War of words
Fassel denies calling Hilliard a cancer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Wide receiver Ike Hilliard moved deeper in the New York Giants' doghouse Thursday, accusing head coach Jim Fassel of calling him a cancer in a recent face-to-face meeting.
Fassel quickly denied it in the latest chapter of a relationship that has unexpectedly soured since the Giants made their surprising run to the NFC championship and their first Super Bowl appearance since 1991.
"I have never, ever called Ike Hilliard a cancer," Fassel said in a statement released by the team. "I've supported him since he came here. I feel like we've developed a team chemistry and a positive attitude around here and that was one of the main reasons we made it to the Super Bowl last year. I am going to continue to work toward having that on this team."
The crux of the problem has been Hilliard's right foot, which he injured against Detroit in mid-November. He was supposed to have it taken care of after the Super Bowl, but surgery wasn't performed until last week.
Hilliard now will miss all of training camp, and the team's third-leading receiver may not even be ready for the season opener.
Fassel expressed his displeasure during a recent minicamp. Hilliard took exception to some of those statements.
Speaking for the first time since the surgery, Hilliard said Thursday he delayed having surgery, hoping the problem would heal with rest.
The Giants first-round draft pick in 1997 also said none of the doctors were able to tell him the extent of his injury. He also admitted being angry that the team negotiated fellow receiver Amani Toomer's contract and didn't give him a new one, a situation that also caused a breakdown in communications with the team.
The most surprising statement was Hilliard's claim that Fassel called him a cancer.
"I don't say a whole lot," Hilliard said. "I say everything that's politically correct to each of you guys, all the time. I'm not a bad person. I'm not a cancer in the locker room, as he called me to my face. What kind of cancer am I? I'm not going to mess up team chemistry. I've done nothing but play it down for the cause after coming back from my  neck injury, because of my love for the game."
Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi came to Fassel's defense.
"I sat in that meeting that included Jim and Ike, and Jim never said that Ike was a cancer," Accorsi said.
Despite the acrimony, Hilliard wants to remain with the Giants.
"We have to work together. We have to survive together," Hilliard said. "It's not a matter of whether I like Jim Fassel or not or whether he likes me. He's called me and said I'm like a son to him. Let him say what he wants to say. All I have to do is show up every Sunday."
Hilliard had 55 catches for 787 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns during the regular season. He had 16 catches for 220 yards and two TDs in the postseason, all team highs.
"In any healthy or unhealthy working environment, everybody is not going to like everybody else," Hilliard said. "I like Jim. Jim is mad at me. I'm not mad at Jim. I'm OK. We're all trying to move forward here."
In recent weeks, Hilliard fired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent and hired Neil Schwartz and Jonathan Feinsod.
Accorsi said the Giants aggressively tried to negotiate a new contract with Hilliard.
"The negotiations were simultaneous with Amani's negotiations, but our proposals were turned down by the agent," Accorsi said, referring to Rosenhaus.
Toomer's new contract, which includes a $3.6 million bonus, runs through 2006.
"As far as my contract goes, I understand that all they have to pay me is what they are paying me. That's fine," Hilliard said. "So the contract issue is dead, regardless if there's anything they can or can't do. But I have a right to question that."
Hilliard disclosed Thursday that while he waited to have surgery on his foot, he had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb shortly after the Super Bowl.