The way the words looked on the printed page, you could understand why it was built up as some sort of guarantee by the New York media.
Actually, the statement was made very calmly and almost with a shrug of the shoulders. It was a confident statement made by a proven general manager who had a lot of conviction in a team-building plan that had been meticulously hatched during the NFL lockout.
But six months later, on the day his team will take on the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, the words from Giants general manager Jerry Reese resonate louder than ever.
“We won 10 games last year,’’ Reese said during a press conference Aug. 11. “It wasn’t like we were 6-10. We were 10-6. We expect to build off that. If we made a couple of plays here and there last year, we would’ve made the playoffs and who knows what would’ve happened if that were to happen? But it didn’t happen.’’
Then came the kicker.
“We’ll make the plays this time and we’ll get into the playoffs and we’ll make a run,’’ Reese said.
He didn’t stare into the cameras. There was no punctuation with a slamming of his fist.
Reese just said it, as if it were as clear to him as the blue on the Giants helmets.
And, boy, was he right.
“I didn’t see the future, I just felt good about our team,’’ Reese said last week. “I probably shouldn’t have said it matter-of-factly, because it got spun as I made some guarantees. But I was just saying I believe that we will make the plays this time and I believe we will make a run. But obviously it sounded better to say I made a guarantee.
“That’s all right, spin it however you want to. But I was just giving our team a vote of confidence, our players and coaches, that we will make the plays this time, and I do believe we will have a chance to make a run.’’
Let’s provide some context to why Reese, who succeeded Ernie Accorsi as general manager after the 2006 season and put the finishing touches on the 2007 championship team, made those comments in training camp.
The Eagles had just finished assembling their “Dream Team’’ with the acquisitions of cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, guard Evan Mathis, ends Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, tackle Ryan Harris, running back Ronnie Brown, and receiver Steve Smith.
The Giants allowed defensive tackle Barry Cofield to sign with the rival Redskins, Smith went to the Eagles, and tight end Kevin Boss signed with the Raiders. New York released veteran guard Rich Seubert and veteran center Shaun O’Hara. Receiver Plaxico Burress turned down the Giants’ offer and signed with the Jets.
The Giants signed center David Baas from the 49ers, and re-signed running back Ahmad Bradshaw and reserve lineman Kevin Boothe.
So, yeah, Giants fans weren’t exactly happy. And Reese spoke up.
“It wasn’t [me] under the gun,’’ Reese said. “I just hadn’t said much during the training camp, and just wanted to give an update.
“You’re always under the gun in the NFL. I don’t care if you’re the head coach or general manager or the quarterback or the snapper. You’re under the gun. We relish pressure or whatever you want to call it. We like that part of it.’’
In a moment that allowed everyone to get a glimpse into the pressure cooker of a personnel department, Reese did acknowledge that he knew what the public perception was.
“It seems like people are in a little bit of a panic about where we are,’’ Reese said on Aug. 11. “The perception is that we are not doing a lot. We had a game plan and we are sticking to our game plan.’’
That plan was to make “respectable’’ offers to the team’s free agents, but not to go any further than the value the team affixed to those players.
Reese believed he had a replacement for Cofield in Linval Joseph, that Jake Ballard could replace Boss, and that someone named Victor Cruz could fill in for Smith. Additionally, Seubert and O’Hara were never signed by anyone.
So if you’re keeping score at home, Reese was: right, right, big-time right, right, and right.
But even to this day, Reese won’t bask in the glow of vindication.
“Well, it’s not about me - that’s first and foremost,’’ he said. “Where we are in the Northeast and the amount of media that we have there, it’s just part of the drill. It comes with the territory, and we’re used to that.
“In 2007, we won the Super Bowl and I still got letters from people saying, ‘Well, I know you won but you still drafted the wrong running back in the seventh round.’ That’s just part of it, and fans are fans, and that’s what makes the NFL great. The fans and everybody has an opinion, and that’s what makes it fun.’’
He may not say it, but Reese is probably enjoying how things have played out.
But that’s not guaranteed, either.
Up in owners’ boxes, there is a special bond
The players on the Giants and Patriots will be trying to rip each other’s heads off tonight, but the owners of the teams - John Mara and Steve Tisch for the Giants, Robert Kraft of the Patriots - are a mutual admiration society.
“John and Steve Tisch are two of my favorite people in the league,’’ Kraft said before departing for Indianapolis.
The bond between Mara, a Boston College graduate, and Kraft is well-known. It became unbreakable when both worked very closely during the negotiations on the new collective bargaining agreement.
But the relationship between Kraft, 70, and Tisch, the 62-year-old Tufts grad, is even closer, as Tisch revealed last week.
Tisch, a Hollywood television and film producer, inherited his stake in the team when his father died in 2005 from brain cancer.
Kraft and Bob Tisch had been close for years. At the funeral, Kraft had a long talk with Steve Tisch and told him, “You still have a father in me. If you ever need anything, you come to me.’’
Fast-forward to the conclusion of Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants ended the Patriots’ dreams of a perfect season with a 17-14 upset.
“I come down from the platform after getting the Lombardi Trophy and who is waiting for me? Bob,’’ said Tisch. “You would think it would be a tough moment for him, just after we ended this terrific season they had. But there he was, waiting for me.’’
Then Tisch’s voice softened.
“He hugged me and said, ‘Your father is so proud of you today,’ ’’ said Tisch, tears welling in his eyes.
“That’s a great man you’ve got up there. A great man.’’
Scarnecchia and Light work out differences
No player has been with Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia longer than left tackle Matt Light, who is in his 11th season. The two have not always seen eye to eye. Their screaming matches in meeting rooms are legendary. But it just illustrates the tough love that exists between Scarnecchia and his players.
“Oh man,’’ said ESPN analyst Damien Woody, the former Patriots lineman. “He and Matt Light had a lot of yelling matches when I was there. And Matt was a young guy at the time, but Matt was the type of guy who wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion or whatever. So he and Dante used to get into it all the time.
“If he felt like Dante was jumping all on us for no reason, then Matt was like, ‘I’m going to let you know.’ And Dante, you can really get him going really quickly. Him and Matt, they would go at it a lot, but at the end of the day, calmer heads would prevail and you just keep them moving. But they’ve had some combustible moments in the past.’’
Left guard Logan Mankins had a quick explanation for the blowups.
“They’re both just stubborn,’’ he said. “They would go round and round. Those two, they both always think they’re right and are not going to give in.’’
In what could be the final Super Bowl run for both men, it seems that Scarnecchia and Light have found a way to make it work.
“We have [argued], there’s no doubt about it,’’ Scarnecchia said. “I think there was a point in time where he probably thought he knew more than what he actually knew, which can be dangerous.
“I think that we are truly, the two of us, in a happy place. We really are. And honestly, I’m grateful for that. Very grateful.’’
Was that some genuine public display of affection from Scarnecchia to one of his players?
“He’s all right,’’ Scarnecchia said, snapping back into form. “He’s no box of chocolates.’’
New Englanders thrive on the New York side
There is a lot of New England flavor to the Giants.
Former Boston College punt returner/cornerback Will Blackmon, who was born in Providence and attended Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, R.I., lost out on a chance to get to the Super Bowl with the Packers in 2007 (NFC Championship game loss). Blackmon (left) also missed out on the Packers’ Super Bowl run last season when he was released at the end of training camp after his offseason ACL surgery failed to take hold.
“It’s been more than I hoped for, just a blessing to be able to be in my situation and be in this position,’’ said Blackmon, who was signed Nov. 23 after finally getting cleared by doctors. “I just wanted to play this year and make it through the season, let alone make it to the Super Bowl, so it’s been beyond my expectations.’’
Blackmon plays for secondary coach Peter Giunta, a New England guy through and through. Born in Salem, Giunta attended St. John’s Prep and played cornerback and running back at Northeastern.
“And he sounds like it, too,’’ Blackmon said. “He’s awesome. He’s a father figure, he’s a great coach, he cares so much about his players. He’s been to the Super Bowl with two different teams and has coached great defensive backs and it shows. I mean, just look at the maturation of Corey [Webster].’’
Giunta, 55, started his coaching career at Swampscott High (1978-80) before moving up through the ranks. At Brown, he was mentored from afar by then-Patriots special teams coach Dante Scarnecchia, and once he reached the NFL, he worked for the Eagles, Jets, Rams, and Chiefs.
“It’s exciting,’’ he said. “My dad took us to our first Patriots game when they were playing at Boston College against the Bills in the old AFL so it’s great to go against the Patriots. I know a lot of the coaches on their staff.
“It’s tough on the family back in New England because all my in-laws and brother and everybody, they’re all Patriots fans except, hopefully, on Sunday. I haven’t gotten a phone call from any of them to wish us good luck.’’
Jack Bicknell Jr. is in his third season as the Giants’ assistant offensive line coach. In addition to playing tight end for his father at Boston College (Giants coach Tom Coughlin was an assistant), Bicknell also was an assistant with the Eagles and at New Hampshire before having a successful stint as head coach at Louisiana Tech.
Bicknell put in motion on Bills’ coaching staff
Holliston native and former Boston College tight end Bob Bicknell was switched from tight ends to receivers coach by Bills coach Chan Gailey in a staff reorganization. “Bob is an excellent football coach in every respect,’’ Gailey said. “He’s been a coordinator before, he knows how to do the passing game, and he understands exactly what we’re trying to get done in the passing game. We think he’ll give us a great deal of help at the wide receiver position. He understands the ins and outs of the passing game.’’ This move is a résumé-enhancer for Bicknell, 42. About the only thing he hasn’t done on the offensive side of the ball is coach quarterbacks. He coached the offensive line with the Chiefs (2007-08), so he’s moving closer to being an offensive coordinator in the NFL, a position he held in NFL Europe from 2001-05. “I feel like receiver coach is on my résumé, because I’ve been a coordinator, and in NFL Europe, I’ve put in pass offenses,’’ said Bicknell, “and really, with what we do with Scott Chandler and what we do with the tight ends, there’s not a big change in what I will be teaching now from a wide receiver standpoint. So, I don’t see it as a huge difference. I think it’s important that I’ve been with Chan, and been with Coach Gailey for four years now. I’ve been in those meetings and I’m involved in everything to do with the pass game and I think just the familiarity with me and him and understanding what we’re teaching and what are the little things we’ll get out of that position. I’m excited, it’s a great opportunity, and I’m really looking forward to it.’’
Dissecting the drive
Not to bring up the 2008 Super Bowl again, but Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride had some interesting thoughts on New York’s winning drive from an X’s-and-O’s standpoint. “Even the [David] Tyree catch, he was so open, it’s ridiculous,’’ said Gilbride (right). “But the protection broke down and I’m screaming, ‘Throw the ball!’ Of course, I’m looking downfield and then I’m realizing he’s fighting for his life. That’s the only reason [Rodney] Harrison got involved. I guess he finally fessed up and threw Asante Samuel under the bus. But they were playing quarters coverage [two safeties and two corners divide the field into quarters] and [receiver] Steve Smith had been hurting him, so he ran a corner route and the safety jumped him, which is typical. So as the post comes over the top, you’re looking to throw it. Well, Asante saw Steve Smith, so he jumped him, too. There was nobody on Tyree. But because [Eli Manning] was fighting for his life, by the time he threw it, the back-side safety had come over and that was it. So all I saw was a couple of wide-open opportunities that we were struggling to hit. That was just one of about five. The thing that jumped out at me most, as we got down to the last three plays, I called the same play three times in a row. And the reason was it was wide open and he missed. And, again, I was going, ‘How does he miss these guys?’ And then somebody fortunately said, ‘Coach, one [lineman] is getting run over.’ Then I said let’s flip the play and we ran it into the boundary, and put the back over there to help on that guy, hit Steve Smith for 11 yards, called the exact same play again into the boundary again and they blitzed us. That finally gave us the one-on-one with Plaxico [Burress] in the corner of the end zone for the game-winner. It was really to solve the protection issues as much as anything.’’