Tag Archives: New York Giants

The Impact of First Impressions in Sports

One night last week, I was in the car with my Dad and we had the radio on, listening to some guys call-in show on the New York ESPN radio affiliate. The first couple of hours we had to listen to this guy talk about his New York Jets, and I was performing my usual routine of making snide comments between his points to make my Dad laugh. Eventually, for the last thirty minutes, he got to talking about the New York Giants, who, as you probably know, my family has had season tickets with for 50 years (that’s not even an exaggeration: my Grandfather’s first year as a season ticket holder was in 1963, back when the Giants played in Yankee Stadium). The host stated his belief that the main obstacle standing between the Giants and a playoff appearance was the running backs, and asked his callers a simple question: “Do you think that Andre Brown and David Wilson would be good enough to carry the load for the Giants for an entire season?”

Just so we’re clear, my answer to that question is a resounding YES, but I have doubts about the offensive line. But that’s not the reason why I bring this up. The callers all started calling in and talking about how they thought Wilson was an explosive running back, but the main concern is his fumbling problem. The host, after hearing around five callers bring up David Wilson’s “fumbling problem,” asked one of the callers how many fumbles he thought David Wilson had last season. I immediately yelled out “ONE” while listening in the car, fully aware of his stats from the previous season. The caller thought about it for five seconds, and then said “seven to ten.” The answer? One.

That begged me to ask myself the question: Why do Giants fans believe that David Wilson has a fumbling problem? After thinking about it for a minute, the answer is really simple: the only fumble that he’s lost all season took place on his debut against the Dallas Cowboys, and it left a lasting impression on the minds of Giants fans. The fumble turned the tide of the game (which the Giants lost), and has not been forgotten since. He got 70 carries last season, averaged 5 yards per carry, scored 7 TDs and returned kickoffs better than any Giant I’ve ever seen (except maybe Ron Dixon), but has been unable to shake off that label that he can’t hold on to the ball.

Flash forward to last weekend, as I’m up early watching Liverpool-Stoke City in the opening English Premier League match of the season. Liverpool are 1-0 up in the closing minutes of the game, when Daniel Agger conceded a very stupid penalty, putting his arm up in the box when he had no need to and making contact with the ball. Jonathan Walters stepped up to take the penalty for Stoke City, facing the newly-bought Belgian keeper Simon Mignolet, who was making his competitive debut for Liverpool. Walters shot it to the Mignolet’s right hand side… and Simon saved it! The ball was loose, Kenwyne Jones ran up and fired another shot at the net, which Mignolet also saved, as it scrambled out for a corner, with the Anfield faithful going absolutely ballistic. The players all jumped on Mignolet to congratulate/thank him, before he pushed them off and made them get in position as Stoke were trying to take the corner quickly. Liverpool held on for a 1-0 win, and Mignolet made a really tremendous first impression on the Liverpool fans watching, not only in the ground, but on TV sets all over the world.

Online afterward, I noticed that many, many fans were praising Mignolet for his penalty save, and seemingly were willing to forget all of the rage they felt after the club loaned out Pepe Reina (remember him?!) in order for Mignolet to start. I remembered how David Wilson’s fumble in his first game forever imprinted negative thoughts on the minds of Giants fans, and really do wonder how Mignolet’s crucial penalty save on his debut will be felt by fans in the long term. This also made me ask myself a deeper question: how much stock do we, as sports fans, put on a first impression we get from a player? In addition, how much should we get out of our first impressions of a player?

I’ve been watching sports for as long as I can remember. I’ve honestly lost count on the number of games I’ve attended, and to remember every debut I’ve seen both in person and on TV would be rather ridiculous. But there are some first impressions I’ve gotten from watching games that do stand out in my mind.

I remember watching Hideki Matsui’s Yankee Stadium debut back on Opening Day in 2003, when he hit a Grand Slam against Minnesota into right field. He ended up being a mainstay in the Yankee lineup for around seven years. On the contrary, I remember Kazuo Matsui’s MLB debut (not related to the aforementioned Hideki), where he hit the first pitch he’d ever seen out of the park in Atlanta. Kazuo ended up hitting .256 as a Met over the next two years before he was traded to Colorado, never truly living up to the hype the Mets had set for him, and that he had set for himself with that first pitch homer.

And with that, we find one of the factors that goes into a first impression: the hype beforehand. In American sports, when a player is selected as a first round pick, there is a certain amount of hype that goes with that player. He’s tabbed as a future starter, an impact player, someone who can improve the team in the short term and be the answer to a problem for the long term. David Wilson was a first round pick, and that’s another reason why his first impression was so damning. The Giants felt confident enough to select him in the opening round as a replacement for Brandon Jacobs, the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing TDs.

In the modern age, YouTube has helped fans come up with first impressions without even seeing a player come on the pitch for their side yet. The problem with YouTube, however, is that the video creators can really edit any film enough to make you think that someone is a star if they have enough footage. Milan Jovanovic looked like a star on YouTube, as did Christian Poulsen—neither one lasted more than a season at Liverpool. College football fans remember all too well about Sam McGuffie’s YouTube video, which was 10 minutes of him running around and jumping over high school players like he was in a video game on cheat mode, only to discover that his athleticism didn’t transfer to the college level when he played at Michigan under Rich Rodriguez (McGuffie is currently in training camp with the Oakland Raiders, but I highly doubt he’ll make the team after the preseason is over).

While I remembered Luis Suarez making a splash onto the scene in South Africa in 2010 with his handball against Ghana, I’d honestly forgotten about him until Liverpool started chasing him six months later during the January 2011 window. I remembered watching his YouTube compilations, in addition to his not-so-endearing highlights, such as the handball in South Africa and his celebrating after Asamoah Gyan missed, his diving, and his biting of PSV player Otman Bakkal on the shoulder. I put all of the negative stuff to the side and focused on the fact that he was a good striker who could answer a problem that Liverpool needed to address, and really didn’t think too much about the fact that he was clearly a troubled player.

From this, we do find the answer to the first question: “What do we get out of a first impression as sports fans?” The answer? Whatever we’re willing to get out of it. Honestly, if you don’t try to get much out of watching something, you won’t, and if you are trying to get something out of it, you will. It’s a ridiculously simple answer, but it is true. The only real exception is when something so extraordinary happens that you can’t help but ignore it, such as when Suarez cheats on Global TV in a World Cup Quarterfinal. If you were a cynic, you’d say he was a cheat, but you could also view it as somebody willing to do whatever it takes to win. As sports fans, we’re willing and able to take any sporting moment, view it in a vacuum, and assign it to whatever agenda we’re pushing, even if it’s just a call-in to ESPN radio.

Follow Greg Visone on Twitter @njny

Confessions of a New York Giant Fan: Why Big Blue Won’t Repeat

As a lifelong Season Ticket Holder of the New York Giants, I’ve been on a nineteen-year emotional roller-coaster ride, with my mood every autumn and winter being determined by how Big Blue did in their most recent game. I’ve been in attendance for some phenomenal wins, and an equal number of devastating losses. Even while attending The Ohio State University last season, I did not miss a single game, going as far as to watch a handful of games on sketchy internet streams. Thankfully, I was able to attend the last two home Giants games of the season while on winter break, the latter of the two being a one-game playoff for the Division Crown and a spot in the playoffs. While watching the playoff games in my dorm room, my RA, fully aware of the extent of my fandom, gave me a pass on dorm rules during games, allowing me to curse and scream my head off after quiet hours as the Giants went on their second magic carpet ride to a Super Bowl Championship in five seasons (which, in turn, resulted in me being a celebratory drunk for a full week).

That Super Bowl Championship has had me in a state of euphoria for quite some time. Just as we began to think that the Giants would once again collapse in the second half of the season (which, for the record, always happens because the NFL insists on giving the Giants a back-loaded schedule. Seriously, can’t you give us a fucking break every once in a while?), they got hot at just the right time, got their star players back from injury, and went on to lift the Lombardi trophy for the fourth time in their history. Even the most pessimistic of Giants fans (such as myself) are confident about the future of the team, seeing as we have a young core of players, a remarkably strong and deep defensive line, and to top it all off, a Top-Five QB in Eli Manning who, as long as he is on the field, gives us a shot to win any game we’re in.

With all of that positivity in mind, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and make a not-so-bold prediction: The Super Bowl Champion New York Giants have too many holes to mount a serious repeat challenge.

There are a number of reasons why I believe this is gonna happen; some of these reasons are logical and based on the team’s current players and coaching staff, while others are down to pure speculation and are based on my many years as a die-hard fan. While I could easily just list them out in bullet-point fashion, I feel it necessary to give a bit more insight. For the most part, what is about to follow are my rambling thoughts on certain Giants players, most of which have been bottled up for years. So, without further ado, here’s my list of reasons why my beloved New York Giants will have a massively unsuccessful season in defense of their crown:

5) Our Linebackers Suck

I have lost count of the number of times I have cursed out Giants linebackers over the years. The Giants haven’t had had a strong core of starting linebackers in the last decade. Yes, the team has gotten by (thanks to a very strong and deep defensive line), but for a team that prides itself on having a strong defense, it has always disappointed me that the Giants have yet to find a high-caliber linebacker in recent years. Yes, Michael Boley has done a decent job, but I don’t consider him to be a top notch linebacker. Starting alongside him? Chase Blackburn in the middle and Mathias Kiwanuka as the other outside linebacker. As much as I love and appreciate Chase Blackburn for all he’s done as a Giant, he’s not a starting linebacker. Kiwanuka is a defensive end who gets thrown in at OLB in order to get him more playing time, knowing that he’ll get less snaps in the DE rotation with Tuck, Osi, and JPP in the mix. When used in the pass-rush, he is very effective. However, his run-stopping ability is well below-par. Behind these three on the depth chart are first-round bust Keith Rivers, late-round sophomore Jacquain Williams, and undrafted sophomores Mark Herzlich and Spencer Paysinger. Fair to say that this group fails to inspire me.

4) I have no faith in the secondary

For some reason, when the Giants draft secondary players in the first or second round, they always seem to be highly disappointing. Aside from Corey Webster in 2008 and Terrell Thomas in general, I haven’t really had any trust in a Giants CB to contain a receiver since Jason Sehorn, who I affectionately refer to as the best white corner of the last quarter-century. This season is no different. I have no faith in Corey Webster or Prince Amukamara to cover receivers effectively. To make matters worse, with Terrell Thomas injured yet again and Aaron Ross (aka “The First Round Nickel CB”) leaving for Jacksonville via free agency, the Giants have very little depth behind their two starters, a fact which disturbs me given the growing tendency in the NFL to spread the ball around and rely on the passing game. While I have some faith in Kenny Phillips to continue doing the job at strong safety (especially in his contract year), I cannot say the same about Antrel Rolle. In spite of being the highest-paid safety in the league, Antrel Rolle has had largely infuriating moments as a Giant. His tendency to get stupid personal fouls is something that has always made me try to pull my hair out. All in all, in a league that depends more and more on a quarterback’s ability to slice up secondaries, this group of players gives me very little faith.

3) The Offensive Line Actually Offends Me

Having watched Football for years, I’ve held one core belief more than any other: Whether you play in high school, college, or the NFL, your games are won and lost in the trenches. The Giants offensive line has experienced a lot of upheaval in the last two years. In 2008, the Giants had, bar none, the best offensive line in the league. From right-to-left, you had McKenzie, Snee, O’Hara, Seubert and Diehl at the top of their game, enabling Jacobs, Bradshaw and Ward to run the ball all over the field and open up the passing game for Eli. The following season, the offensive line play deteriorated, which, in-turn, led to the decline of the running game. The main reason why Eli has thrived statistically the last three years is because of the running game’s decline. Last off-season, the Giants released O’Hara & Seubert, two of the aforementioned fixtures on that 2008 offensive line, and were replaced by David Baas & Stacy Andrews. In spite of these changes, the Giants had the worst rushing offense in the entire NFL last season. This off-season, hot-headed & much-maligned RT Kareem McKenzie left, as did Stacy Andrews.

In addition, David Diehl, drafted as a LG turned into a massively below-average LT, moved back to LG last season, has again been moved, this time from LG to RT, a position he has never played before in his life, meaning that only one starter from 2010, Tom Coughlin’s son-in-law Chris Snee, still has his place on the OL. From right-to-left, the offensive line this season will probably be Diehl, Snee, Baas, career backup Kevin Boothe, & William Beatty. I really think we could’ve addressed this in the first round of the draft. While I admit that David Wilson is clearly a talented running back that replaces the void created by the departure of Brandon Jacobs, I believe we could’ve addressed the need in another way and taken an offensive tackle to replace Kareem McKenzie. Cordy Glenn and Jonathan Martin were both projected first-round picks that were still on the board. By taking one of them, you could’ve plugged them in at RT & kept David Diehl at LG, his natural position, boosting the overall quality of the offensive line & potentially reviving a running game that has never been less effective than it was last season. Defenses are gonna be able to stop Eli eventually. It’d be nice to have a half-decent running game to keep them on their toes as well.

2) The Schedule is Fucking Scary (The NFC East as well)

The Giants always seem to get horrible scheduling decisions from the NFL. This usually comes in the form of a very back-loaded schedule, but the NFL has also found more creative ways to screw with Big Blue. For example, in 2009, the Giants were handed their first game on Thanksgiving Day since 1992. The catch? They had to travel approximately 1,770 miles to play the Denver Broncos away on three-days rest. The Giants lost 26-6 en route to one of the franchise’s finest in-season collapses in recent memory, going from 5-0 to 8-8 and missing out on a playoff spot. Now, I’m not saying that the schedule was entirely responsible for enabling the collapse to continue, but it certainly didn’t do us any good. This year, the NFL truly had something special in store for my beloved Jints. For the first time in NFL history, a defending Super Bowl Champion has been handed the toughest Strength-Of-Schedule of all NFL teams. It’s only fitting that the 9-7 Giants, the first ever 9-7 team to win a Super Bowl, has to be given such a horrifying obstacle. To top it all off, the schedule becomes murderous after the Week 5 game against the Browns. Starting with the San Francisco 49ers in week 6, the Giants play seven games against teams who made the playoffs last season, with the remaining four games being against division rivals. The only break the NFL gives the Giants? A week 11 bye right before a Sunday Night game against Green Bay. At least they didn’t give us the bye earlier. Thanks for that, Roger… you greedy scumbag.

In addition to the murderous schedule, the NFC East is admittedly tougher than it was last year. The Giants clinched their playoff spot the last week of the season, in what was essentially an extra playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys with the winner taking the division & the loser going home (FYI: The Jets game was also a playoff game in some respects, with the losing team needing a miracle the last week of the season to clinch a postseason berth). The Cowboys could’ve easily put the Giants to bed in Week 14. All they had to do was hold on to a 12 point lead with 4 minutes to go. The Giants and Cowboys both finished 9-7. They are clearly on similar levels. If Miles Austin catches the ball that got caught in the lights in that Week 14 game or Jason Garrett doesn’t ice his own kicker against Arizona, Dallas could’ve been the ones lifting that Lombardi Trophy last February. The Week 17 game would’ve been meaningless if one of those two situations were handled properly. In Philadelphia, the Eagles are regrouping and look very dangerous going into the season. Last year, the “Dream Team” finished the year strong, finally coming together the last four weeks of the year. This year, DeSean “The Jerk” Jackson looks sharper (no longer distracted by his contract situation), the team is deeper and has a better understanding of Andy Reid’s philosophy. In all seriousness, I think Philly is gonna win the NFC East this year and maybe, just maybe, make a deep run in the playoffs (FWIW: just writing that makes me wanna vomit). To top it all off, Washington has a new rookie QB in Robert Griffin III and a much more experienced and talented team than they did last season. Mike Shanahan, now in his third season as Head Coach, is starting to put a team together in DC. I have a weird feeling that he’s got something going on down there. If he gets it right, the rest of the division is really gonna be in trouble, and none of us want that to happen.

1) Fate

The Giants have a tendency of fucking up massively after a championship season. In many cases, it hasn’t even been because of on-field play. In 1987, a year after the team’s first Super Bowl Championship, the players went on strike mid-season, causing games to be canceled for week 3, but replacement players to be used in weeks 4-6. The Giants went 0-3 in games played by replacement players. They finished 6-9, missing the playoffs & a chance to defend their crown. Had the Giants gone 2-1 in those three games, they would’ve made the playoffs as a wild card team, potentially getting a shot to do so. In 1991, Ray Handley took over for Bill Parcells as Head Coach a year after Big Tuna won Super Bowl XXV. Handley was a mediocre head coach who wasted a perfectly good opportunity to make a name for himself with a talented Giants team coming off its second Super Bowl in five seasons, missing the playoffs in 1991 and 1992. Handley is best remembered for his inability to pick a starting QB between Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler, both of whom led the Giants to Super Bowl glory in 1986 and 1990. The controversy heavily marred his job as coach of the Giants and the team’s record failed to truly reflect the team’s ability and talent.

Those two cases aside, the most notable case of the New York Giants being unable to capitalize on a Super Bowl Championship was 2008. Coming off of a victory in Super Bowl XLII, the Giants had a much more talented team than what it had in 2007. The group was more experienced and in my opinion was the best team that Tom Coughlin has had in his eight years (going on nine) as Giants Head Coach. They Giants started the year 10-1 and were cruising going into their game against Washington. That team thought it was going to go back to the Super Bowl. They thought it was their God-given right to make it back to the Super Bowl. Then Plaxico Burress, already declared out for Sunday’s game with an injury as a precaution going into the playoffs, went into a night club in New York City two days before the game with an unregistered gun concealed in his sweatpants (the reason he was carrying the gun was because Steve Smith was robbed at gunpoint three days earlier by a stranger outside his apartment). The gun went off, shooting Plaxico in his right thigh. The magnitude of the story really didn’t sink in until after the Giants beat Washington that Sunday to go to 11-1. Plaxico reported himself to police the day after the game to face charges of criminal possession of a handgun, as Burress was carrying an expired Concealed Carrier of Weapons License from the state of Florida and was not registered in New York. Burress was suspended for the rest of the season by the Giants and released the following April. The off-field distraction, however, proved to be devastating for a team that thought it was well on its way to defending its Super Bowl crown, going 1-3 the last four games of the regular season before losing to Philly at home in their Divisional Round playoff game. Players on that team have spoken of the disappointment of that year and what might have been, many of whom still blame Plaxico for the team’s decline at the end of that season.

Honestly, knowing those three stories well, and knowing for a fact that the Giants just love to knock me down when I least expect it as a fan, I have good reason to believe that the Giants are gonna miss the playoffs this season. The team really isn’t anything to write home about right now, we’ve got an incredibly tough schedule and are playing in a division that’s gotten miles tougher. The last team to repeat as Super Bowl Champions was the Patriots in 2004. Five other teams have been able to accomplish the feat. In the age of free agency and where teams know each other much better than they did ten or fifteen years ago, let alone even further back, it’s very difficult to repeat as Super Bowl Champions, let alone follow up such a season with a decent campaign.

The Giants have a target on their back in 2012 and have a very tough schedule to go with it. If there’s any time that I’d consider it acceptable to not do very well after a Super Bowl Championship, it’d be this season. Why? Because I’m expecting it! Honestly, I’d rather they didn’t make the playoffs this year than have them tease me like they’ve done in years prior. Knowing them, however, they’ll make a point of it to be cruel and kick me when I’m most vulnerable. Honestly, this could go either way. But I can honestly say that the Giants won’t win the Super Bowl this season, and I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs either. But hey, I’ve seen them win two Super Bowls in my lifetime. That’s two more than I ever thought I’d see…

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny