EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – While all the seats still aren't sold, the New York Giants' $1.6 billion stadium is officially open for business.
The Giants kicked off play in the New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday with a 31-18 victory over the Carolina Panthers on a gray, foggy day that seemed to match the color of the stadium.
If there was anything different about this game compared with any at the old Giants Stadium it was the number of empty seats in the ritzy club section of the stadium. The paid attendance of 77,245 was roughly 5,005 below the seating capacity of the new facility and it was obvious.
In the old 77,000-seat Giants Stadium, every seat was filled, or at least sold. There were whole sections of club seats with only a handful of tickets sold in the 82,500 seat stadium that also serves as the home for the Jets.
The Jets will play their first home game on Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens.
For this game, the stadium was decked out in Giants' blue and there was a red-white and blue element to the pre-game ceremonies a day after the Sept. 11 remembrance.
"Obviously this is a great start to our season, but on a whole other level, this game just had a lot of significance with 9/11 being yesterday, the new stadium in addition this being a team we didn't play well against last year in closing out that stadium," center Shaun O'Hara said, referring to a 41-9 loss to Carolina in the Giants' final game in their old stadium. "We're all excited we were able to win. Now the marathon begins."
A flight of four F-16s by the 62nd Fighter Squadron from Luke Air Force base in Arizona performed a flyover, although they seemed to miss the stadium slightly.
Overcast skies and a little pregame rain forced the cancellation of a parachute jump by a team from West Point.
"This is a magnificent place," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "It's a wonderful stadium. Everyone who came here in the preseason spoke highly of it."
The fans occasionally booed the Giants in a game in which they turned the ball over four times, had a punt blocked for a safety and committed nine penalties.
"I liked their enthusiasm," Coughlin said. "I hope it grows and continues to improve and we're all hoping this becomes a very difficult place for people to come and play."
Mark Lamping, the chief executive of the New Meadowlands Stadium company, said there were some minor stadium issues on Sunday.
"Overall it was a very good game for us," he said. "Hopefully, we'll be even better tomorrow than we were today."
For many fans, moving into the new stadium was an adjustment.
People who had developed friendships during the team's stay in Giants Stadium (1976-2009) found they were no longer sitting next to old friends. In many cases, it was the result of fans moving because they could not afford to stay in certain sections of the stadium because the personal seat licenses cost too much money.
Steve Thomas, 50, of Rockaway, said he is going to miss "Buddy" who had sat next to him since 1987.
"He looked like Buddy Ryan (Rex's father) so I always called him Buddy," Thomas said. "He always brought sandwiches for us. He was an old guy, but we're not going to see him anymore."
Sipping a Margarita in a green cocktail glass, Thomas seemed to be enjoying himself at a tailgate party in the parking lot being run by Steve Weitz of Niskayuna, N.Y., an Albany suburb.
Weitz was grilling sausage — burning might be more accurate — while watching a high definition television that was in the back seat of his car. It was being run through a connection to his home computer.
"This is beautiful," he said of the stadium, even though he had not been inside yet since he missed the opening two preseason games.
Not everyone was thrilled heading into the stadium. Angelo Amswini of Wilkes Barre, Pa., a season ticket holder since the days the Giants played in Yankee Stadium in the mid 1960s, had one word to sum up his new stadium experience: "Lousy."
"My seats are on the other side of the stadium and they won't let me get over (park) there," said the 71-year-old, who was accompanied by his 8-year-old grandson, Nicky Scavo. "They said if you go over that side you won't be able to get back in again. I don't know where I'm at. If I stayed home and watched it on TV it might be better. I haven't missed a game. It's like everything new. You have to adjust."