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January 30, 2008

Giants loyalists infiltrate Patriots Nation

Some Giants fans are born. And some are made.



They live in an alien nation, but Phil Derrico of Newburyport and Harry Vedrani of Amesbury don't need passports to come and go.



They are New York Giants fans - make that HUGE New York Giants fans - in the midst of Patriots Nation.



But they don't mind.



"The first thing people say to me is, 'How are the Giants doing?' They know I'm The Giants Fan," Derrico said. "They treat me fine."



"I get a lot of needles, a lot of, 'Are you crazy?' Vedrani said. "It's good-natured ribbing."



The 71-year-old Derrico comes by his Giants fandom by birth: He is a native of the Bronx.



Derrico's first loyalty was to the National League baseball Giants, who shared their home field at the Polo Grounds with the football team of the same name, so he started rooting for them, too.



Vedrani, also 71, is an Amesbury guy. He became a Giants fan sort of by osmosis.



"When I was playing football at Amesbury High, the only team on TV was the Giants," he said.



Before the Boston Patriots of the upstart American Football League started play in the 1960 season, the Giants ruled the pro football roost in New England.



All their games were telecast to the region and, in the 1950s, they consistently had winning records. The television broadcast team of Chris Schenkel and Johnny Lujack were as loyal to their team as the Celtics' Johnny Most was to his - although Schenkel and Lujack were less demonstrative.



Winning records and week-after-week exposure made the Giants players household names. Vedrani rattles off some of them: "Frank Gifford, Y.A. Tittle, Charley Conerly, Andy Robustelli, Ray Wietecha."



"When the Patriots came into town, they couldn't compete with the Giants," Vedrani said.



Giants fans go to great lengths to satisfy their craving for blue-and-red gridiron action.



In the '50s, Derrico and a group of friends wanted to watch a game that was blacked out on New York TV but was carried by some Connecticut stations. They heard that if their antenna were high enough, they might pick up the distant signal, Derrico said, so they got hold of a weather balloon and as much wire as they could afford and sent their floating antenna aloft.



"They only thing is, we didn't know it was in the flight path for LaGuardia Airport," Derrico said. "The police came and made us take it down. It wasn't high enough to disrupt any flights, but pilots get fidgety. I don't think we even got through the first quarter."



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