The question is, which of his quarterbacks is coach Jim Fassel
rooting for? Cynics say that Kerry Collins, who bombed out last
year with two bad teams, Carolina and New Orleans, is a lock for
the job--if not right away, then a few games into the season.
After all, who pays a guy $16.9 million for four years to sit on
the bench? Fassel says he was part of the triumvirate that
decided to acquire Collins.
Cautious observers say let's wait awhile. Fassel has an obvious
affection for the incumbent, Kent Graham, whom he had some
success with when he was offensive coordinator in Arizona. And
how can you brush off the way Graham finished the '98 season,
leading the Giants to five victories in their last six games,
saving his best and most courageous performance for the toughest
opponent, Denver, which took its first loss of the year, at the
"Sure, I heard all the talk that it was already decided, that
the job belongs to Kerry," Fassel said early in August, "and I'm
sure Kent heard it, too. So one day I sat down with Kent and
said, 'The bottom line is, you're the quarterback. There are
three things I could say right now: 1) the competition in camp
will decide it, 2) Kerry's the starter, and 3) you're the
starter. Which one do you want? Right, number 3. Now all you've
got to do is go out and get your teammates to function.'"
Yep, sounds swell, but there are 16.9 million reasons why the
job might be weighted in favor of the newcomer. Graham is a big,
strong guy who can knock down buildings with his passes. He's
had wild streaks. He has to constantly work on his touch. Some
people say these kinds of throwers never settle down, but Doug
Williams carried the same rap and he's got a Super Bowl MVP
trophy sitting on his shelf.
Collins? We all know the problems: the drinking, the way he
asked to be benched in Carolina last year and then his mediocre
stint in seven games with New Orleans after Mike Ditka made with
the Father Flanagan bit and rescued him. But there are some
golden memories too: the way he ran the 49ers out of 3Com Park
with those fade passes in '96 on the way to the NFC title game,
the way he seemed to come up big when the stakes were highest.
He was almost at the end of the line after last season when the
Giants popped everyone's eyes open with their hefty offer. "It
was a three-pronged decision," Fassel says. "Joe Goldberg, the
team psychologist, evaluated his personal life. I evaluated his
football ability. Ernie Accorsi, our general manager, worked out
O.K., Ernie, tell us: Why give all that dough to a guy who
looked as if he were just throwing it up for grabs at times?
"The problem was the Saints' offense he played in," says
Accorsi. "There wasn't much cohesion to it."
"He was trying to make too many big plays," Fassel says. "He was
relying on his arm strength too much. I basically took that New
Orleans thing and threw it out the window."
Sorry, there's something missing here. Early in August, at
training camp, I asked one old-time Giants' team official what
exactly the deal was in New Orleans anyway? "The kid was
drinking, that was the problem," he said.
Talk to Collins and it sounds as if all three theories are
right. "It took me awhile to figure out that right now there's
absolutely no purpose to letting alcohol be a part of my life
ever again," he says. "There's nothing positive I get out of it.
My mechanics were off last year. It was a matter of discipline.
I've learned more about quarterbacking in this camp--what's
efficient, what's not."
Why all this emphasis on quarterbacking? The Giants are a
multifaceted team, blessed with a sturdy defense, led by the
best lineman in the game, left end Michael Strahan, a fine
weakside linebacker in Jessie Armstead, and a big league
secondary. What's more, the offense is looking better, now that
rookie tailback Sean Bennett, a fourth-round pick, has shown
good speed to complement his 230 pounds, and Jim McNally, a fine
developer of offensive line talent, has been hired to coach the
guys up front.
The answer is that Fassel came to New York with a reputation as
a molder of quarterbacks. But with the Giants he's on his third
one in three years: Dave Brown (gone), Danny Kanell (gone), now
Graham, or if Collins wins the job, then it's up to four. Not
exactly an ego-builder for a QB guru."What you have to
evaluate," Fassel says, "is how did each guy play for you
compared with the way he played for other people."
It should be a lively year for the Giants. They could win the
division, as they did two years ago, or slide into another one
of those here-we-go-again quarterback controversies. That's what
Fassel clearly does not want. --P.Z.
COLOR PHOTO: VINCENT MUZIK QB OR NOT QB That is the question concerning Collins, whose iffy history and hefty salary don't make for an easy answer.
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON
Sept. 12 at Tampa Bay
26 at New England
Oct. 3 PHILADELPHIA
10 at Arizona
18 DALLAS (Mon.)
24 NEW ORLEANS
31 at Philadelphia
Nov. 7 Open date
21 at Washington
Dec. 5 N.Y. JETS
12 at Buffalo
19 at St. Louis
Jan. 2 at Dallas
1998 Record 8-8 (3rd in NFC East)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 12/28/29; defense 23/13/19
1999 Schedule strength NFL rank: 25 (tie) Opponents' 1998
winning percentage: .480 Games against playoff teams: 8
Gary Brown, waived by the Oilers in April 1996, was out of the
NFL for the entire '96 season. Since then he has returned with a
vengeance, rushing for 945 yards for San Diego in 1997 and 1,063
yards for the Giants last year. In so doing, Brown became just
the second player in NFL history to miss a season and rush for
as many as 2,000 yards over the next two seasons. Here are the
Player Missed season (reason)
Year 1 Team Rushing yds.
Year 2 Team Rushing yds. Two-year total
Terry Allen 1993 (injured)
1994 Vikings 1,031
1995 Redskins 1,309 2,340
Gary Brown 1996 (not on an NFL roster)
1997 Chargers 945
1998 Giants 1,063 2,008
Barry Word 1989 (not on an NFL roster)
1990 Chiefs 1,015
1991 Chiefs 684 1,699
Paul Lowe 1962 (injured)
1963 Chargers 1,010
1964 Chargers 496 1,506
John Riggins 1980 (contract dispute)
1981 Redskins 714
1982 Redskins 553 1,267
PLAYER TO WATCH
It was the biggest catch in Amani Toomer's three-year NFL
career. Game 14 of 1998, 48 seconds left, and the 6'3" Toomer,
running a deep-right corner route, soars over Broncos cornerback
Tito Paul, catches Kent Graham's pass and barely drags both feet
inbounds for a 37-yard touchdown to hand Denver its first loss
of the season. What did this catch mean for Toomer? Only about
In July he signed a four-year, $11.2 million contract extension
with a $3.2 million bonus, the biggest package the team had ever
awarded a wideout. Pretty heavy going for a player who had been
an effective punt returner but had only started one game at wide
receiver in his career. "Do you want to lose a guy with that
size and speed, with so much potential?" said general manager
Ernie Accorsi. "Well, we didn't, either."
PROJECTED LINEUP WITH 1998 STATISTICS
Coach: Jim Fassel
Third season with Giants (18-13-1 in NFL)
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Kent Graham 153
205 att. 105 comp. 51.2% 1,219 yds. 7 TDs 5 int. 70.8 rtg.
RB Gary Brown 98
247 att. 1,063 yds. 4.3 avg. 13 rec. 36 yds. 2.8 avg. 5 TDs
RB Tiki Barber 246
52 att. 166 yds. 3.2 avg. 42 rec. 348 yds. 8.3 avg. 3 TDs
FB Charles Way 195
113 att. 432 yds. 3.8 avg. 31 rec. 131 yds. 4.2 avg. 4 TDs
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Ike Hilliard 107 51 rec. 715 yds. 2 TDs
WR Amani Toomer 150 27 rec. 360 yds. 5 TDs
WR Joe Jurevicius 242 9 rec. 146 yds. 0 TDs
TE Howard Cross 322 13 rec. 90 yds. 0 TDs
K Brad Daluiso 212 32/32 XPs 21/27 FGs 95 pts.
PR Tiki Barber 246 0 ret. N.A. 0 TDs
KR LeShon Johnson 297 10 ret. 19.8 avg. 0 TDs
LT Roman Oben 6'4" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Lance Scott 6'3" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Brian Williams 6'5" 315 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
RG Ron Stone 6'5" 320 lbs. 14 games 14 starts
RT Scott Gragg 6'8" 325 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LE Michael Strahan 67 tackles 15 sacks
LT Robert Harris 36 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
RT Keith Hamilton 47 tackles 7 sacks
RE Cedric Jones 17 tackles 4 sacks
OLB Marcus Buckley 47 tackles 1 1/2 sacks
MLB Corey Widmer 85 tackles 0 sacks
OLB Jessie Armstead 101 tackles 5 sacks
CB Jason Sehorn 86 tackles 6 int.
SS Sam Garnes 49 tackles 1 int.
FS Percy Ellsworth 58 tackles 5 int.
CB Phillippi Sparks 68 tackles 4 int.
P Brad Maynard 101 punts 45.2 avg.
1 New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 122)
 1996 statistics  1997 statistics