By Dan Salomone
Additional photography by Mike Malarkey
No one bleeds bluer than rock star Jon Bon Jovi. The New Jersey native caught every game he could in person, even sometimes disguising himself as a photographer on the sidelines.
On Sept. 16, 1990, two credentialed photographers walked into Texas Stadium to shoot a Week 2 matchup between the Giants and Cowboys.
They swung by the press room, ate a pregame snack, and headed out to the field. One was seasoned, so he knew his way around. The other, carrying the vet's workbag with a camera awkwardly strapped around his neck, just tried to keep up in the 100-degree heat.
The fumbling newbie had an excuse, though.
He wasn't actually a photographer -- in fact, just the opposite. He was the one accustomed to getting his photo taken. That's because he was a rock star. He was Jon Bon Jovi.
How this New Jersey native, who has sold millions and millions of records worldwide, came to find himself in that position on that day is a story as glamorous as his lifestyle. But the reason isn't. No, it's rather simple. He's a Giants fan.
For as often as his tour and studio schedules allowed in the 1990 championship season, Bon Jovi was on the Giants' sideline. He became such a familiar face that coach Bill Parcells even called him one of his "guys" on a visit to the lead singer's house. For Giants fans, you know that's the equivalent of being knighted.
No one outside of the Giants' syndicate was aware of Bon Jovi's presence because of the disguise.
It all stemmed from an encounter with punter Sean Landeta at a popular nightclub. From there, word got to longtime Giants public relations director Ed Croke, who then set Bon Jovi up with the seasoned photographer, Mike Malarkey.
Dallas would be the trial run. But first, Bon Jovi needed to look the part.
The hair had to be put up -- a Giants hat would do the trick -- while the rock star clothes, shades, and boots were all swapped out.
"So, how do I look, do I look like a photographer?" Bon Jovi asked Malarkey after his wardrobe change.
"I gave him another once-over," Malarkey recalled a quarter-century later. "But he had these big, round earrings on. And I said, 'Jon, you look great, but I think you better take those big, round earrings off, though. That might not quite make it.'"
So he did. Good to go. Or so they thought. A minor detail later spotted by a cheerleader almost derailed the whole cover story, but a more pressing hurdle presented itself: how to get in.
"I was a little bit worried about walking into the stadium, actually," said Malarkey, who has been photographing the Giants since the late seventies. "And I mentioned it to him. He said, 'Mike, if I came here with 15 people, sure, it would make a ruckus. It's me and you, nobody knows it's me, we'll walk in, and there won't be any problem.' And it wasn't."
And then Bon Jovi went to work.
"Well, they had to find something for me to do," Bon Jovi said during a recent interview with Big Blue Entertainment at the Greenwich Hotel in downtown Manhattan. "Being on the sideline is a privilege, and it's really rarified air."
With the roles reversed, Bon Jovi had simple rules to follow.
"Stay out of the way and you're going to get yelled at by somebody at all times," he said.
"Whether it was the photographers who were trying to get their shot, whether it was the security guard who was trying to do his job to keep you out of the way knowing you didn't belong there, whether it was a coach, player, or part of the staff for the team to tell you, 'Stay in your space but don't cross the line.' And then just try not to be a distraction while enjoying the moment. There I was on the turf. I was there."
The Giants won the game 28-7 in part of a 10-0 start to the season with no one outside of a tight circle knowing Bon Jovi was there. But there was a close call while he learned to wear sleeves when he didn't want to be spotted.
"One cheerleader looked at me kind of funny and then was staring at Jon," Malarkey said. "And he ran real quick to get some water or Gatorade or something, and she's staring at me and she said, 'I know that guy.' And she was staring at his arm and she saw the Superman tattoo and was kind of catching on. And she was kind of catching on and I looked at her and she was asking who was it. I said, 'Listen, you've got to keep this a big, big secret.' And she said, I promise.' I told her who it was, and she kind of suspected and she was like, 'Oh my gosh.' But I said it's our secret, so be quiet.
"When he came back, she was just staring at him and you could tell she was kind of excited. But she kept it a secret. That was the only person that caught on as well. Even in the photographers' room and during halftime, no one had a clue."
One good turn deserved another, and when he found a rare opening on his schedule, Bon Jovi would be back on the sidelines. But Parcells did take some convincing at first.
"I was yelled at by Parcells early on in the relationship," Bon Jovi said. "But here was the difference-maker: there were rap stars who will go unnamed that were very flamboyant on the sideline at certain NFL games. Parcells yelled at me, and as soon as he yelled at me, I thought, 'Oh, that's funny. He's my Pop Warner coach. I've been getting yelled at like this my whole career.' But it's: 'act like a man, put the hair [up]' and you were looking like an assistant, not a rock star getting on a motorcycle. So because of that, the photographers did the same kind of thing, and that's how I was able to make friendships. It wasn't about me. It was about the game." As the weeks went on, the games increased in importance.
During that time, Bon Jovi made lifelong friendships with players, coaches, and staff members, culminating in a gift he sent to the team after winning the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco.
When they arrived in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl XXV, a shirt was on each player's stool in the locker room. On it were the words "SHOW NO MERCY" with the Giants and Bon Jovi logos on the sleeves.
"We're all wearing [his] shirt underneath our jerseys," said Landeta, sitting next to Bon Jovi in the joint interview. "I don't know if you believe in things like that or whatever, but it was a little spark, you know what I'm saying. You say to yourself, 'Wow, look what he did for us, how he feels about us, how he wants to be a part of this.'"
But for the big game, Bon Jovi almost wasn't there -- at least not in his new home on the sideline. After he enjoyed the pregame ceremonies on the field, Bon Jovi -- who was Bon Jovi at this point and not a photographer -- was whisked away by security.
Phil Simms, who had become close with Bon Jovi especially after the quarterback broke his foot a month prior to the Super Bowl, tried to stop it.
"Security came and they took me off," Bon Jovi said. "And Phil Simms said, 'He has the same pass as I do. He is with us.' And they said, 'This is a different story.' This is the Gulf War. They said, 'You gotta go.' And they sent me up to a box."
However, after watching most of the game from there, security then came back up, brought him down, and he was back in his element to catch one of the most memorable moments in Super Bowl history.
"They're trotting out to kick the game-winning field goal and I feel a tap," said Landeta, referring to the moment Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood was about to attempt a 47-yard field goal in the closing seconds with the Giants leading by one point. "I turn to my left, and there [Jon] is. I'm like, 'Where have you been? I've been looking all over for you… All right, whatever, let's watch this.' So we stood there and watched him line up and kick that ball. Fortunately, it sailed a little to the right."
The Giants won 20-19. Bon Jovi was there, but he didn't escape without a last job to do on the sideline.
"For the kick, I was holding one of those plastic satellite dish things," Bon Jovi said. "Some guy yelled at me; he's like, 'Hold this.' You just did what you were told. And when the kick went wide, we ran out on the turf, and to have been allowed to do that -- I tried to buy the Buffalo Bills last year. None of this would have happened had it not been for meeting Sean Landeta, when he introduced me to all those people who then I've become such good friends with. I've learned the business. I've learned everything about it. It was a chance meeting with Sean Landeta in a nightclub, where neither of us should have been."