By BARRY WILNER, Associated Press
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Courtney Davis has no idea what her house looks like because her town of Sea Bright was washed away by Superstorm Sandy.
Yet she was at the Meadowlands on Sunday when the Steelers beat the Giants 24-20.
"We need this," Davis said. "We could really use this game and having a good time."
Davis and many other fans tailgating outside MetLife Stadium said they were thankful NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not postpone the game or order it moved to Pittsburgh. And Goodell stopped by to do some tailgating himself, then meet on the field and congratulate first responders, calling them "heroes."
Asked about concerns for playing the game, Goodell said:
"I sure didn't hear that here. I didn't hear it out in the parking lot. In fact, exactly the opposite of that ... 'we want to be able to get away from what we have been dealing with all week for a while' and a couple of guys said, 'This re-energized us. We're ready to go back.'
"That's a nice sense."
The game was never in real danger of being called off, unlike Sunday's New York City Marathon that was canceled on Friday after growing public pressure.
Given the gas shortage in the state — New Jersey has implemented a rationing program — and a depleted mass transit available, the Giants urged fans to carpool to the stadium. In their conversation before the weekend, Goodell was assured by Gov. Chris Christie that the game wouldn't divert any major resources from relief efforts.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin emphasized how important the game was — and how upsetting the defeat was.
"That's as disappointing a loss as we've had in a long time," he said. "Not to be overly reactionary or emotional, to play against a very good football team like that ... we wanted emotionally to win the game so badly for obvious reasons, for our neighbors who are struggling, who needed some type of inspiration and we didn't provide it."
Davis described a beach town that looked more like the desert, with sand dunes piled 8 feet high and bulldozers trying to level them "just like you see in a blizzard."
"Debris everywhere," she added. "We have no idea when we can go back."
Earlier in the week, seeing Steelers-Giants didn't enter her thoughts. But as the weekend began, she decided the Meadowlands was the right place to be.
So while the parking lots filled up and smoke rose from barbecues, people who lost power but not resolve found their way to a football game. And to each other.
"I think there's a sense of release, to take your mind off it," said Tara Brewster of Staten Island, the New York City borough devastated by the hurricane and its aftermath. "If they changed this game to another day, I really wouldn't have been upset, but everyone is coming together. New York is the kind of city that handles everything."
Jim Turbek had 30 inches of water in his basement, even though he lives nowhere near the shore. He went to the game.
"The water was coming in waves," Turbek recalled about a canal overflowing near his home. "We probably lost all our appliances, and my chimney fell in, too."
Turbek never considered missing the game. His brother was a big Steelers fan, so Turbek wore a Steelers cap and said he was "here because Steven would have come. It's good to get back into a routine."
He waited 75 minutes for gas to make sure he could get to the Meadowlands and then home, a distance of 45 miles each way.
Ryan Plaza was not impacted by the storm in his hometown of Sugarloaf, Pa., but he brought 15 gallons of gas to his cousin in New Jersey, then headed to the stadium. Standing nearby was Roger Daly of Norwood, N.J., who has had season tickets since the Giants played in Yankee Stadium; they moved to New Jersey in 1976. His search for gas led him to the U.S. Military Academy, and then even farther north.
"I'm retired from the National Guard and went to West Point for gas, but they ran out," he said. "So I kept going up the thruway and happened to find gas. I made a 60-mile trip each way to get gas."
He was glad to be at the stadium, believing it delivers some sort of a message.
"We're Americans and we can handle anything," Daly said. "I feel bad for everyone who got wiped out, but we have to live our lives like we always did. I still don't have telephone, Internet, but I'm here and this is a good release."
As Kathleen Marzolla described the scene in Hoboken, N.J., which is on the Hudson River and was among the hardest hit places in the state, she got a text message that made her jump for joy. Literally.
"We've got power back. We've got power," she said as her brother, Kevin, pumped his fist.
Hoboken was a ghost town for portions of the week, with water everywhere, she said. Her friend's car was submerged in the overflow, and all the businesses in town were closed for much of the week. But on Sunday afternoon, she finally could smile again.
"We needed this today," she said.
Steelers fans seem to pop up at every road game the team plays and this one was no exception, despite the challenges. Shawn Morrow and Wayne Alling drove in from Pittsburgh, although they believed the game might get pushed back to Monday night. They were stunned by what they saw, Morrow describing areas they drove past in New Jersey as "a war zone."
"Huge trees uprooted, 50 people or more standing in line at a gas station with gas cans; no cars, but the cans," Morrow said.
"We didn't know about the rationing," Alling added. "We have an odd number (license plate) and we weren't sure if we could gas."
They did, and they were enjoying some barbecue in the parking lot, surrounded by thousands of others who found their way to the Meadowlands.
One of those people plunked a pumpkin on a car hood. On it, in black magic marker, was written "We Will Survive."
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan and freelancer Jim Hague contributed to this story.
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