Thursday, January 18, 2018
Sports

Connecticut town splits its loyalties

Vinny Smith knows all about divided loyalties. Smith is a Giants fan. Wife Maria roots for the Patriots.

The two spend a lot of time at Roma's Sports Bar in New Bri­tain, Conn., a town of about 70,000 two hours southwest of the Patriots' Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., and two hours northeast of the Giants' MetLife Stadium in East Ruther­ford, N.J.

On the wall, bar owner Khalid Tawfik hangs flags of both teams. And he plans to divide the place in half on Feb. 5.

"We will have a police officer here," he said, "in case somebody has a little too much to drink and gets out of hand."

But he expects only good-natured ribbing, like when the teams met in the Super Bowl four years ago.

The town of New Britain has links to both teams.

The Giants played one of their earliest games there in 1925, beating a local pro team 26-0. And they spent 1973 and 1974 at the Yale Bowl, about 30 minutes away, while Yankee Stadium was being renovated and Giants Stadium was being built.

Meanwhile, Tebucky Jones, a defensive back on the Patriots' first title team, coaches his alma mater, New Britain High.

"I don't understand people rooting for New York," he said. "We live in New England, right?"

One resident, Cedric Monroe, said he and other lifelong Giants fans considered rooting for the Patriots in 1998, when owner Bob Kraft agreed to move the team to Hartford. But Kraft backed out of the deal.

"I think there is still a lot of like for the Patriots as a team," Mayor Tim O'Brien, a Giants fan, said. "However, if the dear owner of the Patriots team showed up in New Britain, I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up with a few traffic violation tickets."

Gronkowski update: Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski was listed as questionable on Friday after missing practice for the second straight day because of an injured left ankle. Also for the second straight day, Gronkowski was not available for comment.

WIVB-TV in Buffalo reported his father, Gordy, said it is a high ankle sprain but his son expects to play.

The Patriots have not disclosed the extent of the injury, and coach Bill Belichick rarely provides details on injuries.

"He must not have read the sign on the door (near the locker room)," New England WR Matthew Slater said, joking, of Gordy Gronkowski.

"We're not supposed to disclose that kind of stuff."

And Belichick's reaction?

"Oh, I don't know," Slater said. "I would imagine he wouldn't be too excited about that."

Gronkowski was the only Patriot to miss practice.

Giants injuries: WR Hakeem Nicks and CB Corey Webster missed practice for the second straight day but expect to return next week. Nicks aggravated a shoulder injury Sunday against the 49ers by falling on it. Webster has dealt with a hamstring injury for several weeks but has not missed a game.

College buddies: Giants WR Victor Cruz had a breakout season, including setting a franchise record with 1,536 receiving yards. But waiting for him in the Super Bowl will be Pat­riots S James Ihedigbo.

Not only did both go to Division I-AA Massachusetts, Ihedigbo served as Cruz's recruiting host when he visited the campus 4½ years ago.

"It was a tremendous ride," Cruz said of their time with the Minutemen. "We understand how much of a small school it is and how little guys get an opportunity to come out of that school."

Ihedigbo appeared in every game this season and started 14, including both playoff games.

"I've seen (Cruz) do it before back in the old days in college," Ihedigbo. "He's really a terrific player."

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