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An Amazing Band A Pop Warner team inspired both the New Jersey rock star and his beloved Giants

When I was growing up in the north Jersey town of Sayreville,
football was a big part of our household. And except for a brief
dalliance with the Miami Dolphins (it was 1972; they were
undefeated, and I was an impressionable 10-year-old), the New
York Giants were the only team I ever cared about. Autumn Sundays
meant going to Giants Stadium for a home game or watching a road
game on TV.

I played a little ball--Pop Warner football, and baseball
through my freshman year of high school--but once I hit 5'8", I
stopped growing, so I got more and more serious about music. By
the 10th grade I knew music would be my life, and luckily things
turned out pretty well.

Being a rock star has its perks, and for me the coolest one has
been getting to know Giants players and coaches. I've had season
tickets for a long time, but in the late 1980s I was a fixture
on the sideline at big games, even the '91 Super Bowl. I'd
usually try to go incognito, pulling my hair up under a cap and
wearing one of those goofy striped polo shirts the coaching
staff used to wear. I knew that no team would ever come close to
supplanting the Giants in my heart.

Turns out I was wrong. In July the band and I were traveling from
Bristow, Va., to Columbus, Ohio, for one of the last shows of our
11-month world tour. I was able to sneak off for the day to see
some football. The Giants' training camp was in full swing in
Albany, N.Y., but I headed to eastern New Jersey to watch the
opening practice of the Chargers, a wonderful little team I was
introduced to last year when my middle son, Jesse, decided to
play Pop Warner ball. I made it to almost every practice last
season, and when I tell you they were the Bad News Bears, I'm not
exaggerating: Their pants were held together with duct tape, and
they played on a field that didn't have any grass down the middle.

Right before the season I took the Chargers to watch the Giants
practice at the Meadowlands. At the end of each practice, coach
Jim Fassel has one of his players speak to his teammates, and I
walked the kids out there to listen. The kids were being
incredibly respectful, probably because they were in awe of guys
like quarterback Kerry Collins and running back Tiki Barber. Then
one of our kids spoke. He asked, "Can we do our cheer for you?"
So it got real quiet, and our kids did their cheer: Can you beat
the Charger team? Hell, no!

When a bunch of grown men hear a bunch of little kids go Hell,
no! they start busting up. Right then and there I watched the
Giants turn into Pop Warner kids again. They picked the little
guys up, put them on their shoulders and took them to the locker
room. Every Giant sat down by his locker and posed for pictures
and signed autographs. The kids stayed for an hour because the
Giants wouldn't let them leave.

Collins was especially moved by the Chargers. He volunteered to
speak at their year-end banquet and used his contacts at Nike to
get the kids new uniforms: Giants blue, of course, with white and
yellow numbers. But he wasn't the only person to help the
Chargers get ready for this season. To celebrate the team's 40th
anniversary, the Chargers' hometown fans pitched in with their
time and money. Seed was planted on the field--it's just clover
and wild grass, but at least it's green--and a sprinkler system
was donated.

Seeing the enthusiasm in the eyes of these kids on the first day
on their spruced-up field, wearing their new uniforms, made me
believe that the spirit of America still exists. People in New
Jersey have a blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth ethic, which is a
theme the band and I have always tried to incorporate into our
music. In fact, I think the themes of endless optimism and
rooting for the underdog are a big reason we're so popular with
football fans.

But in the jaded eyes of a guy who's traveled the world, it can
be easy to forget that the things we're singing about happen
every day in places like a small town in New Jersey, where
ordinary people united behind their Chargers and helped give a
group of kids a chance to grow up to be Giants.

Bon Jovi will release an acoustic album this fall.