Rain and occasional catcalls from the grandstands couldn’t spoil Hakeem Nicks’s enjoyment of the New York Giants’ opening-day victory in the National Football League team’s new $1.6 billion stadium.
The second-year receiver caught three touchdown passes from quarterback Eli Manning to help lead the Giants to a 31-18 win over the Carolina Panthers yesterday in the first regular-season game held in the stadium shared with the New York Jets.
“It was something I’ll always remember,” Nicks told reporters. “We wanted to go out today and start the tone off right.”
About 77,000 fans attended, filling the 20,000 square-foot Coaches Club and crowding the on-field patio five yards behind the Giants’ bench. Others relaxed among the fireplaces and wood paneling in the Commissioner’s Club across the field or watched the post-game interviews in a glass-walled booth as bartenders poured martinis.
They saw Nicks catch touchdowns of 26, 19 and 5 yards to beat the Panthers, who defeated New York 41-9 in the Giants’ final game in the old stadium last season. Nicks’s play helped offset Manning’s three interceptions and a New York rushing attack that gained just 8 yards in the first half, bringing occasional boos from the stands.
The teams combined for six interceptions, four fumbles and 16 penalties. Nicks finished with four catches for 75 yards. Manning completed 20 of 30 passes for three touchdowns and three interceptions. Carolina quarterback Matt Moore also threw three interceptions, two in the end zone during the fourth quarter, and one touchdown pass.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said the team was happy just to record a victory in the building.
“It’s a historic first win for the New York Giants club here in the new stadium,” he said. “The fans received us well today. They were a little upset with some of the things that happened in the first half.”
That first quarter started poorly for Nicks, when Carolina safety Charles Godfrey intercepted a throw intended for him on the Giants’ first possession. Nicks, who grew up in the Charlotte area and watched the Panthers in high school, said he tried to forget the play.
“I get pretty hard on myself once I have a negative in the game,” he said.
Nicks recovered later in the quarter, catching Manning’s pass thrown to the left side of the end zone for a 26-yard score. Nicks’s second touchdown came with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter and left New York trailing 16-14 at the half.
After the Giants opened the scoring in the third quarter with a Lawrence Tynes field goal, Nicks’s third touchdown secured the win for New York. He said Carolina receiver Steve Smith, a player he’s looked up to, walked over to say “good game.”
“I’ve always been a Steve Smith fan,” Nicks said.
The game marked the debut of a stadium that owners of both the Giants and Jets have described as one of the New York-based league’s flagship venues. The NFL selected the stadium as the venue for the 2014 Super Bowl -- the U.S.’s most-watched sporting event. It’ll be the first time the game will be held outdoors in a cold-weather city.
The teams borrowed $650 million each and sold seat licenses -- one-time fees granting fans the transferable right to buy season tickets -- to finance construction of the stadium. They are still seeking a naming-rights sponsor.
As fans left the building, crews worked to change the decor for the Jets’ game against the Baltimore Ravens tonight, using forklifts to pull up the blue end zone in sheets. The great hall -- the stadium’s primary entryway -- features a Giants logo that can spin around to read “Jets.” Rotating garment racks in the stores hold both teams’ jerseys. The exterior lights change from Giants blue to Jets green.
The Giants visit the Indianapolis Colts next week.