Giant Steps

Giants coach Jim Fassel hasn’t reached the pantheon of New York football coaches yet, but his stubborn guarantee that his team would make the postseason has now, because of its realization, put him at least one step closer.

Those who dismissed the coach’s promise/prediction as “out of character” missed the point. Fassel didn’t come to the Giants as a veteran coach with an established style and demeanor (à la Bill Parcells‘s encore with the Jets). He had less than 10 years experience as an assistant in the NFL and only had one prior head-coaching job—with the University of Utah in the mid ’80s—before Big Blue hired him.

What happened five weeks ago was not a departure for Fassel, but an arrival—a point where the 51-year-old coach may have finally looked to make a stamp on the team he coaches. In his first three-plus years here, Fassel seemed wishy-washy—with his quarterbacks and with players who put themselves ahead of the team (remember the defense vs. offense public bickering?).

With his simple, yet strong pronouncement last month, however, the coach finally stepped out of the shadows of Parcells and the city’s other coaching legends. He told his team what he expected from them. He took the media spotlight off his vulnerable players and assistant coaches. He cut players who weren’t working hard (Bashir Levingston) and suspended those who broke team rules (Ron Dixon).

This newfound (or perhaps newly revealed) courage of his convictions has enabled Fassel to get the most out of a mediocre bunch. New York (er, metropolitan area) address aside, the Giants are more like baseball’s Oakland A’s than the Yankees. At $56.4 million, they have the fifth lowest payroll in the NFL. As a result, they lack depth at every key position (except running back). With the league’s 17th best punter, 20th best placekicker, 12th best QB, 11th best total offense, and 15th best pass defense, Fassel and his staff have taken the same roster pundits picked to finish fourth or fifth in the weak NFC East and led them to a division title.

“I’ve seen a lot of coaches in my career, and with all the pressure Coach Fassel had on him this year, I think he has done an amazing job,” says 16-year-veteran offensive lineman Lomas Brown. “We don’t have a lot of big-name guys, but he’s gotten this group to work hard and win. He should get Coach of the Year.”

Whether he does or not, Fassel has won something even more vital—and rare—for the future of his job and his team: the respect of his players.

Fear and Loathing on the Web

“The incredible dumbness of Sportswriters is a subject I thought I’d exhausted a long time ago, but let’s hit it one more time, just for the fun of it. . . .”
— columnist Hunter S. Thompson.

The gonzo journalist is now entering his second month of seemingly meaningless rants and irrational thought patterns on the site’s “Page 2,” and Jockbeat thought it was time to offer Thompson a shoutout. While his Hey, Rube column is more acid reflux than acid flashback, the professor still manages to hit a few out of the park.

Xmas Wish List Top 10

1. PlayStation 2; 2. Giants Playoff Tix; 3. PDA; 4. Yanks Opening Day Tix; 5. Cybiko; 6. Rangers in the Postseason; 7. NBA 2K1 for Sega; 8. Hanes Briefs; 9. Fruitcake; 10. Knicks-Wizards Tix

Contributors: Brian P. Dunleavy, Howard Z. Unger, Ramona Debs

Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman