When the Giants hosted the Los Angeles Chargers this past season, a bus filled with 60 members of Justin Pugh's family made the journey from his boyhood home outside Philadelphia to MetLife Stadium. Pugh bought tickets for everyone, and following the game, he enjoyed the catered food while visiting with the large group.
"The whole side of my mom's family and my stepdad's side of the family came up," said Pugh, the Giants' fifth-year offensive lineman. "We catered it, and I asked (John) Gorman (the Giants' longtime director of ticketing) what was the most you have ever had (in one group), and he said that was it.
I try to do as much as I can to bring the family together. Football is the type of event, even if you don't like football, just coming up, being around the family is something that is real special to me. You can't put a price tag on having your family as one. - Justin Pugh
Pugh is "super close" with his sister, Jenna, and stepbrothers Shaun and Michael, who are eight and 11 years older than he is. He speaks frequently to his mother and stepfather, Carolyn and Frank Gavaghan.
"My sister works for a children's hospital in Philadelphia, so a lot of the events she does I try to get involved in some way," Pugh said. "My sister is awesome. She puts everything together. Any plans that we have, she gets it set up. She is the organizer of my life. She'll text me and remind me, 'Hey, text aunt so and so or uncle so and so, it's their birthday.' My sister keeps me in check. My brother Michael was in the military for a while. He left when he was 18, and then he finally came back. The first game he ever came to was my last college football game. From that point forward, he's been my biggest fan. Everywhere I go, he goes. Anywhere he goes, I go. We're making up for lost time, which is something that I am pretty happy about."
And yes, this lifelong Philly fan, who grew up cheering for the Eagles, sees the irony that the fans he now hopes to connect with wear Giants blue. Pugh found the transition challenging, even with a four-year detour to Syracuse in-between. And it was made more difficult when the Eagles won five of the first six games between the teams after Pugh's arrival.
"It was tough at first," he said. "It beat me up a lot, because I wanted to beat them so bad and I had some bad games. I would try too hard against them. Now I have gotten to the point in my career where it doesn't bother me as much anymore. I am not so worked up about it. I realize that I approach every game with the same mentality, go out and do it. Obviously, I want to beat them a little bit more, but you can't ever press in this game. I think I tried to press so much, because I wanted to embarrass all of my friends and I wanted to beat up on their team, and it ended up backfiring on me. So I try to not let it affect me as much.
"Obviously, I am so far removed from being a Philadelphia fan and even living in that city. I haven't lived in that city in 10 years. So it's definitely changed. I've learned a lot from being around all those fans when I go home and in my hometown. It's definitely made me a lot less confrontational, because everyone wants to get at you, everyone wants to get a rise out of you."
As close as they are, Pugh hasn't been able to convince his friends to root for the Giants. Apparently, an NFL allegiance is stronger than one you would validate with a tattoo.
"They're all still Eagles fans," Pugh said. "They'll cheer for me, but now that I make them start paying for bills and stuff, maybe they'll start cheering a little bit more."
Even if they don't, Pugh is happy, because of his network of relationships – his large family, The Crew, college buddies, current teammates and his girlfriend ensure that Pugh is seldom alone.
But even with all the large groups that create a comfortable cocoon for Pugh seemingly anywhere he goes, a void remains in his life.
"My dad never saw me play football, so I always think, 'What if?'" Pugh said. "It's always tough. What would he think now? It's fun to imagine what he would think or how he would act, but I'll never know.
"My family is just a loving family. We're always together, and I always have my friends around. That's probably the reason I loathe it (solitude). Obviously, I wish my dad could be a part of that right now, because I feel like he would be another one of my guys. My dad was such a greaser, country boy. It was so opposite of how I am. I wasn't into NASCAR. He had a farm and animals and stuff, and I'm like a city boy. I like to go into the city. So I would love to see how he would act, because he would be up here staying with me sometimes, and we would go into the city and just see how our worlds would collide right now. It's something that I always think about."