Super Bowl: Giants in the land

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Joanna Poland of Auburn and her partner, Ron Garey, didn’t watch — no, make that couldn’t watch — the first Patriots-Giants Super Bowl together.

“I just knew it would not be a good mix,” Poland said.

History shall repeat itself this afternoon.

Poland, a Giants backer, will load up a bag of goodies (more on that later) and head for an undisclosed location where the residents are a little less fervent about the game. Garey, passionate about the Patriots and Packers, is on his own.

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Funny, because that’s how Poland has felt for most of her life.

You think it’s tough for a Giants sympathizer to live and work in this neighborhood the past two weeks? Poland grew up in Holliston, Mass., which is safely categorized as the belly of the beast.

“My dad was a Giants fan. My brother and I, it was our responsibility to wash the dishes after Sunday dinner. If we had to be around anyway, we might as well learn to watch football,” Poland said.

“We were brainwashed to absolutely hate the Patriots. I remember my dad griping because they changed the name from the Boston Patriots to the New England Patriots. He said, ‘People in New England root for other teams besides them.’ ”

Super Bowl XLVI rooting interests are far more bipartisan than you might imagine in the tri-county region.

Patriots hats, jackets and bumper stickers seem to dominate the landscape. Honest-to-goodness, card-carrying Giants supporters are everywhere, however.

Some, such as United States Air Force veteran Steven Schorr of Jay, are New Jersey transplants. Others, like college students Ryan Laubauskas of Mexico and Sean Hardy of Norway, caught the fever through strong family connections.

And then we have Poland and kindred spirit Ruby Gunther of Rumford, two football-mad ladies who appear to enjoy living on an island.

“All I ever hear is this whole ‘(Tom) Brady is God and Eli (Manning) isn’t in his league’ thing. Sundays around here are pretty brutal,” Gunther said.

TRUE BLUE

Listen a little more closely and you’ll find that Monday through Saturday are no picnic for Gunther’s husband, Randy, or the steady of parade of Patriots fans that filter through the home.

Gunther’s admiration for the team and running back Brandon Jacobs are represented by a Fathead — a life-size cutout that attaches to the wall.

Jacobs’ likeness formerly adorned the living room. After the Giants’ last-minute win over the Patriots in November, Ruby rubbed salt in Randy’s wounds by relocating it.

Yup, to the bedroom.

“I’ll probably bring it back out after the Super Bowl,” she said.

Gunther, an Ellsworth native, gravitated to the Giants at age 12, when her mom married an ardent fan of the team.

Hardy can’t remember a time when the Giants weren’t a central part of his family’s life. His grandfather was drafted by the team — back in the day when “drafted” meant receiving a mailed invitation to try out — but chose medical school instead.

His family has owned Giants season tickets. As a high school football player, the University of Maine student wore No. 53 in honor of Hall of Famer Harry Carson.

And yes, the Hardy clan has thoroughly enjoyed its bragging rights since the 17-14 Giants victory that short-circuited the Patriots’ otherwise perfect season in February 2008.

“Happiest night of my life,” Hardy said. “When the Patriots beat the Giants earlier that season, my friend’s parents actually called our house and rubbed it in that we lost. After the Super Bowl, we called them back — no one else, just this one offending family — and sang, ‘We beat the Patriots, we beat the Patriots’ to them.”

FAR FROM HOME

Laubauskas’ father, Bob, grew up in New Jersey and passed on the Big Blue gene to his children. Ryan, a college football offensive lineman, has broad enough shoulders and sufficient experience to handle the ribbing.

Other than one high school teacher and a stray schoolmate or two, Ryan grew up surrounded by Patriots chatter. And he now attends school at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., where Colts and Bears backers are the rule.

“You will always find me rocking my Giants gear and my Giants key chain no matter how bad they are doing,” Laubauskas said. “When I got out here and told people I was a Giants fan, they laughed and would tell me how they suck and Eli will never be as good as (older brother and Colts QB) Peyton. But I just say, ‘Well, Eli has already the same number of Super Bowl rings and is on his way to a second.’ I believe once he gets his second he will be in the discussion.”

Schorr isn’t new to the abuse, either.

His family moved from New Jersey to California during his teenage years, coinciding with the San Francisco 49ers’ run of four Super Bowl titles in nine seasons.

“I stayed faithful to the New York teams,” said Schorr, who also supports both the Yankees and Mets.

That minority status made for an interesting week in the winter of 2008, when he worked at a car dealership in Winthrop.

“I was surrounded by Patriots fans,” he said. “All week I had to listen to, ‘Hey, what’s it going to be like to lose on Sunday?’ And I was like, ‘Whatever. We’ll see how it goes.’ Monday I came in and all I did was smile. I didn’t have to say a darn thing.”

Schorr has found the Patriots-Giants rivalry to be a friendly one. He recalled a trip to the gas pump prior to the conference championship games, when a neighboring Patriots fan noticed his well-worn Giants hat. They exchanged pleasantries and good luck wishes.

The others aren’t so sure, suggesting that their Patriots tormentors are insufferable.

“I think Patriots fans and Cowboys fans are the same. They always have some smack to talk about instead of just letting the team play and decide,” Laubauskas said. “I am a very competitive person, so I love it when people get me heated in an argument. But I feel that Patriots fans are some of the worst out there. I understand you have to like and support your team, but they just push it too far.”

“In my experience, Patriots fans, and going to school in Maine I deal with a lot, can be extremely arrogant and are always cocky,” Hardy echoed. “I think I know one Patriots fan who I can actually talk football with and will look at his team from an outsider’s perspective.”

GETTING THE LAST WORD

Of course, the Giants’ gallery — as in the case of the Hardy family’s serenade — shows a devious streak for fighting fire with fire.

Poland watched the 2008 game at the home of friends who were more than casual Patriots admirers.

“I brought my Giants football, Giants hat, Giants shirt, Giants turtleneck, all my Giants stuff and hid it strategically around the house,” Poland said. “After the last play of the game, I did my victory dance in front of the TV and spiked the football.”

Surprise: She will watch the game tonight at a different friend’s house.

And poor Garey?

“He wouldn’t speak to me for three days,” she said.

Gunther expects one or two other Giants fans, at most, to attend her Super Bowl gathering.

Admittedly superstitious and a self-professed gambler, Gunther was planning her wardrobe and plotting friendly wagers early in the week.

“I sit on the same cushion every game. I wear my lucky shirt every game,” she said. “I never wash it, but I do wear a t-shirt under it. Nothing gross like that. I’m still a girl.”

The husband-wife gamble may involve forced changes to their Facebook profile pictures or status updates. Ruby wasn’t sure.

Poland won’t place any bets. Don’t interpret that as a lack of confidence or as a vow of silence.

Like many of those who share her allegiance, Poland’s favorite Giants era was the 1980s, characterized by the great Lawrence Taylor.

“I read an interview where L.T. talked about hitting the quarterback so hard that he knocked him out and could see the snot running out of his nose,” Poland said. “I’m 5-foot-4 and 90 pounds on a good day. I’ve always wanted to be able to hit somebody like that.”

In other words, if Poland is at your party, and the Giants win, just let her spike that football.

koakes@sunjournal.com

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