Giants fans in Eagles territory: Rooting for the hometown hero

It's the very heart of Eagles territory - just 15 miles from Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.

But when the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens kick off on Sunday, a small but ardent bunch of fans here in southern New Jersey will be rooting for the blue and white - and hometown hero Ron Dayne.

Dayne, a star running back at Overbrook Regional High School, went on to Wisconsin, where he won the 1999 Heisman Trophy as college football's outstanding player, and then to the Giants as their first-round draft pick.

Now, with the Super Bowl looming, he's been responsible for a rash of conversions - if only temporary - among Eagles rooters in this Camden County community.

``Everything has come up good for him,'' said Harvey Miller, Dayne's high school coach. ``It's really unbelievable when you think about it. It'll be the first person I've known in the Super Bowl.''

Chief among Dayne's fans is his uncle, Robert Reid, who raised him from the time he was 15. Divorce and drugs had ravaged Dayne's family, and his uncle invited him into his home and treated him like a son.

``I was an Eagles fan until my nephew got drafted by the Giants, and I changed my allegiance to the Big Blue,'' Reid said this week. ``The Eagles are my second-favorite team.''

Reid and his wife, Debbie, will be watching from the stands in Tampa. A former running back himself, he admits to being keyed up when he watches his nephew.

``I'm nervous before the game. Before kickoff I'm pacing, I'm focused,'' he said. ``It's like I'm in his body, almost, when he's carrying the ball. I'm saying, `Go this way. You should have cut to the left.' I get pretty intense when the game is going on.''

Reid, a pastor and youth social worker, went to northern New Jersey on Sunday to visit Dayne and pray with him, he said.

He describes his nephew as a ``quiet storm.''

``He's very quiet and, I think, misunderstood. But he has a storm rumbling in him and a passion for football,'' he said.

Tom Fitzpatrick, Overbrook's athletic director, was an assistant principal when Dayne attended. He, too, is a Giants convert.

``I've been watching him all year long and rooting for him,'' he said. ``I never was much of a Giants fan up until this year. I had mixed emotions when they were playing the Eagles.''

Fitzpatrick said Dayne, 22, was an ``unassuming superstar'' in high school.

``If you had a problem in school, he was one of the first there to break up a fight,'' Fitzpatrick said. ``He was a phenomenal kid and a great athlete for us.''

Overbrook retired Dayne's jersey - No. 33 - in a ceremony last year.

``He came back here with his Heisman Trophy and spent four hours signing autographs for everybody in the building,'' Fitzpatrick said.

Miller - ever the coach - said he just hopes Dayne gets to contribute Sunday.

``I hope when he's down near the goal line, when he gets his opportunity to take it in, he takes it in,'' he said. ``That'd be nice to see him get a touchdown and be a positive force in the game.''

``We just wish him all the luck,'' he said. ``The whole school does.''
AP-NY-01-24-01 1448EST