By David Gaffen
(Reuters) - Wall Street traders and fund managers have opinions on almost everything - from politics to religion to the price of a spectacular bottle of wine. But ask about this Sunday's Super Bowl matchup between the New York Giants and the Boston-backed New England Patriots, and they're suddenly far from loquacious.
Even if they're Dan Fuss, one of the most respected fund managers in the country. Fuss isn't exactly in danger of losing his position, but wasn't keen to get chatty about American football's big championship game, which is annually the most-watched televised event in the United States.
"People really take this stuff seriously," said Fuss, vice chairman at Boston-based Loomis Sayles, which oversees more than $150 billion in assets. "The Patriots are playing a New York team and I don't want to comment because we have a lot of New York business," he joked.
The game adds to the long-simmering rivalry between the cities of New York and Boston, particularly because this game is a rematch from four years ago, when the Giants won 17-14.
The attitude was a little more relaxed on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday as an Anheuser-Busch/InBev sponsored event outside the exchange encouraged floor brokers to loosen up. Traders put on jerseys of their favorite players, with most donning the blue-and-red colors associated with the Giants.
Most of them, that is. Kenneth Polcari, managing director of Icap Equities, was one of the few brave Patriot fans to pull a Patriots jersey - bearing the number 83 of star wide receiver Wes Welker - over his shirt and tie, and the reaction was not exactly enthusiastic.
"You would have thought the building was going to collapse," he said of the rowdy reception he got as soon as he put the jersey on and began walking around the floor.
Polcari hails from Boston, so he's in a small minority on the trading floor, and the rest let him know it.
"I am the only one that dares to wear a Pats jersey and walk around. There might be closet Pats fans but they are not coming out," he said.
Wall Street has long been known as a place for trying to get one-up on your colleague or rival regardless of how mundane the event, so it's natural that the Super Bowl - the biggest U.S. sporting event of the year - becomes a big event for casual betting.
Most large banks, brokers and money managers tend to clam up when asked about betting pools - which are known to exist in many companies - either because such pools are illegal to begin with, or because they are wary that publicity could add to an already volatile atmosphere.
One executive prominent in Boston financial circles described bets he has made on the game on condition of anonymity because of concerns about legality.
He has bet a total of about $1500 on the Patriots. Clients and business partners from around New York and New Jersey have been calling steadily to make bets since the matchup was set two weekends ago, he said. "People are calling me every day. They're all crazy down there," he said.
"The New Yorkers all want to win because it's Boston. I'm getting a lot of calls on it. People are all over me," he said.
Still, the rocky markets of the last few years have a way of making Wall Street denizens more circumspect about their activities.
"Whenever markets are going up you can do whatever you want - you want to have a Super Bowl pool with an oak-tag poster in the middle of the room, you can do it," said Josh Brown, vice president of investments at Fusion Analytics, and a die-hard Giants fan. "These days people are more aware of extra-curricular activities that can get you fired."
That's not to say people aren't doing their fair share of trash-talking, especially at companies with offices in both places.
"I don't think there is another team that is represented on a fan basis at Knight other than these two teams, so that is really an intense conversation," said Peter Kenny, managing director at wholesale market makers Knight Capital Group in Jersey City, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Wall Street.
The needling has its way of spilling over into public events, such as the results conference call held by private equity firm Blackstone Group on Thursday.
Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone chairman and CEO, at one point announced he was turning the call over to Laurence Tosi, referring to him as "LT," the same initials as famed former Giants defensive player Lawrence Taylor. He carried that abbreviated moniker when he starred in the 1980s and played on two championship Giants squads.
"That's an appropriate name given that the Giants are going to the Super Bowl," Schwarzman said.
Tosi, chief financial officer at Blackstone, retorted: "Thank you, Steve. Although I am a Patriots fan, I appreciate the thought."
Knight's Kenny, as a Giants fan, is naturally convinced of his team's chances, adding fuel to the fire by saying his Patriots-supporting colleagues are still having nightmares "waking up in the middle of the night about the Tyree catch."
"Ten times I have heard that from different people," he said, referring to the miraculous "Helmet Catch" by little-used Giants receiver David Tyree that continued the team's winning drive in its 17-14 victory over the Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl.
That loss in the closing minute of the game - which also stopped the Patriots from recording an undefeated season - still stings badly in Boston. "From a fan's perspective you want to avenge that loss," said Lewis Piantedosi, portfolio manager at asset manager Eaton Vance Corp. in downtown Boston.
Piantedosi said he doesn't have any bets on the game. He said he'd bet on the Patriots, but won't find anyone in his office willing to take the other side.
When pushed hard, even Fuss responds to the goading from New York. "This is the Patriots," he said. "They're definitely going to win."
Back down on the New York Stock Exchange floor Wednesday, Jason Weisberg, managing director at Seaport Securities Corp, said Polcari didn't keep the Patriots colors on for long.
"There is one - and they took the jersey off - they were getting abused," he said.
(With reporting By Jennifer Ablan and Chuck Mikolajczak, Lauren Young and Jed Horowitz in New York and Ross Kerber in Boston)