2003 New York Giants Preview: When the Weather’s Hot and Sticky

by David Oliver

That’s no time to dip your wickie; when the frost is on the pumpkin, that’s the time for wickie dunkin; and football. Velvet on antlers, testosterone rising in men, a sniff of something feral in the breeze and a symbolic pawing at the earth grip the intestines of the fast and the furious. No more prelude, no more theory; it’s run Sammy, run, time. Living in the shadow of a legend is not easy; living in the shadow of the Big Apple less so. Coach Fassel has pushed his chips to the center of the table, has shed the team of malcontents and locker revelers, has brought in his men, his coaches, and now his play book. Another year without a Super Bowl Championship and he risks being ‘Dungyzed’, as in sent off to some Midwestern hinterland to ply his craft, which, in fact, has been somewhat stellar in terms of Giants coaches since the 60s, with the exception of the brooding omnipresence of Coach Parcells, hanging over the Meadowlands, even overshadowing the ghost of Jimmy Hoffa.

It hasn’t been an easy summer, not for guys with names like Stackhouse, Ferrara and Babers. Not for me either. Frankie Ferrara was a kid from the hood living out our collective dream. He was earnest, lunch pail solid and never gave up or in. He didn’t possess the greatest talent, but he had the greatest hunger and it kept him in the game for longer than some with more obvious skills. My gut tells me he will be back, even as my intellect says here’s Auld Lang Syne for you Frankie.

The sports editor of a local newspaper recently traded jobs and took over as the weekend editor. In his farewell sports column he wrote of his apprenticeship with the Washington Capitals and how one day at lunch one of the team execs asked him why he wanted a career in sports. He told the exec he wanted to do something he loved. The exec didn’t say anything for a few minutes then advised him ‘to be careful, because when you are doing something you love, it becomes too much like work.’ There is a deep truth in those words. I love the Giants; I love football. I have been presented with the opportunity, both by serendipity and by the sufferance of someone in a position to make it happen, to be close to both the Giants and football. But it is in danger of becoming work, and with work comes bullshit, and I have a very low tolerance for that, notwithstanding lasting 30 years in a government career. Each year I tell myself it is the last; each year my wife calls me on it; each year I climb from the despair of weariness, lack of recognition, sufferance at the hands of others, and I return. It won’t happen much longer, so I am going to enjoy this ride. Unlike the guys who get paid to do what they love, I am not going to be ‘Dungyzed’, and I’m not going to lose my love for the Giants or football. I am going to move on before that happens.

It has been a close thing this year, going down to Wednesday. I just happened to wear out on the day and turned on the TV for a few minutes to catch up on the news. What I caught was THE PLAYMAKERS, which repeated the first 2 episodes, I think. And it reached out and grabbed me by the throat. Yes, it is a stylized rendition of what people who throw pencils think it must be like to throw footballs. But there was an underlying chill, a surreal feel to it. The locker scenes were riveting. I have known linebackers like the central figure, and running backs, and linemen. I have sat with guys who were minutes from being cut. I have felt the pain of the ebbing of the dream, the despair from never ending injury, the temptations that come with celebrity. My stomach seized up in agony and I felt it all; the terror of Bashir Livingston, the resignation of Adriano Belli, the dejection in the locker room of a certain XFL team, knowing that this was it, that the ‘milktrain doesn’t stop here anymore.’ I have also felt the whimsy in talking to a certain super star with movie actor looks who would endure any physical pain inflicted on a football field but who wouldn’t pull a toenail off because ‘it wouldn’t look good with sandals.’ And I enjoyed discussing the Beat Generation, particularly Charlie Bukowski with a member of the coaching staff who apparently was much better in the classroom than on the field.

During every College season, there is one game which brings in the Alumni, calls for great partying, signals that fall and football are really here. That game at the Pro level, comes next week for us. Unfortunately, I will miss ‘homocoming’ because of an obligation on the Left Coast, where I will cover the only North American Bicycle Race this year in which Lance Armstrong will compete. The man has just won the Tour ‘dee’ France, he will be sponsoring a Ride Across America for Cancer fund support, and he will be competing in San Francisco against the best on this continent. Right in the middle of all this, news comes of his pending divorce. He and his wife were unable to work out their differences this summer. Even athletes face the constant barrage of ‘despair and nothingness’ that the rest of us face, but for them it is played out on a world stage. Mostly, I am struck by how young these people are, how life has already shown them the ebb and flow of reality and of the rubric ‘that all that glitters is not gold.’

Last night’s extravaganza struck me once again with the thought that the great anti-God Mammon walks the earth. Those who have nothing want that which those who have possess. Those who have want more. And everyone thinks they are morally pure. Reminds me of the old story about the three ants riding a turd and singing ‘when the log rolls over, we’re all going to drown.” Dan Snyder sure isn’t one of those ants. He has spent outrageously in an attempt to buy himself a Championship ring. Will it work? Maybe not this year, but one of these days he will get it. And for all the drama of the four Jetskins, the game still came down to the perfidy of an offense Coach who really doesn’t understand the game of football, just the X and O’s part of the equation, and of a defensive Coach who refused to use his greatest assets, 2 stellar ends, at the most critical time of the game.

So how will it play out for the Giants? Potentially, theoretically, the Giants are loaded. The offensive skill set is powerful, with Kerry Collins, Tiki Barber, Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard and Jeremy Shockey, complemented by a good left side of the line. The Giants can live through the loss of one, maybe 2 wide receivers. They could even survive without the Superstar TE, particularly if Visanthe Shiancoe comes to form early. They cannot survive the loss of Kerry Collins, or probably of their left tackle or guard. Potential is that fragile. On the defensive side of the ball, they have not yet shown the ability to game plan for scrambling QBs. Anthony Wright made their second/third unit look woeful, just as Donovan McNabb made their first unit look awful last year. Having said that, the front four should be much better. William Joseph just has to play well enough to spell the starters for 15 plays a game and Osi will be a force. If Strahan is ready, it could be a big sack year for Giants ends and blitz men. I am not optimistic about the secondary, as a ‘pick’ unit, and they will give up yardage. But they should present well. I really haven’t seen enough of Kato Serwanga and Ray Green to understand why they merit a slot at the expense of another defensive lineman or TE.

The biggest concern I have right now is the right side of the line. Notwithstanding the canonization of the Mouse, Coach McNally has been dealt a bad hand by the constant shuffle on the right side. Just think, Lurch and Stone, Whittle and Rosie. All were better than Giants’ fans like to admit. Diesel Diehl will be a Prime Time player; that’s not the issue. The issue is that he is a rookie, playing next to a virtual rookie, sandwiched between a couple of very young, albeit talented fellow linesmen. Somewhere along the line, probably in November, that might spell trouble.

The opposition will be primed and ready. The Redskins are game, and could hurt some people, as The Jets have already discovered. DO NOT write off the Cowboys under Coach Parcells. Maybe 8 and 8 this year; a contender for sure, next year. And the Eagles are quietly sitting there, licking their wounds, memories of last year’s Vet plastering of the Giants swirling through their pea brains. The Rams are a good test. With Warner, they are still an offensive power. Their defense is improving each year. And they always embarrass the Giants. The Rams, the Cowboys and the Redskins. A break, and we all know how the Giants play following a break, then some tough teams, before the schedule levels off. If the Giants are a Super Bowl contender, nothing less than a 3-0 start will do. Anything else will signal that once again we will have to see if Coach Fassel still has his December magic.

Under any circumstances, the season depends on two men. Kerry Collins and Coach Jim Fassel. Both must be on the top of their game if the Giants are to play Championship football. Let the games begin.