It's football season come early in Big Apple

Updated: October 21, 2004, 2:33 PM ET
By Adrian Wojnarowski | Special to ESPN.com

Ernie Accorsi is a Yankees fan out of way back, the New York Giants general manager growing up in Hershey, Pa., with his ear pressed to a transistor radio listening to Mel Allen tell all about Mickey Mantle. The Yankees were the standard of greatness in his childhood, the dynasty that delivered him the original joy of sports. Every morning now, Accorsi drives across the George Washington Bridge into Northern Jersey with the Bronx's long shadow a constant companion.

"We're all judged by the standard of the 26 world championships at Yankee Stadium," Accorsi says. "You're a world champion or nothing.

"We all accept that."

The Giants and the Jets accept it, because George Steinbrenner casts a long shadow in New York. Football season doesn't truly start in the Meadowlands until the champagne is popped in the Bronx, even if a most improbable baseball team did the honors late Wednesday night. The greatest collapse in the history of baseball doesn't change the pursuit for these Giants and Jets in Metropolitan New York: Jacksonville or bust.

The Yankees step off the stage now, leaving New York to a football season where the Jets (5-0) meet the New England Patriots (5-0) for a telltale AFC East game Sunday. There won't be a Game 2 of the World Series in New York on Sunday to overshadow it; it'll be played in Boston. This is the chance everyone gets to take seriously the toughness of the Jets' soft unbeaten start. Five straight wins are nothing to dismiss in the National Football League, except of course, when they've included victories over the Bengals, Bills, Dolphins and 49ers.

The Jets are chasing the Patriots, the way the Red Sox chased the Yankees. Chad Pennington is terrific, but Tom Brady is football's Derek Jeter: He isn't the best choice for the Fantasy League, but there's no one else you want with a championship on the line.

Truth be told, New York has always been a Giants town, and so far, people are far more impressed with a 4-1 start that included back-to-back road victories over the Packers and Cowboys before the bye week.

Around New York, no one was prepared for Tom Coughlin's iron fist to bring such a semblance of discipline and order to the franchise. Kurt Warner has risen from the ashes, Tiki Barber has squeezed the ball so tightly in a fumble-free season, he's suddenly an MVP candidate and that Giants defense has turned old school rugged around the greatness of Michael Strahan. Every down that No. 1 pick Eli Manning watches with a clipboard and a baseball cap tells people the Giants are serious about this season.

Now, the Yankees are gone and the co-tenants of the Meadowlands can resume the intramural skirmishes over a shared home at Giants Stadium. Two years ago, the Jets, restless for a West side Manhattan Stadium to call their own, hung an immense 150-foot-by-80-foot sign on the Stadium's East side, trying to send a message that they no longer wanted to be treated like stepchildren at the Meadowlands.

The Giants were angry, and soon, it was taken down, only to reappear on game days for the Jets.

"I feel like a nanny who is overseeing two billionaires fighting over a sign," New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority president George Zoffinger sighed.

It's always been an odd occupation for the Jets in the Meadowlands, especially since the Giants' executive offices and practice facilities are located at Giants Stadium. The Jets live and train two bridge tolls away on Long Island, commuting on Sundays to play games. There's still a long way to go before they can settle the score of New York football supremacy this season. Of course, no one had dared suggest the possibility that they could play for the championship of East Rutherford in Jacksonville come early February. For now, the Jets' rival to the north, in New England, and the Giants' rival to the south, in Philadelphia, are far more fashionable choices to reach the Super Bowl.

Nevertheless, New York awoke on Thursday morning, rubbed the greatest collapse in baseball history out of their eyes and turned the page to football season. Suddenly, this is one of those seasons when Yankee Stadium won't cast such a long shadow across the Hudson River to Northern Jersey, when the standard for sporting success became a lighter burden when the wrong team popped champagne on a cold October night in the Bronx.

Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. His book "The Miracle Of St. Anthony: A Season With Coach Bob Hurley And Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty" can be pre-ordered before its February 2005 release. Adrian can be reached at ESPNWoj8@aol.com.

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