People still aren't convinced that the Giants are for real. They
look at the 1997 season as an aberration. Almost unanimously
picked to finish last, the Giants instead swept the board in the
NFC East--well, almost; they tied one game--and won the
division. Jim Fassel, operating with basically the same
personnel that had gone 6-l0 the year before, was named coach of
the year, and deservedly so.
What you hear now is that the Giants snuck up on teams in '97.
They can't possibly do it again. Just look at their '98
schedule. Over the last nine games of the regular season, New
York will play both Super Bowl teams--Green Bay and Denver--plus
Philadelphia and Kansas City, at home. On the road they'll face
San Francisco and their four division foes. Everyone will be
ready for them.
Well, here's why the Giants will repeat as division champs: The
defense comes back intact, and it's a fundamentally sound,
sturdy unit, beautifully coached by John Fox. It's very similar
to New York's Super Bowl defenses of '86 and '90. There's no
Lawrence Taylor, of course, but the current front line is better
than those of the two championship teams, and so is the
secondary. Plus, the Super Bowl teams never had an open-side
linebacker like Jessie Armstead.
Best of all, this defense is a young unit on the rise. Every
defender but one on the roster is in his 20's. (In fact, of the
22 projected starters on both offense and defense, the only ones
not in their 20's are wideout Chris Calloway, who's 30, and
tight end Howard Cross, who's 31.) Those young legs could be the
difference down the stretch. The NFL is an endurance contest
these days, and in November and December these guys will be
coming on while older teams are fading.
The Giants have been ripped for their drafts in the '90s, but
the misses have come on offense. The defensive drafts have
produced a steady influx of terrific young talent: Armstead,
corners Phillippi Sparks and Jason Sehorn, safeties Sam Garnes
and Tito Wooten, All-Pro end Michael Strahan, tackle Keith
Hamilton, middle linebacker Corey Widmer, nickel linebacker
Scott Galyon...it's an impressive list.
To take advantage of all this wealth, Fox is adding new schemes,
more blitzes from the corners and safeties, more nickel and dime
packages thrown in to spread confusion on early downs. He smiles
when you ask him what's in store for the Giants' 1998
first-round draft pick, 215-pound Shaun Williams, a fine athlete
and hitter at either safety or nickel corner. "Just watch," he
The offense has more weapons too, including wideout Ike Hilliard,
who missed most of his rookie season with a neck injury; former
Chargers tight end Al Pupunu; and running back Gary Brown, a
low-slung, 230-pound banger who gained nearly 1,000 yards behind
a hopeless San Diego line.
Now to the heart of the Giants' story: quarterback Danny Kanell.
Last year, after taking the starting job away from Dave Brown in
October, Kanell was protected in an offense that stressed ball
control. "The idea was to play mistake-free football," he says.
"Don't screw it up. Let the defense win it. This year we'll open
it up and attack."
Kanell was O.K. for a while, but then he played miserably in a
20-8 loss to Tampa Bay in November. Fassell read him the riot
act. Work harder, study more, get yourself together--or you'll be
watching Brown run the team again.
"I came in at 9 a.m. one Saturday during December," Fassell says,
"to get ready for a one o'clock team meeting, and Danny was
already there, looking at tape. I told him, 'When I put the game
plan in, I want you to tell me what you like. I want you to ask
questions, not just sit there and accept everything.' He
responded to the challenge."
The Giants closed out the regular season by winning their final
three games, all against NFC East teams. Then came the
disastrous wild-card playoff, in which New York blew a 16-point
halftime lead at home and lost to Minnesota, 23-22. Afterward,
the defense, which fought among itself on the field and on the
bench, wore the goat horns, but a lot of things went wrong
toward the end of that game, and the Giants did have a
nine-point lead and the ball with 3:51 left. Maybe if they had
picked up one more first down and burned a little more time off
the clock ... and maybe if the Vikings hadn't scored so quickly
... and maybe if Minnesota's onside kick with 1:30 left hadn't
bounced off Calloway's hands, setting up the Vikings'
game-winning field goal....
That's a lot of maybes. The point is, the Giants weren't playoff
hardened. "We were ready to play that day," Fox said, "but we
were young. We needed to grow. The game was big for us, maybe
too big at the time. But you learn from it. It makes you
hungrier next time around."
The Giants are hungrier. Fassell says Kanell is ready to take it
to the next level. So is Fox's defense. This team is for real.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO FAMILIAR SIGHT Fox's schemes turn defenders like Armstead and Garnes (20) into reminders of the D of past Giants champs. [Jessie Armstead and Sam Garnes in game with others]
B/W PHOTO: KIMBERLY BUTLER Strahan [Michael Strahan]
Sept. 6 WASHINGTON
13 at Oakland
27 at San Diego
Oct. 4 at Tampa Bay
25 OPEN DATE
Nov. 1 at Washington
8 at Dallas
15 GREEN BAY
30 at San Francisco
Dec. 6 at Arizona
20 KANSAS CITY
27 at Philadelphia
1997 Record 10-5-1 (1st in NFC East) NFL rank (rush/pass/total):
offense 7/28/27; defense 3/26/18
1998 Schedule strength NFL rank: 18 Opponents' 1997 winning
percentage: .492 Games against playoff teams: 5
A Flying Start
Danny Kanell's 7-2-1 regular-season record as an NFL starting
quarterback is the best through 10 career-opening starts since
Mike Tomczak went 10-0 as a Bears starter during the 1986 and
These are the quarterbacks with the best records through their
first 10 career starts since the inception of the AFL-NFL draft
Quarterback, team Date of first start Date of 10th start W-L
Mike Tomczak, Bears Sept. 14, 1986 Oct. 25, 1987 10-0
Bob Lee, Vikings, Falcons Dec. 5, 1970 Nov. 4, 1973 9-1
Mike Livingston, Chiefs Oct. 5, 1969 Oct. 15, 1972 9-1
Jay Schroeder, Redskins Nov. 24, 1985 Oct. 5, 1986 9-1
Roger Staubach, Cowboys Sept. 21, 1969 Nov. 21, 1971 9-1
Coordinator John Fox's defensive schemes, which allow for more
improvisation up front, gave end Michael Strahan the chance to
show off his pass-rushing skills last year. Strahan, who had
been known mostly as a run stopper, saw his sack total shoot
from five in 1996 to 14 in '97. As a unit, the defensive front
had 401/2 sacks and 274 pressures last season, compared with 18
and 189 in '96, the year before Fox's arrival.... One of last
season's unsung heroes was Lance Scott. Signed as a
long-snapper, he took over at center after injuries to Brian
Williams (eye), Jerry Reynolds (knee) and Derek Engler (ankle).
Scott started the final 11 games and helped the Giants finish
with the NFL's seventh-best rush attack.... Cornerback Jason
Sehorn on team chemistry: "We're lucky in that we have a bunch
of smart-asses in our locker room."... Tight end Howard Cross is
the only player left from New York's Super Bowl XXV champions.
Projected Lineup With 1997 statistics
Coach: Jim Fassel
Second season with the Giants (10-5-1 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Danny Kanell 77[PVR*] 294 att. 156 comp. 53.1%
1,740 yds. 11 TDs 9 int. 70.7 rtg.
RB Tiki Barber 90[PVR*] 136 att. 511 yds. 3.8 avg.
34 rec. 299 yds. 8.8 avg. 4 TDs
FB Charles Way 103[PVR*] 151 att. 698 yds. 4.6 avg.
37 rec. 304 yds. 8.2 avg. 5 TDs
RB Gary Brown[N] 156[PVR*] 253 att. 945 yds. 3.7 avg.
21 rec. 137 yds. 6.5 avg. 4 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Chris Calloway 121[PVR*] 58 rec. 849 yds. 8 TDs
WR Ike Hilliard 134[PVR*] 2 rec. 42 yds. 0 TDs
WR David Patten 307[PVR*] 13 rec. 226 yds. 2 TDs
TE Howard Cross 193[PVR*] 21 rec. 150 yds. 2 TDs
K Brad Daluiso 180[PVR*] 27/29 XPs 22/32 FGs 93 pts.
PR Amani Toomer 282[PVR*] 47 ret. 9.7 avg. 1 TD
KR Jason Sehorn 400[PVR*] 0 ret. N.A. 0 TDs
LT Roman Oben 6'4" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Greg Bishop 6'5" 315 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Lance Scott 6'3" 285 lbs. 16 games 11 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 68 tackles 14 sacks
LT Robert Harris 58 tackles 10 sacks
RT Keith Hamilton 57 tackles 8 sacks
RE Chad Bratzke 35 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
OLB Marcus Buckley 12 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Corey Widmer 89 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
OLB Jessie Armstead 132 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
CB Phillippi Sparks 74 tackles 5 int.
SS Sam Garnes 59 tackles 1 int.
FS Tito Wooten 89 tackles 5 int.
CB Jason Sehorn 86 tackles 6 int.
P Brad Maynard 111 punts 40.8 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 88)