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Training Camp Memories: Giants fans share their stories, photos

I asked for these, and many fans delivered

The 1980s Giants at Pace University.
Photo by Brian Reavy

In writing Sunday about the dwindling fan access to NFL training camps, I asked for some of your favorite New York Giants training camp memories and photos. I received several terrific responses, so let’s tell some of your stories and show some of your photos.

Michael Ard (yes, a last name Giants fans should recognize):

My best memory was Giants camp in 1981, then at Pace University. My cousin Bill was just drafted in the 8th round out of Wake Forest, so I wanted to go and give him some moral support. But of near-equal importance, I wanted to see a certain young phenom out of North Carolina, whose name now escapes me. I remember Harry Carson was very gracious with the fans. I met Bill and another lineman named Powers after the practice was over and wished them both luck. This lineman out of Michigan was huge! I thought no way Bill beats this guy out for a roster spot. But he did, and later that season took over Gene Simmons’s position at left guard.

[NOTE: Billy Ard went on to have an 11-year career, the first eight with the Giants, and helped them win a Super Bowl.]

Matt Merten with a Jeremy Shockey memory:

As a kid I grew up in the Albany area when the Giants held training camp there, and I forgot most memories of it but there is one I always will remember. I don’t know what season it was for sure, my instinct is 2007 but that could just be because we won the Super Bowl. I was probably around the age of 10-12. It was a hot day and the Giants just finished practice, and I was able to sneak to the front of the autograph zone so I was against the fence. It was surreal, you have all your favorite giants running past you some taking the time after a long practice to sign autographs. Then I saw Jeremy. He was running with his head down past everyone not stoping for anyone. I of course was calling his name so I could get him to sign my football, just like everyone. For some reason when he got to my level he stopped running and came directly over to me and gave me his autograph. And then he continued straight up the tunnel. It made my day and even now no one in my family has anything bad to say about Jeremy Shockey. I don’t know what made him decide to sign my football and I don’t even have that football in my possession anymore but I’ll always remember that moment.

Dennis Fekert:

When the Giants held training camp in Albany, one of the best days of summer was when I would drive down from Vermont and my brother would drive up from the city. We would attend the morning practice and then drive up to Saratoga for the horse races for the afternoon.

One day Norm Hand walked right by us on the way to the locker room and said hello. His listed height and weight of 6’3” 310 pounds, did not do him justice, he was huge. May he rest in peace.

Aaron Bierman with a story that couldn’t happen today:

I grew up in Westchester County in the 70’s and 80’s. Watching LT, the QB battle between Scott Bruner and Phil Simms, Joe Morris, Brad Van Pelt, Dave Jennings…. Man what a time to be a fan! Back then, the Giant’s training camp was at Pace University and in the summer of 1981, I was 12 years old.

Our parents would take turns dropping us off and my buddy Matt and I would watch practice all day, every day. Literally. We got to know many of the players on a first name basis and sometimes they’d even invite us into the cafeteria to join them for lunch. One time we snuck into their dorm rooms, flipped through playbooks, and contemplated stealing Harry Carson’s practice jersey (probably a good move we decided not to).

One scorching day in August, Matt was home sick and I was at practice alone. When the players broke for lunch, I noticed a solo figure who stayed behind to lift weights in the summer sun. He was a mountain of a man — not tall but wide — just blasting incline bench reps, over and over ... and this was after morning practice. He noticed me watching from behind the fence and called me over. There was no one else around (those midweek practices didn’t get anything resembling a crowd) so I was a little nervous. I approached him in the middle of a set and he introduced himself between exhales. He was a rookie trying out for the team and didn’t think he’d make it. He explained to me what an undrafted free agent was and said he had to work twice as hard as everyone else to get noticed by the coaches. I couldn’t believe how hard this guy worked and how nice he was. Humble, plain-spoken, kind.

Fast forward three years to 1984 and that young, mountain of a man was dumping Gatorade on Bill Parcells’ head. Fast forward another three years and he was knocking Joe Montana out of the game with a devastating sack which helped the Giants advance to the Super Bowl in 1987.

By now, you must have figured out that guy was Jim Burt.

Dennis Lee offers a pair of stories:

1961: Fordham U in the Bronx. I was 13. I got to hang with a slew of kids who were standing at one end of the field fighting over a chance to return chandler’s practice punts. At the end of practice, I asked YA Tittle for an autograph on a 3 X 5 index card and when he reached out to grab the pen and card he knocked the pile of cards out of my hands and onto the street we were crossing as the team was going back to the locker.

Del Shofner stood guard and directed traffic around Tittle and I as we picked the cards up. He was very apologetic but I was the one at fault. Still. Shofner and Tittle on their first day of training camp, fresh from the trade with SF interacting with a pimply faced kid from the Bronx, What’s the phrase? Priceless! I loved that guy from then on. My favorite...He and Harry Carson but the Carson story came later.

2012: On my way back from a solo motorcycle trip thru the south (where I broke down in West Virginia), I stopped in at Albany to watch the team practice and get an Eli autograph on a jersey for my wife’s birthday. It was August. She loves Eli a lot. Eli passed us autograph seeking fans by. I was bummed because it was damn hot standing in that fenced-in corral and some of the fans were not on their best behavior.

My daughter took it upon herself to take a day off, go down there a few days later, plant herself in that fenced in area right at the edge and get his autograph on the shirt...but he passed her by. Still, she got a lot of other signatures including Bear Pascoe’s who she described as “yummy.”

I wrote the sad tale of autograph seeking failure in a letter to John Mara, sent it with the jersey and that was the charm. Got the jersey signed and a signed birthday card to my wife from Eli. She loves that guy. It’s only right!

Brian Reavy with a Pace University (1980s) photo gallery:

In all honesty, I don’t recognize the players or coaches in many of these photos. Still, they are pretty sweet. And many of them are better than what you could likely get today.

Richard Ward with some happy, and sad, memories:

I am an old-time Giants’ fan going back to the days of the great teams that played at Yankee Stadium. I live in New Mexico and in the summer of 2000 drove to NY to visit family, and on my return trip went up to Albany to watch the Giants practice. My memories include Jason Sehorn easily dusting all the dbs in wind sprints (and this was after his injury), of Howard Cross patiently signing autographs with those enormous hands of his, and of Jim Fassel riding around in a golf cart wearing a straw hat and barking orders through a bullhorn. But my lasting memory (and regret) was of seeing Roosevelt Brown hobbling around on crutches, his knees decimated from a career of NFL football. Brown was one of the great players of all time and a childhood favorite of mine. I was too timid to approach him and introduce myself, but the image of him will be with me forever. Alas, the great Rosey Brown, old #79, died in 2004.

Richard Defone on meeting Wellington Mara in Albany:

The last year we saw Mr. Wellington Mara at camp my brother-in law and myself were waiting for lunch hour to be done and we were passing thru the small parking lot near the dining facility when we saw Mr. Mara walking. We approached and asked for an autograph, we told him of our long distance drive to training camp and how we never missed a game. We thought that he would just walk away but he stayed and conversed for another ten minutes only leaving to go to another meeting.

To us fans this up close and personal touch that Albany brought made us feel a part of the ”Giant Family” just as the players showing their gratitude for the fans big and small coming to support them.

Philip Gross on the Fairfield days:

When I was a kid the Giants summered at Fairfield University. They hung out at the beaches and hustled the pretty girls :-). I will never forget being within a few feet of Frank Gifford, Roosevelt Brown, Charlie Conerly and the rest of the team. We felt as though they were people we knew and sports heroes that when we saw them on Sunday’s (if broadcast) felt great to identify with them. Since they moved away from there it has never worked out that I have seen them again in camp but as I get older the sound of what you describe camp as is not appealing to this 73 year old. Ah, the good old

Elbert Tompkins on missing practices in Albany:

I am a long time Giant fan, (I’m 68) and have been following them since I was twelve years old. I live near Albany NY so when they first came here I was at every practice, both after work and on weekends. The second year, my gracious wife, let use one of my vacation weeks to go to the practices. I did that every year till they left. I loved the openness and the accessibility to the players. I don’t know if you remember, but when Eli was drafted he was on the cover of the NY Times magazine. The cover page with his picture was mostly black. I was standing at the fence and Eli came by and I had the magazine for him to sign. I also had a silver Sharpie so that his signature would show up on the cover. I had the silver Sharpie in my hand with the magazine, Eli had his black Sharpie and he looked at me a little confused and then signed the cover with the black pen. I was so stunned that I just kinda walked away and then started laughing and couldn’t stop. You can barely make out his signature! Those kinds of memories will be hard to come by! The facilities were also just fantastic for kids.

I’ve looked at attending practices at the new facility but there are so many ifs that it just isn’t worth the effort. It might rain, if I’m not in line early enough I may not be able to sit in the bleachers, I have back issues and knee issues so standing is not an option. Plus spending money on a room with no guarantee that we will even see practice. As a fan, there was nothing like training camp in Albany.

Going to a game anymore is also only for the rich. I use to go to one or two preseason games a year and at least one game during the regular season. When they built the new stadium, all the people who had season tickets, that I knew had to give them up because they are too expensive. When we went to a game we were always in the parking lot by 9 a.m. tailgating. It was the best time we ever had. Now all that is gone. I think the game has gotten too big, and the average person can no longer afford to go. I know my friends and I can’t.

In closing, my ex boss got tickets for us to the Tennessee game last year. OMG it poured rain and the Giants played terrible on top of it! At least I saw the stadium and I am content with that. The new stadium is very nice but I miss the old one and the practices at Albany.