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The New York Giants are the NFL’s most successful cursed franchise. Does that sound oxymoronic? Certainly. But no one will convince me otherwise.
In their 90-year history, the New York Giants have won eight NFL titles, the third most in the NFL. The team has appeared in 19 NFL championship games. Four of the NFL titles and five of the NFL championship game appearances have occurred in the last 30 years. The Giants are the only NFL team to win two NFL titles in the last eight seasons. How can the team possibly be considered “cursed”? You want to talk about “cursed”, talk to fans of the Lions or Eagles or Browns.
This article isn’t about the lost decades of the 1960’s and 1970’s or the many catastrophic game collapses such as “The Fumble” in 1978, the 1997 playoff game against the Vikings, and the 2002 playoff game against the 49ers. It’s about how the Giants have been slammed by a series of mind-numbing, career-impacting injuries to many of their best players in the last 10 years, including bizarre off-the-field accidents.
According to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) metric, the Giants have been one of the least fortunate teams in terms of being affected by injuries. Their AGL rankings for the Giants for the last five years:
- 2010: 22nd
- 2011: 26th
- 2012: 25th
- 2013: 32nd
- 2014: 32nd
As Football Outsiders notes, “This is the fifth year in a row the Giants ranked 22nd or worse, and they have missed the playoffs in four of those seasons… Then we have the Giants, looking to put together an injury dynasty. After setting the benchmark with 141.3 AGL in 2013, the 2014 club has the second-worst AGL on record at 137.1.”
All Giants fans know that the team has been terribly impacted by injuries in recent years. The stats compiled by Football Outsiders clearly prove that no team has been more affected by injuries over an extended period of time. But what the stats don’t show is that many of these injuries have been career-ending or career-impacting to many of the team’s best players and high draft picks at relatively young ages.
Let’s look at some of the most egregious examples:
- WR Plaxico Burress: One of the best receivers in team history. In 2008, the Giants were 10-1, including having already beaten both eventual Super Bowl participants at their stadiums, when Burress accidentally shoots himself in a nightclub. The event ended his season and career with the Giants at the age of 31. New York faded down the stretch and was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.
- WR Steve Smith: A former 2007 2nd-round draft pick, in 2009, Smith became the first Giants receiver to be voted to the Pro Bowl since Homer Jones in 1968. The following year, Smith suffered a knee injury that basically ended his career at the age of 25. He left the Giants after the season and retired in 2013.
- TE Kevin Boss: A very solid two-way tight end, Boss saw his career with the Giants prematurely end after the 2010 season at the age of 26 when he signed a free agent contract with the Oakland Raiders. As subsequent events proved correct, the Giants were concerned about Boss’ repeated concussion history and chose not to match the Raiders’ contract offer.
- TE Jake Ballard: Boss’ replacement, Ballard surprised everyone by quickly turning into a very solid two-way tight end in 2011, being an important part of the 2011 championship team. However, Ballard’s career ended at the Super Bowl when he wrecked his left knee. 24 years old, Ballard never played for the Giants again.
- S Kenny Phillips: A former 2008 1st-round draft pick, injuries to both knees (one in 2009 and the other in 2012) negatively impacted and prematurely ended Phillips’ promising career with the Giants after the 2012 season at the age of 26. Phillips is now attempting a comeback with the Saints.
- RB Ahmad Bradshaw: The sixth-leading rusher in team history saw his career with the Giants prematurely end at the age of 26 after the 2012 season due to chronic foot issues.
- CB Terrell Thomas: A former 2008 2nd-round draft pick, Thomas suffered ACL tears to the same knee in 2011 and 2012. Although he played in all 16 games in 2013, he was never the same promising player and was out of football at the age of 28.
- WR Hakeem Nicks: A former 2009 1st-round draft pick, Nicks’ extremely promising career with the Giants ended in 2013 at the age of 25 after suffering compartment syndrome (swelling in the lower leg that compresses nerves and blood vessels, possibly causing permanent damage). Before the injury, Nicks looked primed to be a franchise all-time great.
- RB David Wilson: A former 2012 1st-round draft pick, Wilson’s career ended at the age of 22 in his second season due spinal stenosis. Wilson proved to be an extremely dangerous kick returner and may have been particularly well suited to Ben McAdoo’s offense as a runner and receiver.
- WR Victor Cruz: One of the most productive players in franchise history and a Pro Bowl receiver, Cruz suffered a potentially career-altering patellar tendon knee injury in 2014 at the age of 27. Cruz is expected to play in 2015 but it remains to be seen if he will be the same dynamic football player.
- DE Jason Pierre-Paul: A former 2010 first-round draft pick, Pierre Paul had a breakout season in 2011 when he dominated as the game’s best two-way defensive end. Injuries caused him to regress in 2012-13 before a bounce-back season in 2014. A fireworks accident in July 2015 caused severe damage to his right hand, including an amputated finger. Pierre-Paul’s best days may already be behind him at the age of 26. There is also a good chance he won’t be a New York Giants after 2015.
There are many other Giants who saw their already-excellent careers prematurely end or affected by major injuries recently including DE Justin Tuck (shoulder and neck), OG Chris Snee (hips and elbow), OG/OC Rich Seubert (knee), OC David Baas (neck and knee), DE Mathias Kiwanuka (knee and neck), and RB Brandon Jacobs (knee). This is not to mention all of the “could-have-beens” such as DT Jay Alford (knee), LB Jonathan Goff (knee), and OL Adam Koets (knee).
So it’s not just the sheer volume of the injuries, but the quality of the players impacted at relatively early ages. Many of the players lost were key cogs in the two recent championship runs and they were expected to remain important parts of the team for many more years. Giants fans thought Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks would be favorite targets for Eli Manning for 10 years. The Giants lose Kevin Boss and his replacement is done one year later. The secondary takes a big hit with the losses of Kenny Phillips and Terrell Thomas. Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson still should be in the backfield. Who knows how long Victor Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul will now remain Giants?
In addition, the off-the-field accidents exacerbate the “cursed” feeling. Burress shoots himself in the leg and ends up in prison. Wilson’s neck was an unknown issue before the team drafted him. Offensive tackle Will Beatty tears his pectoral muscle lifting weights. Pierre-Paul mutilates himself setting off fireworks. 2010 3rd-round draft pick safety Chad Jones suffers career-ending injuries in a traffic accident. That event recalled terrible memories of defensive end Troy Archer dying in a car accident in 1979 and center Kevin Belcher’s career ending due a traffic accident in 1985.
The sum total of all of these unfortunate events is that fans feel shell shocked by all of the bad news. We’re tired of it. Despite the team’s undeniable success, many are left wondering about a missing ring or two because of departure of much of the team’s top talent in its prime. No team can keep losing its best players and remain competitive. Are the “Football Gods” exacting their tribute for the two magical runs in 2007 and 2011? Perhaps. Regardless, all of this leaves a bad taste. Enough is enough. Pick on some other team for a while.