After 10 years, Cross can't take this for granted
The one Giant who was here in '91 has made it back by working harder than anyone.
By BOB HARIG
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 24, 2001
TAMPA -- With Whitney Houston's prerecorded national anthem ringing in his ears and fighter jets flying overhead, with the strange notion that he was about to play in the biggest game of his life while the nation was at war, Howard Cross allowed himself one very erroneous assumption:
|[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Howard Cross was with the team during its Super Bowl win in Tampa 10 years ago.
Super Bowl XXV would be one of many.
"The first time I was here, I thought we'd be here every year," the Giants tight end said. "Or I thought we'd have a chance to go every year. Now I realize how precious it is to get here."
Cross, 33, is back for Super Bowl XXXV at Raymond James Stadium, the lone Giants player who was around for the 20-19 victory over the Bills in 1991 at since-demolished Tampa Stadium that was played under the uneasy cloud of the Gulf War.
Much has transpired in the ensuing years, when Cross expected to be competing for football's ultimate prize without realizing the goal.
Michael Jordan won three NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls, retired to play minor-league baseball, then returned to basketball to win three more championships.
Tiger Woods graduated from high school and won three U.S. Amateurs, five major championships and 25 PGA Tour events.
The Dallas Cowboys won three Super Bowls, the Denver Broncos two.
Meanwhile, the Giants went through their share of ups and downs. Coach Bill Parcells left the team after his second Super Bowl victory. Since, Cross has played for Ray Handley, Dan Reeves and current coach Jim Fassel.
Before this season, the Giants had claimed just one NFC East title (1997) and had four losing seasons since reaching the Super Bowl.
Cross has been their lone constant, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound force who rarely misses a day of work. Since being picked in the sixth round of the 1989 draft, Cross has missed one game, in 1995 against the Redskins because of a knee injury, and just a handful of practices.
"He's Mr. Reliable," Fassel said. "As low-maintenance a guy as I've been around. He still fights the young guys for reps on the scout team. I've never had an issue with him about anything. I've been here six years as an assistant and a head coach, and I don't think he's ever missed a day of practice."
And his role has not changed much. Cross is used primarily for blocking and only occasionally catches a pass. He had four receptions this season.
"I do whatever they let me do," he said. "I don't ask any questions. If they say go block this guy, I block. If they say go run a route, I run a route. If they ask me to catch the ball, I catch the ball."
Said former Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler, the starter in Super Bowl XXV: "It's a real tribute to him to be able to play in that one and to be back in it 10 years later."
During the 1990 season, Cross was a second-year, 23-year-old tight end from Alabama who played behind Mark Bavaro, a prolific pass-catcher who seemingly could overwhelm anyone at his position.
But Cross still had an impact. In fact, he caught four passes in the Super Bowl, three for first downs.
"He had a big contribution in that game," said Hostetler, retired and living in Morgantown, W.Va. "Howard at that time was known for how well he blocked. But we ran a lot of naked (faking the run) passing plays and I can remember hitting him down near the goal line on one of them. It was a long drive in the third quarter.
"I can remember him catching that one down close to the goal line. I wanted him to take that one in, but he wasn't able to."
The completion, however, gave the Giants a first down at the Buffalo 3, and two plays later, Super Bowl MVP Ottis Anderson scored from 1 yard to give New York a 17-12 lead.
Good luck getting Cross to remember such details.
"I can't remember what I had for breakfast this morning," Cross said, laughing.
When pressed, he forces himself to scour his memory. "When I think about the first Super Bowl I was in 10 years ago, I think about the security, the guys in army fatigues, Whitney Houston singing the national anthem, all the stuff going on.
"In the game itself, I remember wide right, Mark Ingram's play because it's always on TV. ... I remember the highlight tapes."
But the game is not something he dwells on, nor is he one to offer advice to teammates who never have experienced a Super Bowl.
"Ten years is a long time," Cross said. "It's a decade since we've been here last. I don't think of what's all transpired. It would take me all day to think about that. It's more along the lines of take care of today, get ready for tomorrow, don't worry about what happened 10 years ago.
"I'm blessed. God really took care of me. He kept me relatively healthy. And he gave me the desire to really want to play."
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