Quarterback Dave Brown remembers a December 1995 game against
Washington when the windchill hit -10[degrees] and the winds
were swirling around Giants Stadium. "I walked by the Redskins'
quarterback, Heath Shuler, in the warmups," Brown recalls, "and
he was having a terrible time. He turned to me and said, 'How
the hell do you play in this place?'"
"Just luck, I guess," Brown replied.
Some luck. A first-round supplemental draft pick in 1992, Brown
grew up waving a Giants pennant. Getting the starting job in
1994 was a dream come true, but last season everything bottomed
out. Brown had the lowest quarterback rating in the NFC and
directed a passing attack that finished last in the league.
Playing for a coach, Dan Reeves, who didn't much care for him
and who put him in a system Brown considered inflexible, he was
doomed to failure. He started O.K. in some games, but things
usually turned sour. The two-minute drill was a disaster. He was
"Did the fans think I didn't want to win?" he says. "I'm
competitive. I want to succeed so badly, maybe too badly. It
works on you. Once I was surrounded by a bunch of kids getting
autographs, and one of them said, 'Don't worry, Brown. Phil
Simms stunk his first two years, too.'"
The problem was that Brown's two-year struggle stretched to
five. But after last season Reeves was forced out and the Giants
hired 48-year-old Jim Fassel--smiling, upbeat, scholarly, a guy
with a reputation for bringing quarterbacks back to life. John
Elway's quarterback rating jumped 27 points in Fassel's first
year as the Broncos' offensive coordinator, in 1993. Serving in
the same capacity with the Cardinals last season, he invigorated
a fading Boomer Esiason and coaxed some high-powered games out
of journeyman Kent Graham.
Fassel was the Giants' offensive coordinator during Brown's
rookie season, and upon his return to New York he saw a
quarterback whose mechanics were flawed. "Dave didn't have a
fluidity about him," Fassel says. "He looked hurried; he wasn't
smooth and confident on the drop and the set. He looked like
he'd lost his rhythm and timing, and he was anxious to get them
back. He was trying to power the ball. If the receivers weren't
where they were supposed to be, he'd throw the ball with an
anger to it."
Putting a competent cast around Brown was Fassel's primary
concern in the draft. That his opinions were even noted was a
change for the Giants because, unlike Reeves, the new coach had
significant input in the personnel decisions ultimately made by
general manager George Young. Florida wideout Ike Hilliard was
the No. 1 pick. Faster players were available when the Giants'
turn came up with the seventh selection, but few collegians were
more productive last year than Hilliard. The Giants' leading
receivers last season, Chris Calloway and Thomas Lewis, averaged
a dismal 3.0 yards after the catch. One of Hilliard's strengths
is his ability to create after he makes a reception.
In the second round the Giants picked Tiki Barber, a 205-pound
halfback from Virginia and an excellent receiver who was
originally penciled in as a third-down back. The Giants
traditionally have featured a big-back offense, but Rodney
Hampton had arthroscopic knee surgery during camp and was
expected to miss at least the opener. At week's end Fassel was
leaning toward starting Barber against the Eagles.
Over the past few years the Giants have addressed their
defensive needs. This season the objective is to make the
quarterback functional and provide him with enough
skill-position people. Next year the Giants will need to shore
up their offensive line. Signing free agents hasn't been this
club's modus operandi. The Giants prefer to build through the
draft. Now they're doing it with a coach who has a way with
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Brown has been anything but spectacular in his three seasons as a starter, but he could also use a little blocking help from his friends. [Dave Brown in game]
BY THE NUMBERS
1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 Record: 6-10 (fifth in NFC East)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 100.2 (21) 146.2 (30) 246.4 (30)
DEFENSE 109.3 (16) 206.2 (15) 315.4 (14)
Handing It Over
Tyrone Wheatley has been unable to supplant the Giants' alltime
rushing leader, Rodney Hampton, as the team's featured back. One
reason is fumble frequency--Wheatley led all running backs last
season (minimum 100 handles from scrimmage) by averaging one
fumble for every 25 times he got the ball.
Running Backs Who Fumbled the Most per Handle from Scrimmage in
Handles Fumbles Handles per fumble
Tyrone Wheatley, Giants 124 5 24.8
Leonard Russell, Chargers 232 6 38.7
LeShon Johnson, Cardinals 156 4 39.0
Mike Alstott, Buccaneers 161 4 40.3
Lamar Smith, Seahawks 162 4 40.5
A split of their first two games--home against Philadelphia and
at Jacksonville--would put the Giants in good shape heading into
the softest part of their schedule: home against Baltimore, at
St. Louis and back home for New Orleans. That means New York
could be 3-2, maybe 4-1, when the Cowboys visit Giants Stadium
on Oct. 5. Then again, if the Giants stumble out of the gate,
they'll be well on their way to their third consecutive losing
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
NFL rank: 25 (tie)
Opponents' 1996 winning percentage: .473
Games against playoff teams: 5
The Lineup With 1996 Statistics
Coach: Jim Fassel
QB Dave Brown 398 att. 214 comp. 53.8% 2,412 yds.
12 TDs 20 int. 61.3 rtg.
RB Rodney Hampton 254 att. 827 yds. 3.3 avg. 15 rec.
82 yds. 5.5 avg. 1 TD
FB Charles Way 22 att. 79 yds. 3.6 avg. 32 rec.
328 yds. 10.3 avg. 2 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Ike Hilliard (R)[*] 47 rec. 900 yds. 10 TDs
WR Chris Calloway 53 rec. 739 yds. 4 TDs
WR Amani Toomer 1 rec. 12 yds. 0 TDs
TE Howard Cross 22 rec. 178 yds. 1 TD
PK Brad Daluiso 22/22 PATs 24/27 FGs 94 pts.
KR Thomas Lewis 4 ret. 26.8 avg. 0 TDs
PR Amani Toomer 18 ret. 16.6 avg. 2 TDs
LT Roman Oben 6'4" 310 lbs. 2 games 0 starts
LG Greg Bishop 6'5" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Brian Williams 6'5" 300 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
RG Ron Stone 6'5" 325 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Scott Gragg 6'8" 325 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Michael Strahan 63 tackles 5 sacks
LT Robert Harris 45 tackles 4 1/2 sacks
RT Keith Hamilton 37 tackles 3 sacks
RE Chad Bratzke 52 tackles 5 sacks
OLB Corey Miller 50 tackles 2 sacks
MLB Corey Widmer 103 tackles 2 int.
OLB Jessie Armstead 114 tackles 3 sacks
CB Jason Sehorn 97 tackles 5 int.
SS Sam Garnes (R)[*] 69 tackles 0 int.
FS Tito Wooten 65 tackles 1 int.
CB Phillippi Sparks 61 tackles 3 int.
P Brad Maynard (R)[*] 59 punts 45.9 avg.
Rookie statistics for final college year