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5 NEW YORK Giants
Paul Zimmerman
September 01, 1997
Quarterback Dave Brown remembers a December 1995 game against Washington when the windchill hit-10° and the winds were swirling around Giants Stadium. "I walked by the Redskins' quarterback, Heath Shuler, in the warmups," Brown recalls, "and he was having a terrible time. He turned to me and said, 'How the hell do you play in this place?' "
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September 01, 1997

5 New York Giants

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1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
1996 record: 6-10 (fifth in NFC East)

Rushing

Passing

Total

OFFENSE

100.2(21)

146.2(30)

246.4(30)

DEFENSE

109.3(16)

206.2(15)

315.4(14)

Quarterback Dave Brown remembers a December 1995 game against Washington when the windchill hit-10° and the winds were swirling around Giants Stadium. "I walked by the Redskins' quarterback, Heath Shuler, in the warmups," Brown recalls, "and he was having a terrible time. He turned to me and said, 'How the hell do you play in this place?' "

"Just luck, I guess," Brown replied.

Some luck. A first-round supplemental draft pick in 1992, Brown grew up waving a Giants pennant. Getting the starting job in 1994 was a dream come true, but last season everything bottomed out. Brown had the lowest quarterback rating in the NFC and directed a passing attack that finished last in the league. Playing for a coach, Dan Reeves, who didn't much care for him and who put him in a system Brown considered inflexible, he was doomed to failure. He started O.K. in some games, but things usually turned sour. The two-minute drill was a disaster. He was booed mercilessly.

"Did the fans think I didn't want to win?" he says. "I'm competitive. I want to succeed so badly, maybe too badly. It works on you. Once I was surrounded by a bunch of kids getting autographs, and one of them said, 'Don't worry, Brown. Phil Simms stunk his first two years, too.' "

The problem was that Brown's two-year struggle stretched to five. But after last season Reeves was forced out and the Giants hired 48-year-old Jim Fassel—smiling, upbeat, scholarly, a guy with a reputation for bringing quarterbacks back to life. John Elway's quarterback rating jumped 27 points in Fassel's first year as the Broncos' offensive coordinator, in 1993. Serving in the same capacity with the Cardinals last season, he invigorated a fading Boomer Esiason and coaxed some high-powered games out of journeyman Kent Graham.

Fassel was the Giants' offensive coordinator during Brown's rookie season, and upon his return to New York he saw a quarterback whose mechanics were flawed. "Dave didn't have a fluidity about him," Fassel says. "He looked hurried; he wasn't smooth and confident on the drop and the set. He looked like he'd lost his rhythm and timing, and he was anxious to get them back. He was trying to power the ball. If the receivers weren't where they were supposed to be, he'd throw the ball with an anger to it."

Putting a competent cast around Brown was Fassel's primary concern in the draft. That his opinions were even noted was a change for the Giants because, unlike Reeves, the new coach had significant input in the personnel decisions ultimately made by general manager George Young. Florida wideout Ike Hilliard was the No. 1 pick. Faster players were available when the Giants' turn came up with the seventh selection, but few collegians were more productive last year than Hilliard. The Giants' leading receivers last season, Chris Calloway and Thomas Lewis, averaged a dismal 3.0 yards after the catch. One of Hilliard's strengths is his ability to create after he makes a reception.

In the second round the Giants picked Tiki Barber, a 205-pound halfback from Virginia and an excellent receiver who was originally penciled in as a third-down back. The Giants traditionally have featured a big-back offense, but Rodney Hampton had arthroscopic knee surgery during camp and was expected to miss at least the opener. At week's end Fassel was leaning toward starting Barber against the Eagles.

Over the past few years the Giants have addressed their defensive needs. This season the objective is to make the quarterback functional and provide him with enough skill-position people. Next year the Giants will need to shore up their offensive line. Signing free agents hasn't been this club's modus operandi. The Giants prefer to build through the draft. Now they're doing it with a coach who has a way with quarterbacks.

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