Doing Their Part
Inspired by fans near and far, the Giants responded with a win over the Chiefs
Minutes before kickoff of the most emotional game of their lives, the Giants stood in the southeast tunnel at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., and listened as the P.A. announcer asked fans to join hands for the singing of God Bless America. Those seated on the end of the first eight rows alongside the tunnel reached down. Giants reached up. They gripped hands. Moments later, when the players on me team from New York were introduced in the heart of the heartland, in one of the toughest places for any visiting team to play, they received a standing ovation. "I almost cried," Giants running back Tiki Barber said.
When the most emotional game of their lives was almost over—during a timeout with 1:18 left—Giants coach Jim Fassel looked to the sky. He began to think about those who died in the terrorist attacks. Then he thought of the rescuers atop the rubble that was the World Trade Center, those whom he'd visited and tried to comfort—and who ended up comforting him. I hope, Fassel thought, that we made New York proud of us today.
After the Giants had sent a beautifully ugly 13-3 win back to their grieving fans, fullback Greg Cornelia sat at Ills locker and wept Then he took a deep breath. "What I had to fight all day was a feeling of sadness," he said. "But we had a role today, a role we heard about from the rescue workers we tried to comfort. They told us, 'The best way you can help us is to go out on Sunday and win.' "
One Giant after another reported feeling that obligation, and none called it a burden. The Giants, who every day at practice now stare across the Hudson River at a starkly diminished lower Manhattan skyline, approached this game the same way the volunteers at the attack site approach their task: It was what they could do to help.
The amazing thing about this day was that the Giants could function at all. This was a bunch that had confessed to recent crying jags. Three days after the disaster the club brought in grief counselors. General manager Ernie Accorsi passed along a taped telephone message from a season-ticket holder and executive at Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading firm that did business on the upper floors of Tower 1 and lost nearly 700 employees. The executive, whom Accorsi wouldn't name, said he wasn't at work on Sept. 11 because he had traveled to Denver for the team's opening 31-20 loss to the Broncos on the eve of the attack. According to Accorsi, in the tearful message the executive said, "Because of my love for the Giants, my children still have a dad today."
For linebacker Mike Barrow, things were put into perspective during a visit to several firehouses a week after the attack. "People who'd lost their father would say, 'Dad was a Giants fan. Win it for him on Sunday,' " Barrow said. "People wonder if that's pressure. Pressure? Pressure is being at the top of a 110-story building and wondering if you should jump or burn to death."
The visits humbled a team with swagger. "I don't think [quarterback] Kerry Collins said anything, other than to the kids of the missing firefighters, for hours that day," says Accorsi. "It was such [an emotional] day."
On the night before the Kansas City game, Fassel handed over the team meeting to his players, who rose one after another to pour out their feelings. "A lot of us have been feeling down," Cornelia, one of three Giants who lives in Manhattan, told his teammates. "But if we're going to go out there and play, let's show a spirit of strength, not timidity."
They played without much of the woofing you see in the NFL these days. Collins made a couple of nice throws, but bad decisions led to two of his three interceptions. Barber and fellow running back Ron Dayne struggled for 79 yards between them. Good thing for the Giants that the Chiefs were worse. Only two of their 55 plays went for more than 20 yards.