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Having a blast with the past

Former Giants offer support and inspiration. “We're in this with you,” Lawrence Taylor says.

[Times photo: Bill Serne]
Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor wears his old No. 56 as he waits to be introduced at the NFC Championship Game.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2001

TAMPA -- Even as their shadows grow longer, the memory of their careers do not run short among New York Giants players.

For every Jessie Armstead, there is a Lawrence Taylor. For every Michael Strahan, there is a George Martin. For every Ike Hilliard, there's a Stephen Baker.

Many of the former Super Bowl champions were on the sideline for the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago.

They did not make a tackle, throw a block or catch a pass. ... nor will they play against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV.

Their presence is sentimental, yes. But somehow it's also instrumental to victory.

"It has continuity, the Giants organization," said Phil Simms, the former Super Bowl MVP who will call the game for CBS on Sunday. "It's the same owner, and a lot of the other people within the organization are the same when Lawrence was here, when I was here. Hell, a lot of them were there when Frank Gifford was playing.

"Continuity, it is like a family that way. That's what makes people want to come back. The players are treated good. If you want to be a part of it, they allow you to be part of it. Which is good stuff, you know? You can't say that about all sports teams."

If the Giants are family, the patriarch is 84-year-old owner Wellington Mara.

Bill Parcells, who won Super Bowls in '86 and '90 as coach of the Giants but also found success in New England and with the Jets, said Mara is the reason he will root for the red, white and blue.

"I'm really hoping he gets this one," he said. "At his age, I know what it'd mean to him."

Others also identify with the current Giants. When Taylor addressed the Giants players one day before the NFC title game, he was accompanied by guard Brad Benson, defensive tackle Jim Burt, linebacker Harry Carson, Martin, receiver Phil McConkey from the '86 team,; center Bart Oates from both championship teams and Baker from the '90 squad.

"We're in this with you. Your coaches are in it with you. The fans are in it with you. But we're in it with you, also," Taylor said. "From the bottom of my heart we're proud of you.

"Most of us played our whole career as a Giant and to be a Giant is very special and very dear to us and we care about what happens to you guys. We're really proud of you."

Giants fullback Greg Comella said it's a little surreal to be surrounded by so many heroes.

"It's unbelievable," Comella said. "To have a guy like Harry Carson or Lawrence Taylor -- these are the guys you grew up watching. ... They don't have to even say anything. Just having them around is inspiring enough."

No player is revered among Giants like Taylor, the Hall of Fame linebacker. Armstead still laughs about his discussion with LT before the NFC title game.

"Like LT told me, "Jessie, just keep up what you're doing and you'll be the second-best linebacker to ever come through New York," Armstead said. "I laughed at him because LT is LT. One step behind him? I don't think that is a downgrade. Just to see him come back and talk to him and Harry Carson and all of those guys, it was just an honor to have them there." Only one thing would make these Giants feel a stronger bond to those who came before them -- a Super Bowl ring.

"How are people going to remember this team 10 years from now? Seeing the former players makes you want to put your mark on something and make it special," running back Tiki Barber said.

"It doesn't just reach the guys in this locker room. It reaches everyone who ever played here and everyone who ever won a championship here. We have to carry on that legacy."

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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