Aly Soliman and Kenny Jost spent much of the past week using their New York Giants themed minibus to deliver food, water and other supplies to people affected by Hurricane Sandy in areas such as Coney Island and the Rockaways.
Today, they’ll use their 23-passenger black and blue Giants bus to help relocate displaced elderly residents who have been staying at St. Ephrem Parish in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Yesterday, the two friends and their families were especially thankful for the chance to use the bus for their weekly trip to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where they saw the Giants lose 24-20 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the closing minutes. They did it even though there is limited public transportation and a shortage of gasoline in parts of New York and northern New Jersey.
“This is definitely a relief for us,” Soliman, a 31-year-old Bay Ridge resident, said as he gave a tour of his bus with a burger in hand. “We’ve been working hard all week doing the little things to speed up the recovery. We needed this.”
Soliman and Jost, 26, who have both submitted applications to join the New York City Fire Department, said the pregame atmosphere in the parking lot seemed more subdued than usual for the defending National Football League champions.
“We know of a lot of people who couldn’t make it and were trying to get rid of tickets because they couldn’t get gas,” Jost, an operating engineer for Local 15 in New York, said in an interview about three hours before kickoff.
Their Giants-themed bus runs on diesel fuel, so they were able to get it filled at a Brooklyn sanitation station. Others had more of a challenge.
Jim Gilbert, a 75-year-old retiree from Upper Westchester, New York, said he comes to every home game in a Giants mini-school-bus with his 24-year-old son, Scott, and a regular group of 10 others. Yesterday, only four of them made it and they traveled in a minivan and a compact car in an effort to preserve fuel. The gas-powered generator they would usually use to power a television in the parking lot was instead on Long Island being used by some regular members of the group whose home is among those still without electricity.
“We’re here to support our team for the people who couldn’t make it,” said Gilbert, who has a Giants brace on his injured left leg and estimates he’s missed only four of the team’s home games since 1976.
Jay Teague, a 41-year-old elevator mechanic from Jamaica, New York, said he waited in line for 9 1/2 hours to get enough gas to make it to yesterday’s game.
“We had to be here -- all in,” Teague said, before adding with a chuckle, “The only problem is there’s too many Steelers fans walking around.”
As one group of Giants’ fans from upstate New York used a funnel and large yellow gas cans to refill their camper, a passerby jokingly asked how much he could buy one of their extra cans for.
“I still have to figure out how to get home,” he yelled out as he walked by. “I’m on empty.”
Some Giants fans may have opted to sell their tickets on the secondary market rather than brave long gas lines. Steelers fans wearing black and gold were prominent yesterday in the parking lot festivities and during the game, where the Giants had a pregame tribute to those involved in the post-hurricane rescue and recovery efforts.
Inside the stadium, the Steelers fans had more to cheer about, as Pittsburgh rallied to beat New York. Issac Redman, a backup running back who gained 147 yards on 26 carries, scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than five minutes remaining.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said the team knew that fans were looking to the game as a respite from the difficult week.
“We wanted emotionally to win the game so badly for obvious reasons, for all of our neighbors who are struggling and need some kind of inspiration,” Coughlin said. “Unfortunately we didn’t provide that.”
Fans entering the stadium were greeted by volunteers holding donation buckets for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, with money going to storm relief efforts.
While some fans said the pre-game atmosphere in the parking lot lacked its usual energy, smoke from grills wafted through the air and generators still hummed -- powering motor homes, music, televisions, inflatable football players and even a karaoke machine.
“Even though we’re still without power back home, we’re here with big smiles on our faces and it’s great to be with friends,” said 42-year-old Charles Famulare of Freehold, New Jersey, who was at a tailgate party alongside a ‘Big Blue’ motorhome with his wife and teenage children, Charles and Samantha. “The steaks are rolling, we’ve got hot dogs, pork chops. We’re eating here better than we are at home.”
The team said the paid attendance for the game was about 81,000, almost the stadium’s 82,500 capacity. That didn’t surprise Giants receiver Victor Cruz, who is from Paterson, New Jersey.
“I know Giants fans, and they’re going to make it to this game and support their team no matter what,” Cruz said after the game. “It’s a little disappointing definitely for the fans who live and die with us.”
Jason Collins also appreciated a change of scenery from his home in Hoboken, New Jersey, an area that was hit by flooding after the storm. Collins, in a group with friends and family, had a large barbecue and a covered area that featured a television running off power from their truck.
“We have more power here than at home,” said Collins, a New York City code and zoning consultant who in the aftermath of the storm almost forgot he turns 34 today. “This game is more of an escape for us than anything.”