Doing Their Part
Inspired by fans near and far, the Giants responded with a win
over the Chiefs
Minutes before kickoff of the most emotional game of their lives,
the Giants stood in the southeast tunnel at Arrowhead Stadium in
Kansas City, Mo., and listened as the P.A. announcer asked fans
to join hands for the singing of God Bless America. Those seated
on the end of the first eight rows alongside the tunnel reached
down. Giants reached up. They gripped hands. Moments later, when
the players on the team from New York were introduced in the
heart of the heartland, in one of the toughest places for any
visiting team to play, they received a standing ovation. "I
almost cried," Giants running back Tiki Barber said.
When the most emotional game of their lives was almost
over--during a timeout with 1:18 left--Giants coach Jim Fassel
looked to the sky. He began to think about those who died in the
terrorist attacks. Then he thought of the rescuers atop the
rubble that was the World Trade Center, those whom he'd visited
and tried to comfort--and who ended up comforting him. I hope,
Fassel thought, that we made New York proud of us today.
After the Giants had sent a beautifully ugly 13-3 win back to
their grieving fans, fullback Greg Comella sat at his locker and
wept. Then he took a deep breath. "What I had to fight all day
was a feeling of sadness," he said. "But we had a role today, a
role we heard about from the rescue workers we tried to comfort.
They told us, 'The best way you can help us is to go out on
Sunday and win.'"
One Giant after another reported feeling that obligation, and
none called it a burden. The Giants, who every day at practice
now stare across the Hudson River at a starkly diminished lower
Manhattan skyline, approached this game the same way the
volunteers at the attack site approach their task: It was what
they could do to help.
The amazing thing about this day was that the Giants could
function at all. This was a bunch that had confessed to recent
crying jags. Three days after the disaster the club brought in
grief counselors. General manager Ernie Accorsi passed along a
taped telephone message from a season-ticket holder and executive
at Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading firm that did business on
the upper floors of Tower 1 and lost nearly 700 employees. The
executive, whom Accorsi wouldn't name, said he wasn't at work on
Sept. 11 because he had traveled to Denver for the team's opening
31-20 loss to the Broncos on the eve of the attack. According to
Accorsi, in the tearful message the executive said, "Because of
my love for the Giants, my children still have a dad today."
For linebacker Mike Barrow, things were put into perspective
during a visit to several firehouses a week after the attack.
"People who'd lost their father would say, 'Dad was a Giants fan.
Win it for him on Sunday,'" Barrow said. "People wonder if that's
pressure. Pressure? Pressure is being at the top of a 110-story
building and wondering if you should jump or burn to death."
The visits humbled a team with swagger. "I don't think
[quarterback] Kerry Collins said anything, other than to the kids
of the missing firefighters, for hours that day," says Accorsi.
"It was such [an emotional] day."
On the night before the Kansas City game, Fassel handed over the
team meeting to his players, who rose one after another to pour
out their feelings. "A lot of us have been feeling down,"
Comella, one of three Giants who lives in Manhattan, told his
teammates. "But if we're going to go out there and play, let's
show a spirit of strength, not timidity."
They played without much of the woofing you see in the NFL these
days. Collins made a couple of nice throws, but bad decisions led
to two of his three interceptions. Barber and fellow running back
Ron Dayne struggled for 79 yards between them. Good thing for the
Giants that the Chiefs were worse. Only two of their 55 plays
went for more than 20 yards.
After the game, however, there wasn't much talk about plays. The
talk was of players, and those they played this game for. "You
know what I've learned the last couple of weeks?" said the
59-year-old Accorsi. "We've been worrying so much about passing
the torch to this generation. We've been worrying about the kids
in their 30s and 20s, about their priorities and their
dedication. After watching this team and our city, I know we're
in good hands. We have nothing to worry about with this
Mess in the Motor City
Millen's Worst Nightmare
"Seven interceptions," the grim voice said over the phone late on
Sunday, not even bothering to open the conversation with hello.
"Seven. This is the worst." The words were those of new Lions
president Matt Millen, in the wake of a 24-14 loss to the Browns
in Cleveland, a game in which quarterback Ty Detmer was picked
off seven times. It was just after 10 p.m., and he was in his
Pontiac, Mich., office, waiting for film of the game to arrive.
"I can't sleep," he said. "I'll watch it all. I'll be here till
The Lions were anything but impressive in their opener, a 28-6
loss to Green Bay. But the loss in Cleveland was particularly
disturbing. The Browns came into the game 5-28 since they
reentered the league in 1999. Millen was amazed at how leaky his
defensive front was, and he couldn't believe how tight end David
Sloan and wideout Germane Crowell gave up on routes that became
interceptions. "That absolutely baffles me," Millen said. Detmer,
acquired in a Sept. 2 trade with the Browns, was making his first
start in place of the benched Charlie Batch.
What hurts Millen most is probably the fact that he can't do much
about the situation until the off-season. Even then, because of a
tight salary cap and because teams don't often let their good
free agents reach the market, it won't be easy to turn around
this franchise. In the meantime the Lions can start getting ready
for their next game--an Oct. 8 home date against the Rams.
Have We Got A Deal for You
Raiders tackle Lincoln Kennedy says playing two rounds of
postseason games in five days would be "brutal." Bucs defensive
tackle Warren Sapp says he'd play on one day's rest if that was
the only way for his team to make the playoffs. However, the
compressed postseason schedule conjured up by Broncos coach Mike
Shanahan--as a way to keep the 12-team format intact if the Super
Bowl can't be pushed back from its scheduled Jan. 27 date--was one
of the options being considered.
By week's end, though, the league was cautiously optimistic that
it could keep the game in New Orleans and play on Feb. 3 by
switching dates with the National Automobile Dealers Association,
whose annual convention is scheduled for Feb. 2-5. The car
dealers are considering a plan in which the NFL, which stands to
lose more than $60 million in advertising and related revenue if
it reconfigures the postseason schedule or shrinks the playoff
field, would pay them millions of dollars to swap dates.
Despite the skepticism of some players and executives about
playing the four wild-card games on Jan. 9 (the Wednesday after
the end of the regular season), then returning with the four
divisional games the next Sunday and Monday, one thing seems
certain: The playoffs will have 12, not eight, teams. The lesser
number had seemed likely when the NFL decided to play a full
16-game schedule, moving the postponed Week 2 games to the
previously scheduled wild-card weekend of Jan. 5-6. "There are a
lot of reasons that we have to have 12 teams," Shanahan says.
"Quality of play would be so much better, so much more
meaningful, in Weeks 14, 15 and 16 with a full playoff system. If
I'm a TV executive, I've paid for quality games with playoff
implications in December and January. We'd have a lot more
meaningless games if we cut the playoffs to eight teams."
It won't make organizers of big events set for the weekend of
Feb. 2-3 (namely the NHL All-Star Game) happy, but look for the
NFL to come to terms with the car dealers by Oct. 15.
Run for the Record
Payton's Mark Safe Until 2002
Emmitt Smith, who moved into second place on the NFL's alltime
rushing list during the Cowboys' 32-21 loss to the Chargers on
Sunday, must average 103 yards over the final 14 games to surpass
Walter Payton's record. Problem is, he has rushed for 103 yards
or more only four times in his last 19 games (averaging 75 yards
over that span), and he can't count on the passing game to loosen
up defenses much, with rookie Quincy Carter and third-year man
Anthony Wright at quarterback. So the quest for the record likely
will go into Smith's 13th year, in 2002, when he'll be 33.
Smith wants this record badly, but on Sunday he gave a nod to the
man he passed, Barry Sanders, who retired in 1999 at 31. "I'm a
realist," Smith said. "Barry should have this record, and I
believe if he came out today, he could have it."
My Two Cents
Best in the Business
1. The Broncos' Rod Smith is the best receiver in football, and
teammate Mike Anderson is the second-best back (behind Marshall
Faulk). Watch how selflessly the two perform and how they play
every snap as if it's their last.
2. It's early, but Chargers quarterback Doug Flutie is setting
the pace in the race for the league MVP.
Send your pro football questions for Peter King's mailbox and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at cnnsi.com/football.
the football Beat
With Bucs four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp
SI: Stadium security.
Sapp: The only sane place we've got left in society is the arena.
We're safe there.
SI: Tony Dungy.
Sapp: Only coach with a winning record in Tampa Bay history, and
he came in after we'd had 13 straight losing seasons. You'd think
he'd be rewarded with a new contract. But they make him play out
his contract. What have you done for me lately? He's [treated]
like every other slave in the NFL.
Sapp: No, just the system we live in. That's why there are no
guaranteed contracts in football. That's pretty much what a slave
master would do: If you're no longer useful to me, you've gotta
SI: Paul Tagliabue.
Sapp: Don't know him.
SI: Keyshawn Johnson.
Sapp: Jury's still out.
SI: Brett Favre.
Sapp: No better quarterback when he's got weapons. Nothing better
than playing Favre at Lambeau. That's why this realignment
stinks. We're moving to the south. We're trading Brett Favre,
Daunte Culpepper, Randy Moss for Chris Weinke, Chris Chandler,
Joe Horn? I don't see the fun in that. No way we should leave the
Black and Blue Division.
SI: 2001 Bucs.
Sapp: Champions. We better be.
Bengals running back Corey Dillon versus Chargers linebacker
This meeting in San Diego between surprise AFC Central and West
co-leaders also offers the best mano a mano collision of the
weekend. The first of Dillon's 19 100-yard games came in 1997
against the Chargers. The highlight of his afternoon was a
71-yard touchdown run, but Seau, the premier tackler of the '90s,
was playing with a broken big toe. In their only other meeting,
in '99, Seau had four tackles and a forced fumble in helping hold
Dillon to 37 yards. Says Dillon, "When he brings it, he really
brings it. Stroooong."
Sept. 28, 1952: Pro football comes to Texas, albeit briefly
With only 17,499 rattling around the 75,349-seat Cotton Bowl for
the first pro football game in the Southwest, the Dallas Texans
scored first when a New York Giants defensive back fumbled a
punt, then got beat on a touchdown pass from Texans quarterback
George Taliaferro to wideout Buddy Young. The Giants culprit was
a guy by the name of Tom Landry. But New York rallied for a 24-6
victory. Within two months the Texans, drowning in red ink, were
left to play out a 1-11 season on the road. "We had 10 bona fide
players," defensive tackle Art Donovan recalled last week. "The
rest of 'em were pieces of garbage."
On Thanksgiving the Texans played a "home" game at the Rubber
Bowl in Akron as part of a doubleheader. A high school game
opened the twin bill, drawing 14,800 fans; maybe 3,000 stayed to
see the Texans drop a 27-23 decision to the Bears. "Our coach,
Jimmy Phelan, said they ought to dispense with the introductions
and just send us into the stands to shake hands with the fans,"
says Donovan. "So a few of our guys went over the rail and met
the fans." These waifs formed the nucleus of the 1953 Baltimore
Bengals linebacker Takeo Spikes keeps a bowl of macadamia nuts
in his locker to remind him to keep working toward his goal: a
trip to Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl. If he keeps playing as
he did on Sunday, leading Cincinnati to a 21-10 upset of the
Ravens with a 66-yard interception return for a touchdown,
Spikes will have nothing to worry about....
Jacksonville defenders were grumbling late in the preseason
about the bend-but-don't-break scheme of new defensive
coordinator Gary Moeller. No more. The Jaguars, 2-0 after a 13-6
win over the Titans, haven't allowed a touchdown, in part
because Moeller has played more of an attacking style than he
showed in the preseason....
The Vikings, already reeling at 0-2, have a brutal schedule over
the next two months (the Bucs twice, the Saints, the Packers,
the Eagles, the Giants). They'll also be without their best
defensive player, strong safety Robert Griffith, who broke his
right fibula while running downfield on the opening kickoff in
Chicago on Sunday....
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan says that he thinks wideout Ed
McCaffrey, who was put on injured reserve after breaking two
bones in his left leg against the Giants on Sept. 10, "will be
full speed in six or seven months. He'll play next year."
McCaffrey, who had a career-high 101 receptions last year, will
be 34 when the 2002 season opens....
The Bears may have made wide receiver David Terrell of Michigan
the eighth pick in the draft so he could be their firecracker,
but quarterbacks Shane Matthews and Jim Miller appear more
comfortable throwing to third-year no-name Marty Booker; he has
18 catches to Terrell's three....
The biggest complaint around the league about the regular
officials, who were back on the field after a one-game lockout,
is that they call too many ticky-tacky penalties. Well, they
came back with a vengeance on Sunday. There were 27 penalties in
the Bills-Colts game, 24 in the Lions-Browns game.