December 6, 2007
The Deep Blue G
What is the pull of this thing called sports?It was in this spirit that I approached Roger Director's "I Dream in Blue" (Harper, $24.95), a chronicle of his lifelong obsession with the New York Giants football team and the 2006-2007 season. That I laughed at the many comic moments and was touched by the poignant moments, that I came to understand something of the history and present of the New York Giants, is testament to how good the book is.
Speaking of testaments (what a segue!), Director recounts that the book was prompted by his wife's insistence that he write a will.
"There was a way in which a will was a summarization," Director told me recently over breakfast at Fromin's Deli. "It represented that the best was over, that I was heading back to the clubhouse."
Perhaps a hint of how Director was going to react was apparent when the attorney asked him to name a guardian for his child. Director didn't hesitate for a second:
"Tiki Barber," he said, referring to the Giants' former running back.
Even today, Director still believes he could have eventually convinced Barber, but he could not convince his wife.
So as he was poised to become, in his words, "super-adult," Director decided to reconnect with his "superkid," and spend a season following the New York Giants, a team that has been part of his psyche since the 1956 NFL championship game played in Yankee Stadium, in which the Giants bested the Chicago Bears 47-7 and that he referred to in our conversation as "the native soil" from which all his sports desire grew.
Now would be as good a time as any to reveal that I first met Director many, many moons ago, at a mutual friend's bachelor party. As I recall, Director was trying to talk some of the more inebriated members of the party (it could have been me, but sealed court records prevent me from saying so) off the terrace ledge of a suite at the Morgan Hotel in New York. At that time, Director was a sportswriter, a columnist for the New York Daily News.
By the time I turned up in Los Angeles, Director was deep into a successful career as a TV writer-producer on such programs as "Moonlighting" (which gave him material for his 1996 novel, "A Place to Fall"), "Mad About You," "Arli$$" and "NCIS."
In my estimation, Director is one of the more genial people in Hollywood, but as he faced, in his words, "the burden of late middle-aged disappointment," he found himself falling prey to a whole host of issues: He was, on occasion, screaming at TVs and at people in bars (this was Giants related), and he was suffering from restless-leg syndrome, which was keeping his wife up at night. At the same time, his daughter was growing up, and his wife had returned to graduate school. So he decided to revisit his inner child, or in Director's words: "I got all dressed up to date the Giants again."
Sharing Director's "dream in blue" educated me about Giants lore, past and present. I gained an appreciation for the late owner Wellington Mara, coach Bill Parcells and players such as Andy Robustelli and Frank Gifford -- names that until now, meant little to me (beyond the Kathie Lee reference). Director has a particular soft spot for Robustelli -- a gentleness he ascribes to the player's first name, and the fact that he reminds him in spirit of his father. The scene where Director finally approaches Robustelli at old-timer's day at the Meadowlands is moving and revealing about the mental fortitude that is central to great athletes and so often lacking in mere mortals in general, and overly empathetic writers in particular.
Regarding the 2006-2007 Giants: Director delves into Eli Manning, the quarterback who must suffer the burden of his last name. I also learned that many players are smart, despite what we read in tabloids about their hors concours activities. As Director reiterated to me at breakfast: many are college graduates from good schools, whose attendance of classes one would not want to have to match, and who are compelled for their day job to study, review and retain tremendous amounts of information, even as their bodies receive pounding that few of us could withstand, or even appreciate.
As for Director's man crush on Barber, it continues unabated: "He's a stellar guy. He's an interesting guy because he's a guy with no boundaries in his mind about what he can do. I would not be surprised if Tiki ended up sitting in the Capitol someday."
You heard it here first.
Then there is Tom Coughlin, the Giants' coach, whom Director can't seem to abide. Director rails at Coughlin, whom he sees as a tyrant, unwilling to tailor his approach to best motivate his players. Although he acknowledges that Coughlin "works very hard," Director feels that like getting a great performance out of an actor, "you can't just have one set of rules." But it was more than that. One got the feeling that Coughlin was, in some deep way, an affront to Director's conception of the Giants as a team; an insult, in some way, to the memory of his father -- to the gentleness that Robustelli embodied.
I have a running joke with my wife, where she asks what my column is about this week, and I answer: "You know what it's about -- it's about me." So, too, Director's book is as much about the Giants as it is about him.