OAKLAND, Cal. It was a rare bright spot in an otherwise forgettable day and a miserable season for the New York Giants: with 5:16 left in their game against Oakland, quarterback Geno Smith hit tight end Evan Engram with a 13-yard touchdown pass that narrowed the Raiders’ lead to 17-14. Then, as so often has happened this year in pro football, the team that had just scored a touchdown went into an elaborate celebration, performing Eugene O’Neill’s rarely-seen play “More Stately Mansions” in the end zone.
“We’re 2-9 on the season at that point,” said Giants’ head coach Ben McAdoo, whose job is widely believed to be in jeopardy. “Might as well let the guys have their fun, if you find gloomy family tragedies written by an alcoholic amusing.”
O’Neill is considered the greatest American playwright prior to the AFL-NFL merger in 1967. “More Stately Mansions” is his longest and most challenging work, and was first performed that year after his widow, Carlotta Monterey, had the unfinished script staged against her husband’s wishes. “It was originally intended to be part of a nine-play cycle,” notes theatre historian Armand Clyde. “O’Neill wanted to create a work whose performance would run past the time when physicists expect all life on earth to end.”
NFL touchdown celebrations have grown longer and more elaborate this year, as teams have mimed hide-and-go-seek, Red Rover, tag and other children’s games following a six-point score. “We had a team meeting Thursday and decided, if we ever scored a touchdown again, we’d make sure people remembered it,” said offensive captain Eli Manning, who was benched for the game so that he could direct the performance from the sidelines. The original cast featured 46 actors, standbys, bit parts and “swing” players in total, forcing the Giants to activate a second punter from their “taxi squad.”
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New York is the drama capital of America, and the performance was hailed as a major step towards the maturation of the American end zone celebration by critics. “So many of these little tableaux hardly rise above the level of community theatre,” sniffed Arnold de Gravure, author of How to Enjoy Ibsen. “The Giants play this season has all the essential characteristics of tragedy, as they have failed to cover the point spread in seven out of twelve games.”
Oakland fans, who are known throughout the league for their colorful costumes and heavy consumption of alcohol, appeared to enjoy the performance even though it took a busted on-side kick by the Giants to put the game out of reach. “When they started we had a crowd of 55,000,” said Oakland Coliseum Security Chief Ray Blisbane. “When they finished Act II, we were down to 23.”