, Newburyport, MA

January 30, 2008

Giants loyalists infiltrate Patriots Nation

By Victor Tine , Staff writer

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."

When he was stationed at Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire later in the 1950s, he met and married a Newburyport girl. After a brief stint in New York, he and his wife, Doris - also a Giants fan - moved back to her hometown. They have lived in their Phillips Drive home for more than 40 years. You can tell which house is theirs. It's the one with the red and blue sign on the front that says "NY Giants Ave."

For several years in the 1980s, Derrico and a group of fellow fans went to every Giants game. That is, every single game - home and away.

Vedrani's college roommate was the son of a member of the Giants coaching staff, and he rode that inside track to a seat on the team's bench and visits to preseason training camps.

Vedrani has also been in the stands for two of the Giants' three previous Super Bowl appearances.

So, do their beloved G-men stand a chance against the undefeated, 18-0 Patriots?

"They probably have a better shot than most people give them," Vedrani said. "It all depends on their offensive line. If they can run the ball, they can win the game."

"Any team has a chance," Derrico said. "Winning streaks have to come to an end sometime, and the Giants have been on a roll the last three weeks."

Both men plan to watch the big game at home.

Vedrani said he often watches the games with his 49-year-old son, also a Giants fan.

Derrico said he can accept the game's outcome, win or lose, when the final whistle blows but tends to get excited while play is underway.

"My kids will not come to my house during a football game," he said.