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Super Split: Bowl Has Connecticut At War With Itself

Feb 1, 2012
Originally published on February 1, 2012 7:48 pm

This weekend's Super Bowl match-up has special significance for football fans in Connecticut. The state is nominally part of New England, so you might expect to find overwhelming support for the Patriots. But Connecticut's loyalty seems to lean toward the New York Giants instead.

New Englanders are known for their long memories. So while the Patriots have been one of football's best teams for the past decade or so, you'll find plenty of fans in Connecticut who still haven't climbed on the bandwagon. And nothing reveals that fault line quite like a Super Bowl match-up between the Patriots and the Giants. Take Kevin Kerlegza and Stan Milecki, who work together in Hartford.

"You'll find a lot of Patriots and Giants fans," Kerlegza says. "We can exist together peacefully." But are the co-workers going to watch the game together? "Absolutely not," laughs Milecki. "We're not that friendly," Kerlegza agrees.

Kerlegza lives in Farmington, Conn.; he's the Giants fan. Milecki, who lives in Enfield, roots for the Patriots.

"Southwest, you get Giants, right?" Milecki explains. "Northeast, you start to get more Patriots."

There's no consensus on exactly where to put the border between "Giants Country" and the "Patriots Nation," although the Connecticut River might be the 50-yard line. What's clear is that feelings can run deep on both sides. Angela Plourde lives in Meriden, a few miles west of the river.

"I can't stand the Patriots," Plourde says. "I hate everything about them. I think they have a decent team, but they just don't impress me. So I'm going to root for the Giants by default, because I loathe the Patriots that much."

On the surface, the division between football fans in Connecticut has much in common with the rivalry between baseball's New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. But there are some key differences. At 52 years old, the Patriots are still the upstart, the new kid in town. Before 1960, football fans in New England had only one team to root for — the Giants.

"When I first started rooting for them when I was a kid, there was no American Football League," says Steve Eckles of Wallingford, Conn. "Just New York Giants, Baltimore Colts. So, I go back a ways."

Eckles works in Hartford. "If you're a true fan, you know, you're going to follow the team," he says. "The Giants were here before the Patriots were. So I think the Giants are popular throughout New England. You can go up into Vermont, and pockets up north, and there's Giants fans all over the place. Because way back when, they were the only game in town."

Many fans in Connecticut also remember what happened in 1998. Patriots owner Robert Kraft agreed to move the team's home games from Massachusetts to a new, publicly financed stadium in Hartford. But the deal fell apart. And fans like Rocco DiTaranto still blame the Patriots.

"I had actually gone to the Patriots games," DiTaranto says. "I'm an avid fan; I support my teams. And to me, it was the ultimate slap in the face."

DiTaranto grew up in West Hartford, rooting for the Patriots through the dark years of the 1970s and '80s. After that slap in the face more than a decade ago, he threw his allegiance behind the Giants. Needless to say, he was delighted when New York pulled off an upset victory in the Super Bowl four years ago.

"The fact that they beat the Patriots to me is just ultimate redemption," he says. "And now to get this match-up a second time, it is absolutely surreal to me. I never thought I'd see it once. And twice in my lifetime — regardless of what happens, I'm a Giants fan for life."

DiTaranto will be watching the game with friends in West Hartford. No Patriots fans allowed.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. This weekend's Super Bowl has special significance for football fans in Connecticut. The state is nominally part of New England, so you might expect to find overwhelming support for the Patriots. But as NPR's Joel Rose reports, a lot of people in Connecticut lean in the Giants' direction.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: New Englanders are known for their long memories. So while the Patriots have been one of football's best teams for the last decade or so, you'll find plenty of fans in Connecticut who still haven't climbed on the bandwagon. And nothing reveals that fault line quite like a Super Bowl matchup between the Patriots and the Giants. Take Kevin Kerlegza and Stan Milecki, who work together in Hartford.

KEVIN KERLEGZA: You'll find a lot of Patriots and Giants fans, and we can exist together peacefully.

ROSE: Are you going to watch the game together?

STAN MILECKI: Absolutely not.

KERLEGZA: No.

MILECKI: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KERLEGZA: We're not that friendly.

MILECKI: No.

KERLEGZA: We're not that friendly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROSE: Kerlegza lives in Farmington, Connecticut; he's the Giants fan. Milecki, who lives in Enfield, roots for the Patriots. Milecki explains the split this way.

MILECKI: Southwest, you get Giants, right?

KERLEGZA: Yeah.

MILECKI: Northeast, you'll start to get more Patriots.

ROSE: There's no consensus on exactly where to put the border between Giants Country and the Patriots Nation, though the Connecticut River might be the 50-yard line. What's clear is that feelings can run deep on both sides. Angela Plourde lives in Meriden, a few miles west of the river.

ANGELA PLOURDE: I can't stand the Patriots. I hate everything about them. I think they have a decent team, but they just don't impress me. So I'm going to root for the Giants by default because I loathe the Patriots that much.

ROSE: On the surface, the division between football fans in Connecticut has much in common with the rivalry between baseball's New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. But there are some key differences. At 52 years of age, the Patriots are still the upstart, the new kid in town. Before 1960, football fans in New England had only one team to root for: the Giants.

STEVE ECKLES: When I first started rooting for them when I was a kid, there was no American Football League. It was just the New York Giants, Baltimore Colts. So I go back a ways.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROSE: Steve Eckles of Wallingford, Connecticut, is eating lunch at a sports bar in Hartford where he works.

ECKLES: If you're a true fan, you know, you're going to follow the team, and the Giants were here before the Patriots were. So, you know, I think the Giants are popular throughout New England. You know, you can go up into Vermont and pockets of - up north, and there's Giants fans all over the place because way back when, they were the only game in town.

ROSE: Many fans in Connecticut also remember what happened in 1998. Patriots owner Robert Kraft agreed to move the team's home games from Massachusetts to a new publicly financed stadium in Hartford. But the deal fell apart. And fans like Rocco DiTaranto still blame the Patriots.

ROCCO DITARANTO: I had actually gone to Patriot games. I'm an avid fan. I support my teams. And to me, it was the ultimate slap in the face.

ROSE: DiTaranto grew up in West Hartford, rooting for the Patriots through the dark years of the 1970s and '80s. After that slap in the face more than a decade ago, he threw his allegiance behind the Giants. Needless to say, he was delighted when New York pulled off an upset victory in the Super Bowl four years ago.

DITARANTO: The fact that they beat the Patriots, to me, is just ultimate redemption. And now to get this matchup a second time, it is absolutely surreal to me. I never thought I'd see it once. And twice in my lifetime, regardless of what happens, I'm a Giants fan for life.

ROSE: DiTaranto will be watching the game with friends in West Hartford. No Patriots fans allowed. Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.