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Giants, Jets fuel flames

January 07, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

The 13 firefighters of Engine 202 in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, N.Y., eat together, work out together, bunk together and, of course, respond to emergencies together.

But today, theirs is a firehouse divided.

Why? Because for only the second time in NFL history -- and the first time since 1981 -- the New York Giants and New York Jets are in playoff games on the same day. The Jets play a wild-card game at New England, followed by the Giants at Philadelphia.

And Jets and Giants fans mix with all the subtlety of nitro and glycerin.

"I would say this place is pretty much split down the middle," said fireman Derek Nelli, a Jets fan. "I'm totally rooting for the Eagles. I hate the Giants."

The funny thing is, because of the way the 8-8 Giants staggered into the playoffs, some of their fans in the firehouse are pulling against them too. Before winning its finale to eke into the postseason, the team lost six of seven.

"I want to see the Jets win because they deserve to win, and I'm interested in seeing the Giants lose because they stunk it up this year," said fireman Sean Murray, who typically sees the world in shades of blue and red. "I've got a little brother that can throw the ball better than Eli Manning -- and my little brother hates football, he doesn't even like sports."

And so it goes for a city whose last NFL championship came 16 years ago, when the Giants beat Buffalo, 20-19, in Super Bowl XXV. Today, the Jets and Giants are on the road as at least one-touchdown underdogs facing division rivals.

The Jets and Patriots split their season series, with each winning on the road. On Nov. 12, the Jets stunned New England, 17-14, in monsoon conditions at Foxborough, Mass. After the game, Coach Bill Belichick could barely bring himself to shake hands with first-year Jets Coach Eric Mangini, a former New England assistant coach. There were indications this week that their frosty relationship has thawed a bit. In the past, Belichick had refused to refer to the Jets coach by name. In talking to reporters this week, he took the peculiar step of referring to Mangini only by his first name.

In a conference call with Jets writers, Belichick was asked why his relationship with Mangini had gone sour. He paused for six -- count 'em, six -- seconds before saying, "Look, I made [positive] comments about Eric when he was hired. I still feel that way, nothing has changed."

Plenty has changed with the Giants and Eagles, particularly in the second half of the season. Whereas the Giants have been in a downward spiral since starting 6-2, the Eagles have been on a roll since quarterback Jeff Garcia replaced the injured Donovan McNabb. Philadelphia won the NFC East and finished the season with five consecutive victories.

One of those victories came against the Giants on Dec. 17, when the visiting Eagles rallied from a two-point deficit in the fourth quarter with 20 consecutive points in the last 12 minutes 36 seconds.

That 36-22 victory was payback for a similar loss to the Giants earlier in the season. In Week 2, Manning rallied New York from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime, then won it with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.

The guys at the Brooklyn firehouse were glued to the TV for all those games, just as they will be today -- provided they're not responding to an emergency. And they're realistic about the way things are likely to unfold.

An all-New York Super Bowl, perhaps?

"That would be a sign of the apocalypse," Nelli said.

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