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The Giants: 10 memorable events
By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2001
Jim Fassel decided the best way to guide his team through a turbulent 2000 regular-season was to become a lightning rod. With his team suffering a two-game losing streak and on the verge of falling out of post-season contention, Fassel issued his now famous guarantee on Nov. 22, 2000.
"I'm raising the stakes right now," Fassel said. "If this is a poker game, I'm shoving my chips to the middle of the table, I'm raising the ante. Anybody that wants in, get in. Anybody that wants out can get out.
"This team is going to the playoffs. This team is going to the playoffs."
The bold proclamation would define the Giants' NFC Championship season. Standing at 7-4, the Giants would win their next seven games to qualify for Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium.
Fassel galvanized his troops and got them to re-focus after the two-game losing streak prompted finger pointing and backbiting among teammates. It is difficult to discern exactly how far New York -- or Fassel, for that matter -- would have gone if Fassel had not defied the winds of worry that were swirling around his team.
"One thing I noticed about his character is that he's a fighter," linebacker Micheal Barrow said. "When everybody counted him down and out and said, "You're on the hot seat, you're going to lose your job,' he stepped forward and said, "Look, we're going to the playoffs.' He made that rallying cry and everybody responded to it."
Yet the coach's declaration was not the only memorable moment of the Giants' championship drive. Here are nine other snapshots from that remarkable season.
BLUE COLLAR D: The Giants won with a stellar defense, but it was a unit that featured few stars. Sure, the defensive line was anchored by standout end Michael Strahan, the linebacking corps was sparked by Jessie Armstead's fourth consecutive Pro Bowl season and the secondary was paced by cornerback Jason Sehorn.
Beyond that, however, were good players who had great seasons, and a unit that was inspired by Fassel and motivated by defensive coordinator John Fox. Under Fox's unique schemes, New York limited teams to an NFC-best 72.3 yards rushing, forced 31 turnovers and limited 11 opponents to 16 points or fewer.
"We've got a lot of faith in Coach Fox," Armstead said. "No doubt, he's the best defensive coordinator out there."
KERRY'S COMEBACK: Quarterback Kerry Collins rallied the Giants to come-from-behind victories four times in 2000, but his own comeback merited even more attention.
Collins was labeled a quitter in 1998 when he was released by the Carolina Panthers after asking Coach Dom Capers to demote him to second string. Panthers teammates had accused him of being a racist because of Collins used a slur to refer to receiver Muhsin Muhammad.
His on-field career did not fare much better in New Orleans, and off the field Collins continued to be troubled by a drinking problem.
But a January 1999 rehabilitation stint and a another chance with the Giants rejuvenated Collins. Although he was not spectacular, his steady performance played a pivotal role in New York's success.
SEHORN SOARS: Barrow said it looked like something from a science-fiction film.
It was Jason Sehorn's miraculous interception in New York's 20-10 divisional playoff victory against Philadelphia. The cornerback lunged in front of Eagles receiver Torrance Small to break up a pass that was just inches above the ground. But instead of knocking it down, Sehorn somehow knocked it up, rolled around and snared the carom before it hit the ground.
The play gave the Giants a commanding lead it never relinquished, and it punctuated a return to glory for Sehorn. The handsome California-born athlete had seen his celebrated career fall on hard times because of knee and hamstring injuries. After his first marriage failed, Sehorn began dating television star Angie Harmon and some in the New York media portrayed him as a player more interested in fame than football.
Through it all, Sehorn regained the form that made him one of the league's elite cornerbacks.
"So many people tried to put negativity on him -- he's elfish, he's injury-proned, he's this, he's that," Barrow said. "He's just kept quiet and kept making plays. He's one of the factors we're here."
THUNDER AND LIGHTNING: For Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne, it was a question of size. Barber, a fourth-year veteran from Virginia, was believed to be too small after three seasons in which he was cast as a better receiver than running back. Dayne, rookie out of Wisconsin, was believed to be too big for the rigors of the NFL even though he won the Heisman Trophy and set an NCAA rushing record.
Together, however, they were the perfect fit for New York. Sparked by a revamped offensive line, Barber had a breakout year with 1,006 yards rushing and 719 yards receiving in the regular season. Dayne established himself as an affective counter measure by rushing for 770 yards. Fans can still envision Barber's 78-yard touchdown run in the season opener, and Dayne's 50-yard rumble against the Rams.
THE NEWCOMERS: New York retooled its roster by adding a number of key veterans and contributing rookies. Barrow reunited with Armstead, his former University of Miami teammate, to bolster the defense, while veterans Lomas Brown, Glenn Parker and Dusty Ziegeler gave the Giants offensive line more muscle and more attitude.
Dayne, defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin and receiver/returner Ron Dixon, the Giants first three picks in the 2000 draft, also made significant contributions. Fassel said the new faces were needed to right the Giants' ship after going 7-9 in 1999.
"We had to change," Fassel said. "We weren't going to go on with the same group, the same deal and do this. It was not going to happen. I wasn't in the mood to take the slow risk."
OLD BECAME NEW: Who said substance is more important style? The Giants donned retro-uniforms and helmets in 2000, which brought back the look they enjoyed in the 1960s. The more simplistic jerseys (no stripes), gray pants and famed "NY" logo on the helmets lent to the team's no-nonsense approach.
THE WASHINGTON WIN: New York lent creedence to Fassel's guarantee with a thrashing of Arizona, but the second game after the declaration was more difficult. The Redskins played host to the Giants having already beaten the G-Men once with the help of the highest payroll of players in the NFL.
On this day, however, the dominant defense and a wayward field goal attempt helped New York prevail. When Eddie Murray's game-winning 44-yard field goal attempt fell short, the Giants strolled out of FedEx Field with a 9-7 victory.
THREEPEAT: The Giants beat only one playoff team in 2000 before routing the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game, but they beat that playoff team three times. New York's mastery of the Philadelphia Eagles was another highlight of the year. Not only did the Giants beat the Eagles three times, but they thoroughly dominated them with wins of 33-18, 24-7 and 20-10 in the divisional playoff.
THE CLINCHER: Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor spoke disparagingly about the Giants before his team met the Giants for a Dec. 23 regular-season finale. But it was New York that did all the talking after forcing Taylor to the sideline and rallying for a 28-25 victory to cement its NFC East title and the top seed in the playoffs.
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