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Keith Strudler: The Party Before The Storm

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No one would argue that the New York Giants drew the best playoff assignment by any measure. In taking an NFC Wild Card spot, they’ll travel this weekend to NFC North champ Green Bay, who rarely lose at home and might be the hottest team in the league. The temperature will probably sink to single digits by game’s end Sunday evening. And mind you, New York actually has a better record than the Packers, but with the logistics of the NFL playoffs, they are still the road team.

Now this isn’t anything new for the Giants, who earned one of the NFL’s most memorable playoff wins on the road in Green Bay in 2014 in subhuman weather. They also did it in 2012. So perhaps the Giants see Green Bay as their home away from home. Even if it is cold and miserable, which, let’s be honest, isn’t all that different from the Meadowlands in New Jersey right about now.

That said, at least a few Giants made sure to warm up before the trip. That happened last Sunday night into Monday, when a group of players flew down to Miami after the Giants final regular season game and, according to reports, went clubbing until early hours of Monday morning. It would have gone largely unnoticed if not for a photo of four shirtless Giants on a boat sometime Monday that appeared on wide receiver Victor Cruz’s Instagram. That set off a firestorm of accusations and innuendo of what athletes should do to prepare for the playoffs.

This overnight sojourn became a significant line of inquiry by reporters on Tuesday, when quarterback Eli Manning – who did not go to Florida – said he was disappointed that his teammates didn’t pack better for the trip, since they all were shirtless with long pants and boots in the photo. That’s like having to swim in your underpants because you didn’t know it was a pool party. Or jogging in khakis because you left your gym bag at home.

So far, it seems that no one in the Giants organization is particularly worried about the brief vacay. Coach Ben McAdoo said players were off until Tuesday. And by all accounts, everyone was on time. Cruz said everyone is ready to rock and roll. That’s in practice, not early Monday morning at a nightclub, when apparently Justin Bieber was also in attendance. And let’s be honest, who can say no to the Biebs?

This isn’t a new refrain. There’s a long history of athletes getting social before major sporting events. Perhaps the most famous is wide receiver Max McGee of the 1967 Packers, who drank himself up to the morning of Super Bowl I before an unexpected star performance in the game. Joe Namath bragged about his sexual conquests before most games, including championship ones. And more than a few college football players have enjoyed revelry the week of their bowl games, which is exactly why coaches do bed checks like its summer camp.

But today is far different than the pre-Facebook era, when you could do something and have it simply fade into the ether. I highly doubt athletes of the 1970s and 80s would survive today’s ecosphere without a severe behavioral adjustment. So the Miami bound Giants should have known better than to post photos of the trip. Such is the downside of thinking your whole like should be chronicled more than lived.

That said, the public outcry, such that it is, over this overnight excursion comes down to two realities. First, it’s a reminder that pro athletes live very different lives than their fans. Not a whole lot of Giants supporters can even conceptualize grabbing a private jet for overnight to South Beach. So when their guys do just that – when they’re supposed to be resting, no less – it’s almost a reminder that we aren’t truly in the same world. Think of it a football populism.

Second, and more important, is the fact that most sports fans have a hard time understanding that athletes often see their jobs as – well, a job. Which means they can have some fun on their day off, crazy fun even, as long as they get back to the office by Tuesday morning. That’s how most of us see our employment. But sports fans don’t see their favorite teams as a work place. Instead, it’s a calling, a religion, and we are all servants. For true fanatics, there is no higher cause than winning a first round playoff game. None. And the athletes themselves should live their lives accordingly, which means singular focus on the task at hand, not 24 hours of revelry with a bunch of hip hop stars. See, sports fans can’t bear the thought that the game means more to them than the athletes who actually play. But for at least some of the fans and some of the athletes, it’s true.

Of course, none of this will matter if New York follows the historical pattern and beats Green Bay on Sunday. If they don’t, they might all want to disappear to someplace nice for a while.

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