Are you kidding? Super Bowl champs still feel disrespected
ALBANY, N.Y. -- On the first morning of the first day of their first training camp as defending Super Bowl champions in 17 years, the New York Giants seized upon a familiar and yet strangely incongruous role for themselves: That of an disrespected underdog, determined to prove the doubters wrong.
Uh, hello. Didn't we just do this? Maybe six months or so ago? And is it even logical, not to mention legitimate, to label the team that won it all last season an "underdog'' as it opens its title defense? Don't you kind of forfeit any claim to that underdog stuff shortly after they throw you a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan?
This much is for certain: Some Giants seem intent on defending themselves as much as they do their championship. You'd think Super Bowl rings would have proven to be a nice counter-balance to the chips on their shoulders, but apparently not. More than a few of the players I talked to Friday morning at University at Albany reported to training camp with regulation-sized 2007 chips intact.
"I think underdog role is still on the Giants, even with everything,'' New York middle linebacker Antonio Pierce told me, standing just outside the team's training camp cafeteria. "It just doesn't make sense. But you see it, from rankings to predictions to why they'll fail. It's always about why they'll fail instead of why we'll succeed.
"Nobody's saying nothing about us. All of a sudden we're picked third (in the NFC East). Philly's going to win the division and Jason Taylor's on the Redskins. We're not the hunted, we're still the hunter. But it's beautiful. It's beautiful. The script's been written just alike it was last year. All we've got to do is respond.''
Pierce could have been talking about me rather than just to me. All offseason I went back and forth on the Giants and their chances to come anywhere near repeating their Super Bowl success of last season. Before their playoff run, New York to me had a well-deserved reputation of a team that absolutely could not stand prosperity. As soon as the good times started to roll for the Giants in recent years, you could categorically predict that something, some sort of adversity, controversy, or self-created problem, was about to crop up and put an end to all of that. It was a reliable as the coming and going of the tides.
So I understand the tendency to look at these Giants and see a great story as the 2008 season dawns, but not necessarily a great team. They sure were memorable, those '07 Giants. But are they durable as defending champions? I'm still in the dubious category, and my theory on the whole matter can be explained thusly:
New York ended last season with a magical and historic Super Bowl run. But magic of that monumental degree can almost never be reproduced, and the mojo inevitably fades. Just ask the Colorado Rockies, whose late-season and playoff magic of last September and October has amounted to nothing but a huge sub-.500 letdown in 2008. Rockies fans must be asking themselves this year if it was all just a dream and never really happened?
Will that same sort of scenario play out for the Giants this year? I'm not saying it will, but I am saying it could in the ultra-competitive NFC East, where it's a very short trip from 10-6 to 7-9. And that's with the acknowledgement that New York has a bevy of talent on its roster and quality coaching at its disposal. I could see the Giants struggling to get back into the NFC playoffs this season, just as they have had to fight tooth and nail to make into the postseason the past two Januarys.
"(The doubts are motivation), absolutely,'' Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "That's kind of where we were last year going into the (Super Bowl). Nothing's changed except we've got these big shiny rings on our fingers. We did win last year, and obviously no one is counting on us being in this race again. But that's OK. I like being the underdog.''
Magical 2007 season or not, the defensive-led Giants aren't buying into the notion that their road warrior playoff run and upset of the undefeated Patriots made them a onetime wonder that can't possibly repeat. Dominant defense is no fluke, and New York has that going for it. That's kind of magical in and of itself.