For the fan in enemy territory

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The 25 Greatest New York Giants Players, Part 7/7, No. 5- No. 1

In the final part of our series, we will examine the top five. Thus far we have had so many names and so many memories. Before I go on, allow me to take this last opportunity to first thank everyone who has weighed in on this list and helped make this possible.

Especially I wish to thank all of those who have read the entire series. It is appreciated. It is for you I have done this and if you have relived joyous moments of glory with a smile and a warm memory, that is why I started this.

Second, I want to apologize once again, that I am unable to put everyone that truly deserves it on here, but I don't think even a top 50 list could truly do this franchise justice. This is just my own personal attempt at paying respect to the team that I grew up loving.

That does not mean that I chose players based on my experiences though. I researched and broke down all the players in the Hall of Fame, all the players who have retired numbers, all-time statistical leaders and all of those who have made significant contributions to the franchise.

It was a daunting task. One that has results that I am sure will never really be agreed with completely. So again, remember, this is just one fan's view and not to be taken so seriously that it causes the apocalypse. With all of this in mind, and with my thanks, allow me to present the list thus far.

No. 25
- Bart Oates (C)
No. 24- Mel Hein (C)
No. 23- Joe Morris (HB)
No. 22- Rodney Hampton (HB)
No. 21- Kyle Rote (HB/WR)
No. 20- Pepper Johnson (LB)
No. 19- Ottis Anderson (RB)
No. 18- Joe Morrison (HB/WR)
No. 17- Leonard Marshall (DE)
No. 16- Y.A. Tittle (QB)
No. 15- Emlen Tunnell (CB)
No. 14- Amani Toomer (WR)
No. 13- Alex Webster (RB)
No. 12- Charlie Conerly (QB)
No. 11- Sam Huff (LB)
No. 10- Eli Manning (QB)
No. 9- Tiki Barber (HB)
No. 8- Mark Bavaro (TE)
No. 7- Carl Banks (LB)
No. 6- George Martin (DE)

Now we finish out the list with the top five. The best of the best. All of these names are immediately recognizable to mostly any Giants fan and most football fans as well. Some of them even transcend the sport and are known in other venues worldwide.

No. 5- Frank Gifford - HB/WR. Gifford was drafted by the New York Giants in the first round of the 1952 NFL draft. In 12 seasons, all with the Giants, he accumulated a total of 3609 yards rushing, 5434 yards receiving. He had 77 combined TD's between the rushing (34 TD's) receiving (43 TD's) scores. He also threw 14 TD's for an NFL record of TD's from players other than a quarterback.

Including all of these TD's and an interception return for a TD, he amassed a total of 92 TD's in his playing career. A career that was cut short by 18 months in his prime due to what was regarded as a cheap shot from Philadelphia Eagle's player Chuck Bednarik. A moment that began to solidify the rivalry and intensify the feud between the two teams.

The injury caused him to retire from football, but reemerge just a year and a half later in a new position. He started his career as a runningback but converted to a wide receiver after the injury. This transformation would be the death of most any other player, but not to Gifford. He resurfaced redetermined to make himself and his team better.

He was selected to the Pro Bowl eight times in three different positions: running back, wide receiver and defensive back. He was a vital part of the '56 Championship team and was a key contributor to a team that made the championship game five times. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1977 and had his # 16 retired by the Giants.

He retired in 1964 in a Pro Bowl season. When he retired, his 5434 receiving yards ranked him number one in Giants history and he stayed there for 39 years, until Amani Toomer surpassed him in 2003. He went into broadcasting after retiring, being one of the first former Giants players to do so, thereby being a pioneer for the Giants. He also became a patriarch of sorts to the Giants two championship teams in '86 and '90.

He did so by being a commentator for those Super Bowls and lending his voice to the legacy and memories that warm the hearts of fans all over the world. He has been a published author, an award winning broadcaster and a celebrated player. Through all of this, he has been a New York Giant.

No. 4- Michael Strahan - DE. Strahan was drafted in the second round of the 1993 NFL draft after taking collegiate football by storm. He played in the Division AA of college football at Texas Southern University. Therefore his NFL arrival was met with questions of whether or not he would be able to play up to the NFL level. He certainly did.

In his 15 year Giants career (1993 - 2007), he accumulated 141.5 sacks and 854 total tackles. Both of these rank him number one in team history in these categories. His sacks total ranks him 5th among the NFL's greatest all-time in that stat. Along with his team record for sacks in a Giants career, he holds the single season record for sacks as well at 22.5 sacks.

He broke that record in 2001, but it was not without controversy. At the time, it was questioned because he broke it by sacking long-time friend and rival, Brett Favre, then of the Green Bay Packers. Strahan was voted into seven Pro Bowls. He was named NFC Defensive Player of the Year two times ('01 AND '03) and NFL Defensive Player of the Year once ('01).

He led the Giants to two Super Bowls appearances ('00 and '07) and one enormous Super Bowl upset in '07. He retired after the '07 Super Bowl championship and almost immediately joined the media. He works for FOX Networks and can be seen every Sunday in their national pregame show.

In addition to this, he has done countless commercials and guest appearances. He even tried his hand at a short-lived sitcom, also on FOX. Most Giants fans, however, will not remember him for his media experience or his endorsements, but rather for his brash style of play on the field. He was a warrior.

He was a leader. During that '07 playoff run, he was often seen in the middle of the group, leading a chat of "stomp them out". He was looked to as a mentor and a friend by his peers and an intimidating and game-changing force by his opponents. He would often draw double coverage at every level he played.

But at every level he played, he would often beat those double coverages. He performed up to his own expectations and beyond those of the fans'. His catch phrases and big talking nature were all part of how he played the game.

It is almost a certainty that the NFL will soon honor him with a Hall of Fame invitation. It is also as certain that the Giants will retire his number 92 one of these days in the not too distant future. When either or both of these happen, it will be justly deserved for a man who played like every game was a super bowl.

No. 3- Harry Carson - LB. When a New York Giants fan thinks of the teams of the 80's, they think of a few players. Harry Carson is one of those players. Carson was drafted in the fourth round of the 1976 NFL draft. He played in an era that did not count statistics like tackles and sacks. Therefore, his career numbers can not be properly measured.

He has been calculated by the Giants as having a total of 19 sacks. That would place him tied with Pepper Johnson for 19th all-time among Giants players, tied for fifth among just linebackers. It is impossible to total his tackles, though it is recorded that he led the team in that category five consecutive seasons.

But Carson is one of those players whose stats don't really apply because they don't tell the story properly. He was a part of one of the fiercest linebacker corps in the history of the NFL. They were named the "Crunch Bunch". They were comprised of himself, Lawrence Taylor, Brian Kelley and Brad Van Pelt.

He also made the Pro Bowl nine times in his 13 year career, all of which was played with the Giants. He was a team captain for 10 seasons and a main component to the '86 Super Bowl Championship team. His role on that team was more important than most fans will ever know.

In his own words from his 2006 Hall of Fame induction speech, he said

"The Hall of Fame will never validate me. I know my name will be in there, but I take greater pride in the fact that my teammates looked at me as someone they could count on. I still remember, and I will remember this for the rest of my life, the Super Bowl against Denver. We had three captains — me, Phil Simms and George Martin. But when it came time for the coin toss before the game, I started to go out and looked around for those guys. Bill Parcells said to me: 'No. You go. Just you.' And that was about the coolest feeling I've ever had in the world — going out to midfield for the Super Bowl, as the lone captain. There were nine Denver Broncos out there, and me. Just me. An awesome responsibility. The greatest respect."

Harry Carson was considered a good luck charm by his head coach Bill Parcells, as Parcells had to have Carson by his side at each national anthem. He was also regarded by then defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, as the best linebacker he ever coached.

He, along with Jim Burt, in 1985 and 1986 created and perfected the now infamous Gatorade shower celebration that is so common in sports today. Peter King of Sports Illustrated was once asked why it took so long for Carson to be elected into the Hall of Fame.

King replied,

" Carson did the one thing no defensive player ever gets enough credit for, even though it's the first thing every defensive coach talks about with his team every week: he defended the run"

After Carson retired in 1988, he went into broadcasting and business. He founded Harry Carson Inc, which primarily deals in sports promotion and marketing. He also joined former players Joe Morris and Carl Banks as part owners of the Arena Football League franchise, the New Jersey Red Dogs.

He remains closely tied to the Giants even to this day, analyzing the Giants with Bob Papa on Giants Access Blue on the local NY station My 9. He has also been very active in charity events on the team's behalf. He was revered by his teammates and loved by his fans. He has been an author and a successful example of what it means to be a Giant on and off the field.

No. 2- Phil Simms - QB. Simms is a name among names in Giants lore. He was drafted number seven overall in the 1979 NFL draft. He holds numerous Giants passing records, including: most attempts, most completions, most TD's, most yards, and most games started at the QB position.

Like another previously mentioned Giants QB, Eli Manning, Simms had an auspicious start. His first five seasons were marred in mediocrity, injury and underachievement. He was a combined 13-20 in his first 34 starts, spanning the first three seasons. His fourth year in the NFL was spent recovering from a torn knee ligament in the preseason.

He didn't play that entire '82 season. Scott Brunner replaced him that season and actually led them on a playoff run. Taking advantage of Simms' injury, Brunner was named starter for the following season of 1983. The first five seasons were filled with injury for Simms. He filled in for a struggling Scott Brunner in the '83 season.

In only his second drive of that season, he broke his thumb. He threw for a combined 6125 passing yards in the span of five years. He finally emerged as the leader and starting QB in the '84 season. He had a career high 4044 passing yards that season and 22 TD passes, both were career bests for him.

He led the team to the playoffs and even was named to the Pro Bowl and was honored as that game's MVP in '84. He followed up a solid season with another one in '85. That season he threw for 3829 yards and had again reached 22 TD's. He also threw for 513 yards in one game, which is still fifth most by any QB in NFL history for a single game.

It is the '86 season in which he is truly remembered though. That season, he led the team to the Super Bowl after passing for 3487 yards and 21 TD's. In the Super Bowl, he led them to a comeback 39-20 routing of the Denver Broncos. This performance included multiple records for Simms, like consecutive completions (10) and passer rating (150.9) for both the Super Bowl and a playoff game.

Such achievements caused him to be named the Super Bowl MVP. After the game, he exclaimed "I'm going to Disney World", being the first to say a line that has become a tradition among NFL MVP's. Simms followed the next few seasons with solid statistical performances.

He was lost to a broken foot injury late in the '90 season after leading the team to a 11-3 record and being well on his way to another great year and another Super Bowl run. The team did win the Super Bowl behind backup Jeff Hostetler, in what is now one of the most famous games in the history of the super bowl era.

Hostetler was named starter the next season but Simms started the last four games of the '91 campaign and the first four of the '92 season as well. He went down with a shoulder injury that season, but returned for a full and healthy '93, his final season. He retired with several Giants records and large totals.

He passed for 33462 yards, on 4647 attempts with 2576 completions for 199 TD's. All records in Giants history. He was a Pro Bowl selection two times and an Super Bowl MVP. He was also an NEA NFL MVP in 1986. His number 11 was retired by the Giants in 1995.

After he retired, he went into broadcasting. He has worked with ESPN, NBC and CBS. He has announced Olympic events, countless football games and multiple Super Bowls in his career with these networks. He resides in New Jersey with his wife. He has three children, his two sons are both QB's. They are Chris Simms, who is in the NFL and Matthew Simms, who is still in college at Tennessee.

Simms hosts a show called "Inside the NFL" with Cris Collingsworth ans Warren Sapp in addition to his game day broadcasting duties at CBS with Jim Nantz. He may be one of the most underrated QB's in the history of the game outside of the Giants fan base. But he will always be a Giants great.

No. 1- Lawrence Taylor - LB. When a football fan thinks of the game, they think of defense. When they think defense, they most likely think of Lawrence Taylor. He is that iconic of a figure in NFL history. Taylor, or as many know him L.T., was drafted by the Giants in the 1981 NFL draft number two overall. He played all 13 seasons ('81-'93) with the Giants.

All Giants fans are thankful that the New Orleans Saints took running back George Rogers just before him. His draft was one of the deepest and most talented draft classes ever, included six Hall of Fame recipients, including: Taylor, Ronnie Lott, Mike Singletary, Howie Long, Rickey Jackson and Russ Grimm. He was picked above all of them.

His impact was immediate. Hall of Fame member and multiple Super Bowl winning QB Terry Bradshaw once said of him,

"he dang-near killed me, I just kept saying, 'Who is this guy?' He kept coming from my blind side and just ripped my ribs to pieces."

Also, the previously mentioned Giants QB Phil Simms once said of Taylor in his rookie season,

"on the pass rush, he's an animal. He's either going to run around you or over you. With his quickness, he's full speed after two steps."Simms later commented that he was looking forward to the season starting because, "once the season starts at least I won't have to play against him any more."

That rookie season of 1981, teammates referred to him as "superman". Taylor won the Rookie of the Year award and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. He is the only player to ever win the NFL Defensive MVP as a rookie. He brought fear and intimidation every game day . He delivered pain and frustration to every opponent.

Teams had to reinvent their offensive and blocking schemes around Taylor. They had to specify a game plan specifically with L.T. in mind. He invented the chop technique to force fumbles and he redefined the art of on field trash talking. He accumulated 50.5 sacks in his fist five seasons. The first season included 9.5 sacks before sacks were an official stat.

In the second season, along with his 7.5 sacks, he set a record for the longest interception return for a TD with a 97 yard return. He had seven consecutive seasons ('84-'90) with at least ten sacks. In the '85 season, he laid a hit on Washington Redskins QB Joe Theismann that was so brutal, it ended Theismann's career.

In the '86 season, he forged his legend. He totaled 20.5 sacks and was so disruptive that he was not only named Defensive Player of the Year by multiple sources, but he was named the NFL MVP. He is one of only two defensive players to ever receive that honor, along with Alan Page in 1971, and the only defensive player to be awarded that distinction unanimously.

This effort led to a Super Bowl victory against the Denver Broncos. During that game, he made a key red zone tackle to prevent John Elway and the Broncos from extending their first half lead. A play that proved to be pivotal as the Giants came back to win in the second half.

In the '88 season, he showed the type of warrior he was. During a late season stretch in a must win game, he played with a torn pectoral muscle against the New Orleans Saints. In the game, despite his terrible pain and the cameras panning in on him writhing in agony on the sidelines, he recorded seven tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles.

Players remembered him for his grit, determination, freakish speed and imposing strength. Fans remember him for all the memories he provided. He retired after the 1993 season, after accumulating 132.5 sacks, not including the 9.5 sacks of his rookie season. His total tackles have never been completely tallied as he played before that was an official statistic.

Much of his career was mired in controversy with drug use and contract disputes. However, despite all of the distractions in his playing career, he still is considered by many as the greatest defensive player in the history of the NFL and one of the top players ever.

He was an important part of two Super Bowl championship teams ('86, '90). A 10 time Pro Bowl selection and member of the NFL's All-Time Team, he was elected into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1999. The New York Giants retired his number 56, in 1994, a season after he retired.

After retiring, he tried his hand at broadcasting on TNT, but it was short-lived, as their coverage was also. He then turned to acting and appeared in many films and television shows. The list includes: Any Given Sunday, The Waterboy, Shaft, Dancing with the Stars and the Sopranos, as well as lending his voice to several video games.

Taylor has had many off the field issues and is still plagued by his poor decisions. He is an enigma. Many consider him to be a reckless person who is addicted to living on the edge. Others regard him as a man who is haunted by the sins of his past.

Regardless of how he is perceived in his personal life, on the field, there is no doubt who he is and what he means to the Giants and their fans. He was a primary example, on the field, of what it means to be a Giant.

Throughout their history, the New York Giants have had far too many players to cover here that are more than worthy of recognition. These warriors of football that have been listed, comprise the history and legacy of this team. A team that has, like none other, been so crucial to not just the existence of the NFL, but also, played a critical role in the growth of it's popularity.

For that, all NFL fans should pay respect and homage to this team and their contributions to the sport. The NFL would not be close to what it is today, without them. To all of you, New York Giants players: past, present and future. I salute you and offer my gratitude and respect. You are all Giants to me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Great Chicago Fire Sale Can Benefit Mets

The city of Chicago has seen its share of hard times. In 1871 they had a massive fire that lasted for days. It destroyed everything in it's wake. The city rebuilt though and once again became a prominent destination in the United States. Both economically and competitively.

They have had sports teams struggle in mediocrity and succeed to the heights of their profession. Among their teams, are the Bears who have such a storied history in the NFL, that it speaks for itself. The Bulls, who have won multiple NBA championships and were the dynasty of the 90's. Most recently, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, the most prized trophy in the NHL, just a week ago.

Both the White Sox and the Cubs have tasted success as well, although the White Sox remain the only one of the two teams to win a World Series in the past century. These days, despite all that success, the city is preparing for another fire of sorts, a fire sale. Both of the baseball teams are mired in over-sized contracts for players and underachievement as a team.

Both the Cubs and the White Sox have openly discussed the possibility of trades for several players on each of the teams. This rebuilding stage for these teams has led to other players wanting to be traded. The uproar has and will create a domino effect within the next month as the trade deadline looms closer to us all.

As these teams unload their highest paid and most attractive talent, the frenzy can benefit a contending team. Providing that there are teams that have a savvy general manager, there are several that can grow stronger from the Chicago fire sale. If a team is close to first or second place in their division and in contention, expect them to become possible buyers for the talent that Chicago has to offer.

One such team is the New York Mets. They have a few weaknesses that despite being a few games over the .500 mark, are still noticeable. They do need another starting pitcher to go along with their two aces, Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey. The rumor swarm is buzzing all around the internet that the Mets are in serious contract talks with the Seattle Mariners for Cliff Lee.

However, the Mariners will be asking for a lot in exchange for the services of Lee to Queens. In particular, they would want the man who just last week joined a small list of Mets pitchers to throw a one hitter, Jon Niese. To many fans, that will be too much to ask. Allow me to propose another alternative.

One player that does not want to stay around for the rebuilding in Chicago, is Jake Peavy. Lee will be a free agent at the end of the season and the Mets are not guaranteed the chance to resign him if they pull the trigger on that trade. So they would give up Niese and others for Lee for a half of a season.

Peavy may command just as much for the White Sox, but he is still under contract for several years. If the Mets have to include Niese in any package for a top tier pitcher, than it should be a pitcher under a contract like a Jake Peavy or a Roy Oswalt. Both have recently been rumored to be open to trades to contenders like the Mets.

Personally, I think the Mets should only pull the trigger if they can keep Niese and include someone else. There will be many mid-level starters open to trade as the deadline nears. Starters that would cost the Mets far less and still be productive for the team now and in the next few seasons.

These major trades are the hardest to pull off. The Mets would be more prudent if they were to think of small splashes instead of major tidal waves. With this in mind, the Cubs have expressed interest in trading several players also. Players like Ryan Theriot and Kosuke Fukodome would cost far less for the Mets to acquire.

The Mets don't have a need in the outfield so Fukodome would not be worth any interest, but Theriot proposes an intriguing proposition. He is currently a .289 hitter with 14 stolen bases. He has been on winning teams, so he knows what that winning experience entails and what it takes to get there.

The Mets do need another starter, but they also need another utility infielder with a solid bat. They have tried Frank Catalanotto, Mike Jacobs and Gary Mathews Jr. among others to fill that void on the bench. Struggling defense or cold bats have led to all of them being demoted or released. The Mets still search for a bat to contribute in that part time role.

Theriot could be just that bat and the Mets could get him with only giving up one player. Perhaps that player would be Nick Evans. I wrote on Evans being wasted in the minors. If the Mets don't want to promote him to the majors or even to AAA to face better pitching, then perhaps they should consider using him as trade bait.

There are several players the Mets have to choose from at the minor league level. Despite the opinion of some, the Mets are deeper than most think in the farm system. Nick Evans makes more sense, though, because he has some experience at the major league level.

The Mets have a short list of untouchables. That list includes Johan Santana, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Mike Pelfrey, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez, Ike Davis and Reuben Tejada. Just about everyone else is up in the air. There are some players that no team would take off their hands. That list includes Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo and John Maine.

The Mets have to be smart when they decide to make a move. They must consider financial restraints, roster depth, minor league depth and impact on the current team. These are all factors. They can't over spend and be stuck with an enormous contract.

They can't trade too many prospects and leave the cupboard bare. They can't tinker with the current team's chemistry and cost them the confidence and unity that they have developed in recent games. However, they need to improve on a few aspects.

If the Mets can use the desperation of teams like the White Sox and Cubs to their advantage, they may be able to improve and not over spend or give up too much. They must act with wisdom and patience if they are to make the right move for this current team. Otherwise, by the wrong deal or inactivity, they could be burned by the Chicago fire sale.