That Giant Sucking Sound


TAMPA, FLORIDA—As the Giants are finding out, there are no legends in loss, only losers. And that’s exactly what they were on Sunday, as Big Blue got thumped by the Baltimore Ravens 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV.

So just how badly will the defeat reflect upon this team, and how will they compare to previous Super Bowl editions of the Giants? Measured against standards set by those predecessors, New York was hardly super on Sunday night. Not by a long shot. But with youth on their side, and a coach on the rise, things look much more promising for the current crop’s immediate future than they did for the Super Bowl XXI and XXV versions.

As coach Jim Fassel said after the rout, “I’m really hurting inside right now, but I’m going to get over it and come back more damn determined to bring this team back and win this thing.”

Fassel’s fire is the biggest thing these Giants have going for them. Their last Super Bowl coach, Bill Parcells, left for “health reasons” a few months after New York’s last appearance in the big game in 1991. The next year, under successor Ray Handley, Big Blue finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

“I sucked today. I felt good about our game plan and how I approached it. It just started bad and didn’t get any better.”

Fassel, however, is under contract for at least next season, with an extension on the way. After coaching with his job on the line all season, Fassel has proven he can succeed in the Big Apple—hell, he’s a candidate for New York sports immortality after his midseason playoff Guarantee kicked off seven straight wins en route to Tampa. And barring injury, or an unforeseen player strike (which contributed to a 6-9 finish for the Parcells-led Giants in 1987, the season after their Super Bowl XXI win), Big Blue should be at least a playoff team in the coming year.

“I’m not going to let [this] loss diminish my happiness about being here,” said offensive lineman Glenn Parker, who’s now been on the losing side in five Super Bowls, four with Buffalo in the ’90s. “I told the younger guys, ‘Let’s keep fighting. You’ll get back here. It’s not impossible.’ ”

Kerry Collins couldn’t match the workmanlike efforts of New York signal-caller Jeff Hostetler in Supe XXV (20 of 32 for 220 yards and a TD), much less the near-perfect passing of Phil Simms in the Rose Bowl against Denver four years before. Simms delivered perhaps the best quarterback performance in Super Bowl history, completing 22 of 25 passes (an astounding 88 percent) for 268 yards and three TDs. Conversely, Collins had an anemic performance on Sunday, finishing 15 of 39 for only 112 yards and, of course, the record-tying four interceptions.

“I sucked today,” Collins told the media throng gathered around him after the game. “I felt good about our game plan and how I approached it. It just started bad and didn’t get any better.”

There was reason to expect better. Collins actually had better numbers during the 2000 regular season than Simms did in 1986, a year the Giants were 14-2 and rolled to the championship game. He actually threw for more yards (3610 to 3487), more TDs (22 to 21), and fewer INTs (13 to 22) than old No. 11 did in his championship season. About the only thing Giant fans can take solace in is that Collins is younger (28) than Simms was (32) when he made his first visit to the Super Bowl.

“Kerry’s a fighter,” said running back Tiki Barber. “This is just another obstacle he will overcome.”

Parcells’s Giants used the run to control the clock and keep their opponents’ offense off the field; they controlled the ball for a solid 34:39 in Super Bowl XXI and an incredible 40:33 in Super Bowl XXV. The strategy effectively handed veteran running back Ottis Anderson an MVP award in the latter game, when he rushed for 104 yards on 21 carries (including a TD) behind bruising fullback Maurice Carthon.

This year, New York used the run to set up the pass in its new, “West Coast-esque” offense devised by Fassel and offensive coordinator Sean Payton. The versatile Barber gained 1725 yards combined rushing and receiving, while promising rookie Ron Dayne added 770 yards on the ground. On Sunday, however, Barber ended up gaining only 49 yards on 11 carries (along with 26 yards on six catches) and Dayne saw action on only one play—one nullified by a Lomas Brown false-start penalty. Asked about Dayne’s lack of playing time after the game, Fassel said, “We got into a thing where we were trying to throw the football more and more. It just fell out that way.”

Again, though, the Giants can look forward to the future here. Assuming they sign Barber, an unrestricted free agent this summer, the “Thunder and Lightning” backfield he and Dayne form should be around for a while. Barber is a 25-year-old fourth-year player and Dayne is only 22.

“We got behind early, and that takes Ron out of the mix,” said Barber. “We need Ron in the mix to be successful. It’s tough for him as a rookie, but hopefully, next season, he can be that force that pushes us over the top.”

Legend has it that Giants fans were the first to spur on their team with the “DEE-fense DEE-fense” chant, back in the 1950s. And defense was indeed the hallmark of Big Blue’s previous Super Bowl teams, as they finished second in the NFL in total defense in each of those two seasons.

So how did those teams do in the big game? Not great, but certainly better than the 2000 unit did Sunday. In Super Bowl XXI, New York allowed Denver and John Elway to gain 372 total yards (320 passing). During the regular season that year, they allowed an average of only 297.3 yards per game (217.1 passing). Similarly, the Giants Super Bowl XXV defense bent a bit more than it had in the regular season, allowing 371 total yards (166 rushing); their average that season was 262.9 (91.2).

Statistically, the Super Bowl XXXV Giants actually bettered their regular-season numbers. They allowed Baltimore only 244 total yards (133 passing and 111 rushing), compared to 319.5 (206.9; 112.6) during the 2000 season. But whereas their Supe XXI and XXV predecessors kept high-octane offenses from taking off, these Giants failed to make big defensive plays on Sunday and allowed the previously powerless Ravens offense to generate 20 points.

A Michael Strahan sack aside, Big Blue’s big-time defensive players were a big bust. Jessie Armstead’s only highlight, an interception return for a TD, was called back on a (phantom) holding penalty. And cornerback Jason Sehorn was beaten deep on three plays—one for a TD, and two (fortunately) for Tent Dilfer overthrows.

“We played just well enough to lose,” Sehorn said after the game, speaking of the defense. Added Fassel, “We’ve got a good defense, we just got them in a hole.”

Unlike many championship-caliber teams, the Giants aren’t burdened by an untenable salary structure or a load of old, declining players. True, the average age of this year’s 22 offensive and defensive starters is 27.7, slightly higher than the ’86 (26.9) and ’90 (27.4) teams, but this figure is skewed by the organization’s decision to bring in veteran leadership via free agency last summer (in particular offensive linemen Parker, Brown, and Dusty Zeigler, and linebacker Mike Barrow). They are young at key positions—quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive line, defensive back—and have only two notable unrestricted free agents: Barber and Sehorn. With a 2000 payroll of $56.4 million (one of the lowest in the league), signing them should be no problem. Neither should the 2001 playoffs.

“How good we’ll be next year depends on our turnover rate in the offseason,” Sehorn said in the sober postgame Tampa locker room. “It depends on who’s here and who’s not here.”

The veteran Barrow added, “One of our young players came up to me toward the end of the game and said something that meant a lot to me. He said, ‘You know, Mike, we got to keep the faith.’ It’s easy to talk about faith when you’re winning, but it’s a lot tougher when you’re losing. For a young player to say something like that after a game like this says a lot about the character of our team. I believe we’ll come back strong.”

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