The Headlock That Won for the Giants
Where: 517 East 83rd Street , 10028 New York (United States). When: on 05-10-1964.
Written at 02-08-2011 by Thomas Pryor
Labels - The Headlock That Won for the Giants Yankee Stadium New York Giants Gary Wood Y.A. Tittle Cornell
Mom made one horseplay exception: New York Giants football home games. The National Football League blacked out local TV broadcasts of home games to encourage ticket sales. This remains the most diabolical punishment ever devised to torment me.
By age 10, I’d memorized all 40 Giant players’ numbers, weights, heights, positions and colleges. I gladly wore my Catholic school uniform, which kept me in blue all week.
Dad saw most Giant home games. If he couldn’t swindle a ticket, he’d drive to Connecticut with friends. They’d rent a motel room and watch the game on a station outside the blackout.
On home game mornings, Dad tried sneaking out of the house. I’d lasso his leg.
“Dad, please, please, please.”
“Tommy, if I could, I would.”
“I’ll root quietly. Not a peep. You won’t even know I’m there.”
“We watch everything together. Who are you going to hug when the Giants score?”
“Hon, I’m sorry. There’s no room in the car.”
“Put me in the trunk. Wrap me in a blanket like a mob hit.”
Dad lingered, then shook his head and continued walking across the kitchen with his free leg doing all the work.
After he left, I fell apart. Rory understood and left me alone. Mom knew, too, and eased her rules. She let me loose in my room during the game.
I shared a bunk bed with Rory. Wisely, he avoided the space until the game was over. Mom gave me the kitchen radio but made me keep it under the bunk bed, pushed way back. In the past, I had tripped over it, kicked it and thrown it. Everything breakable was hidden. No one was allowed to throw any ball anywhere in the apartment, since Dad had broken a window during a Yankee game.
Kickoff was a half-hour away. With time to kill, I turned on the pregame radio show and took out my charms: old newspaper clippings of big Giant victories, Dad’s game stubs with the score and weather written on each stub, and a commemorative coin from the 1956 championship season. It had all the opponents and scores for each game that year. During the game, I flipped it, talked to it and kissed it for good luck before critical plays.
Once the game started, I began running over the tops of the bunk bed, dresser, closet and toy chest. Flying over the furniture, I made believe I was inside Yankee Stadium watching the game. I moved around the stands following the action. I sat in the box seats, mezzanine or grandstand. I hailed a vendor over for a Coke or a hot dog.
The mid-’60s Giants were terrible — a single victory was cause to schedule a parade. This game was close; I grew nervous and quiet. Mom, curious when the racket died down, popped her head in.
“How they doing?” she said.
“Oh, we have the ball with under a minute to go and we’re down by four points — we need good luck.”
“Well, good luck,” Mom said and started to leave.
“No, Mommo, we need good luck. You’re my lucky charm. Please let me put you in a headlock?”
“No. You know I don’t like anyone touching my head.”
“Mom, just this once, the headlock will work. I feel it in my bones. Come on, do it for your Sonny Boy.” I got down on one knee and spread my arms.
“I hate people near my head.”
“Pretty please. It’s the play of the game.” I hit both knees.
“One play and that’s it.”
Mom offered me her head and I gave her a gentle full Nelson, a classic wrestling move also used in roller derby matches. I imagined the fans sizing up the death match — a beautiful dark-haired woman with circles under her eyes, wearing a flowery house dress with fluffy slippers, as her neck was wrung, sweetly, by her 10-year-old son. We held this position and listened to the radio.
Marty Glickman did the play by play. He usually took it harder than I did.
“This is it,” I remember him saying. “No matter what happens, this has been an amazing comeback by the much-maligned Giants this afternoon. Young Gary Wood, number 19, has replaced the injured Y. A. Tittle at quarterback. With under a minute to go, Giants have the ball, fourth down on the Redskins’ 1-yard line. It’s their last chance.”
Mom mumbled obscenities. I blocked them out, readjusted her head and directed my ear back to the announcer’s voice.
“Here we go. Wood leans over the center and takes the snap. He fakes a handoff to Webster, rolls left, lots of room — Wood’s in the end zone standing up. Touchdown! The Giants lead, 12-10.”
My arms swung up to signal the score. Taking advantage, Mom broke free from the headlock.
Glickman was shouting. “It’s through there. The extra point is good. It’s a high holy day for the faithful parishioners in the Church of Mara! The team chaplain, Father Benedict Dudley, is jumping up and down on the sidelines with his friend Wellington Mara, the Giants’ owner. They’re crushing each other’s hats.”
I soared. Father Dudley was the pastor of my church; I was his altar boy. I had an inside connection to the Giants’ owner!
I cuddled Mom’s head and kissed it 13 times, one for each Giant point. She kept yelling: “Let me go! Let me go!”
“You are my lucky Uncle Mommy,” I replied. “That’s your new name, Uncle Mommy.”
“I’m glad the Giants won,” she said. “I like my new name. But you’ll never get near my head again.” Then she stumbled out of the room.
Two Sundays ago, I put my long-gone mother’s favorite teddy bear in a headlock right before Lawrence Tynes, the Giants’ place-kicker, lined up for the overtime field goal attempt in Green Bay. The kick was dead perfect. Giants 23, Packers 20.
(Reprinted with the permission of The New York Times)