By Marc Rasbury
Canton, Ohio was turned into the Land of the Giants this past weekend. Between Michael Strahan’s induction into the NFL Hall of Fame and the current Giants defeating the Buffalo Bills, 17-14, in their first preseason action, Big Blue fans left Canton feeling on top of the world. Now, let’s put things in perspective. Very few are going to remember the 2014-15 Giants first stint against opposing competition. However, it will be hard to forget Strahan’s walk into immortality.
Preseason games are usually the disdain for all involved except for those fighting for roster spots. The players just want get them over with and the coaches and fans hope that their players survive them without being injured. Well for this weekend, all of the Giants fans, players and coaches were able to enjoy all of the festivities associated with the 2014 Hall of Fame Weekend.
Going into this season, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered. Was Eli Manning’s record-setting season for interceptions last year an aberration or preview of things to come? Can Manning adjust to the West Coast Offense? Can they reestablish their running game again? Has the game passed old school Head Coach Tom Coughlin by? It is ridiculous to say that Sunday’s night performance answered any of these questions. However, there were some positive signs that should boost the spirits of Big Blue nation.
With the exception of the fumble during the second drive, Manning looked better than most fans and skeptics alike anticipated. Manning, who directed three series, went 6-7 for 43 yards and led the G-Men on a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive before giving way to back up Ryan Nassib, who connected with wide receiver Corey Washington for the go ahead 73-yard scoring strike early in the fourth quarter. Hopefully, Manning will become more comfortable in Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo’s new up-tempo scheme. Going on first impressions, I like what I see. The plays are coming in faster and I always felt that Manning thrives in a fast-paced game where he takes what the defense gives him verses always looking for the big play down field. That will take pressure off of the offensive line and get that unit rolling.
Speaking of first impressions, the running game opened a few eyes on Sunday as well. Rookie Andre Williams out of Boston College ran with a purpose and that led to positive yards. He had 48 yards on 7 carries. Free agent signee Rashad Jennings was also impressive. I know preseason showings are normally considered to be fools gold but Jennings and Williams look like they could be a nice tandem. Only time will tell. Let’s see how they respond when they are going against live bullets when the games count. But once again, I like what I see thus far. If defenses are forced to drop 8-in-the box in order to deal with this duo, that should open things up for Manning, especially over the middle where his playmakers can do their thing.
Is Coughlin on the Hot Seat and has the game passed him by? Well Coughlin is always on the proverbial hot seat, despite winning two Super Bowl championships. Nevertheless, he still has the pulse of this game. That was evident last season when his team did not quit on him after starting off 0-6. Coughlin also has shown that he is willing to adjust or break away from his traditional way of doing things. For most of his career he was known as a strict disciplinarian who loves to chuck it down field like the Daryl Lamonica-led Oakland Raiders of the late 1960s. Going to the West Coast Offense shows he is willing to adjust his way of coaching and ease up on his strict ways that led to his first NFL championship. And speaking of his first championship, he would not have won that title without the help of the New York Football Giants newest inductee into the Hall of Fame.
Michael Strahan’s NFL career came full circle on Saturday as he was inducted into the league’s most exclusive fraternity. Playing in the NFL is an accomplishment in itself, but to be selected as a member of the Hall of Fame places you in a club that only a few can boast that they belong to. Strahan was known for his fierce pass rush on the field. The four-time All Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler holds the single-season sack record with 22.5 and ranks fifth all time in the category with taking down opposing quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage 141.5 times. Yet, he was just as effective against the run as he was against the pass. Strahan was a complete defensive player. He will go down as one of the most beloved Giant players in the storied history of this franchise. So it was no wonder that he was the headline act when he was the last to step to the podium during the induction ceremony. His speech brought tears to the eyes of many in the Big Blue Nation who were in attendance or watched on their flat screen TVs across the country.
It was nice to hear him reflect on his 15-year career with Big Blue that spanned three head coaches, including Dan Reeves, Jim Fassel and finally Coughlin. He also mentioned his position coaches like John Fox, the owners, including the late Wellington Mara and Robert Tisch. He brought down the house when he talked about his relationships with his teammates, ranging from Lawrence Taylor through his final playing days with Manning.
For most, Saturday night would have been the pinnacle of their highlight reel, but for the gap-toothed wonder it might be just the beginning. Strahan has carved out a nice post-football career with the media. It is ironic that here was a man who looked like he wanted nothing do with the media during his final two years with the organization. Now, he is a media darling. You cannot turn on the television without seeing the former defensive end on your screen. One minute he is entertaining and interviewing 75-year-old ladies from the Midwest on Live with Kelly and Michael, then he is breaking down defensives on the Fox and NFL networks. His personality and versatility have served him well and made him the modern day King of all Media. Don’t be surprised if you see him hosting the Oscars one day.
The only bad development coming out of Giants camp this week was the news that Running Back David Wilson career is most likely over. The 23-year old Wilson, who underwent season-ending back surgery last season, reinjured the back during practice last week. He was advised to walk away from the sport and retire after being reevaluated over the weekend. The upbeat Wilson does not want fans to feel sorry for him. He is handling the news like true Giant of a person.
For the most part, this was a good week for Big Blue Nation. There were some good signs coming from the preseason victory. Strahan made us all proud and brought back some great memories. Hopefully, the current Giants will build on the win while Strahan reminded us how great it was to be a member of Big Blue.