, I'd know he'd just got hold of them. Well, it's getting a little late to be just getting them, like it's getting too late to be just getting an estate tractor or Ben Franklin spectacles. It's O.K., say, to be just putting in your own paddle tennis court these days, but even at that you'd do well to hurry." The editor at Vogue in charge of the magazine's "People Are Talking About..." department suggests too that reticence is well advised. Her beautiful people, she says, are mum, Giantwise, as never before. "Last year we thought about using a picture of Tittle and wound up using Jimmy Brown. This year we haven't given either one a thought."
Not talking about one's possession of season tickets—or where your seats are located, a sort of status subdivision—is, however, the very least of the incipient erosion of Giant fashion. Says a man who by day works on Madison Avenue and by night ponders his social stratification in Westchester County: "It is no longer necessary to account for your Sunday-afternoon whereabouts when you get on the commuter train on Monday morning. I remember when you were suspected of having been drunk all weekend if you couldn't talk a good game, particularly when the Giants had played at home. And if you somehow missed the game, you faked it from the papers or worked up some elaborate excuse. Now I can see the day coming when you won't have to say shamefully, 'I missed it.' Instead you'll say, 'Who'd they play?' and be one up on the guy you're talking to."
Of course, there's no knowing if this trend of defection is going to continue, so box-seat holders are not exactly asking to have their names struck from the list: rather, they are doling out their tickets with certain accompanying gestures of grandeur. Provided he can find somebody who will take the darn things, the donor may then explain that he will be catching the game, anyway, on television. Everybody knows the Giant home games are blacked out in Metropolitan New York, so the man is either implying that he lives far out of town in the New York or Connecticut exurbs (high-status mark) or belongs to a country club with a special antenna for picking up the CBS television signal broadcast from Hartford, Conn. If he means more than this, he will probably say so, namely that he himself has a motor-driven, rotating antenna in his rumpus room and will be having a few friends in—"You know, sours and the brunch bit." These gatherings have been called twist parties, but that joke is about finished. Yet, since rotating antennas fetch about $125 and are needed only seven afternoons in the year, as symbols of affluence they are holding their own very well. Unfortunately, giving away tickets, like throwing out mop water from the back porch, can sometimes blow back in your face. One corporation wheel, for instance, recently offered to give underlings four choice seats to the Giants-Cowboys game (he had a golf date for the afternoon at his club). "Well, they took them, all right," the man says, "but they didn't take them until they'd checked their location against a seating plan of Yankee Stadium."
The division that has come between the Giants and their fashion-wise friends, some people insist, is merely the disaffection anyone might feel for a losing team. "These people, well fixed, can afford not to use their tickets," says one observer of Yankee Stadium crowds, "and they'll come back when the Giants are in contention again. With the possible exception of the Mets, it's never fashionable to back a loser." A market-research analyst believes the drift has been speeded up by the Giants' poor record, but is not the direct result of it. "One important element," he suggests, "is the fact that the Giants suddenly began to unload all the old regulars—guys like Rosey Grier, Sam Huff, Phil King and Little Mo Modzelewski. The class graduated. You couldn't identify with the new guys, you couldn't talk with the same intimacy."
Another analyst thinks there has not been enough change. "I don't think you can hold an executive mind with the same situation year after year," he says. "Maybe a first-grader will listen to the same story a hundred times, but these people can sit through just so many third-down clutch plays. Then they want to move on to something fresher."
Something fresher than the Giants in New York are the AFL Jets, but as yet the team has not caught on with the style-setters. A few people take quiet pride in saying they've been out to see them play, sure, but, as one chic lady explains, "As long as it's easy to get tickets, attending Jet games won't signify."
Some men, anticipating the future, are buying up good box seats at Shea Stadium as a hedge against the future. And when the day comes that season tickets cannot be had for love or money, these men will stand at the head of the pack. It is somehow reassuring.
The guy who brags about owning a season ticket is the guy with too little too late.
Nobody knows for sine what punctured the Giant image—but many are certain it has pfft.