Don't get too excited, Eagles fans. While saying that he is "not a Giants-hater," Christie acknowledged Friday that, yes, his favorite football team is . . . the Dallas, blech, Cowboys.
This weekend, "I'm totally for the Giants," Christie said in an interview. In fact, he is taking one of his sons to the game in Indianapolis.
But Christie refused to pander: "When the Giants play the Cowboys next year, I'll be rooting for the Cowboys."
An avid fan of all four major sports, the Republican governor takes questions about the Mets at news conferences. He threw a Nerf football to end a recent Fox News interview. And during a stretch right after Christmas, he attended a Jets game, a Giants game, and the Winter Classic hockey game at Citizens Bank Park.
In doing so, Christie continues an American tradition dating to at least 1910, when President William Howard Taft threw out the first pitch on Opening Day, in which elected officials connect with the Average Joe through sports. Consider former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who cohosted an Eagles postgame show while in office.
This summer, Christie hopes to drive with his sons (and security detail) to visit ballparks. In 2010, his first summer as governor, they saw six Major League games in six cities in six days.
The former Mets season-ticket holder takes in many of his Mets games from a luxury box with a new friend, team owner Fred Wilpon. He also comes to Philadelphia to watch Mets-Phillies matchups, and he says he sits in the stands.
"I have some interesting interactions with Philadelphia fans," he said.
The governor's support for the Mets plays well in North Jersey, at least. The Cowboys thing doesn't work anywhere.
Ever the master political communicator, Christie has found a different way to support the Giants: On Twitter and in speeches, he argues that the team really belongs to Jersey since it plays at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
"The only thing New York about the Giants is the 'NY' on their helmets," Christie said two weeks ago on NBC's Meet the Press. "They train in New Jersey, they play in New Jersey, and most of their players live in New Jersey."
At a recent town-hall meeting in Bridgewater, Somerset County, a boy named Adam asked where the victory parade would be if the Giants won. Not only would it be at the stadium in New Jersey, Christie said, but Adam "is going to come with me and be my guest."
The crowd loved it.
Because if there's anything New Jerseyans agree on, it's that New York gets too much credit for everything. And just as national politicians use patriotism, state politicians burnish civic pride with sports.
Pols also talk sports because it makes them look as if they'd be fun to "have a beer with," said Wayne Wanta, chair of the University of Florida journalism department.
"If politicians make [sports] bets, if they talk about sports, if they use sports clichés in their speeches, that makes them appear to be more of a normal, average, everyday guy rather than some egghead-genius politician who is a stuffed shirt," Wanta said.
When Christie had Mets season tickets while he was U.S. attorney, he often invited Charles McKenna, a federal prosecutor who is now chief counsel to the governor. Their conversation was 95 percent baseball-related, McKenna said. Even at the end of a bad season, Christie continues to watch games "and complains bitterly," McKenna said.
He has a head for stats - and, as a Mets fan, a heart for suffering, McKenna said. At the office, "if you weren't a sports fan it didn't preclude you from being in the inner circle, but it did preclude you from a lot of the inside banter."
As governor, Christie has access to 24 seats in a luxury box at MetLife Stadium, where the Jets and Giants play. And he has a personal relationship with ownership: At a recent Jets game, TV cameras caught him chatting with team owner Woody Johnson, rumored to be a future Republican candidate.
"I tend to not enjoy the games as much when I'm at them, because I'm working," Christie said. Legislators, business leaders, and others all want five minutes of his time. "So I work for the first three quarters, and then for the fourth I go out and watch the game."
Palatucci was with Christie at the New Year's Day game where the Giants knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs. Christie had to deal with both the game and two serious Giants fans sitting in the box - his father and one of his sons.
"He was pulling his hair out," Palatucci said.
The genesis of Christie's support for the Cowboys was seeing his father watch a terrible Giants team and "yelling and screaming at the television set," the governor remembered.
"I always thought, 'Why would [he] want to root for a team that makes him so miserable?' " Christie said. Then Roger Staubach, the great Cowboys quarterback, lured young Christie to the other side.
The governor recently met Staubach, who gave him an autographed football and told him: "You've got to be the gutsiest politician in New Jersey to be a Cowboys fan."
On WFAN sports radio in New York before a big Giants-Jets game in December, Christie talked smack about the G-men's defense: "Everyone puts points on the board against that Giant defense. Even the Redskins."
Sports trash-talking has become essential in politics, including for women. On The Daily Show, Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic Massachusetts senatorial candidate and Harvard Law School professor, recently declared that the Patriots are going to "spank" the Giants.
And there is the compulsory bet between politicians from each team's city before a big game. After the Denver Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had to "tebow" in front of cameras while wearing a Tim Tebow jersey. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) and John Kerry (D., Mass.) have announced a Super Bowl wager involving cake.
Christie, ever the iconoclast, has come out against such bets. "They're really stupid," he said.
He's content to talk about the New Jersey Giants and boast about how the Garden State has snagged the big game for 2014.
Yet while the political universe wonders whether he is a future president or vice president, there's another job he would apparently leave the governor's office for.
Asked a Mets question recently on MSNBC, Christie fantasized: "Let me tell you something, the people of New Jersey: I have to go. I've been offered the general manager position of the Mets. And it's time for me to move on."
Contact staff writer Matt Katz
at 609-217-8355, email@example.com, or @mattkatz00. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at philly.com/christiechronicles.