"Why don't you like the 3-4?" Pause.
"I just don't, based on the question," Perkins says.
He looks at his watch. It reads 12:10 p.m. Downstairs, where the Giant players hang out, a squad meeting has been going for 10 minutes. Time is Perkins' mortal enemy. He is very bitter about the fact that a long time ago they ruled out the 36-hour day. It is the third squad meeting of this Wednesday, and he would prefer to be there, rather than discussing game plans with a bunch of car dealers.
At 8:30 a.m. Perkins had met with his quarterbacks for an hour. By then he had already been in the office for two hours; he was well into his second pot of coffee. At 10 the squad met for an hour and a half. They had half an hour off for lunch, followed by another hour-and-a-half meeting, the one now going on. Then there would be a practice lasting 45 minutes longer than the ones John McVay ran when he was the Giants' coach in 1978. Finally there might be a late session with a quarterback or two—on Thursday Perkins would bring his rookie starter, Phil Simms, home with him for four hours. After that, Perkins would have his late-late session with the projector and the yellow-lined paper and the X's and O's.
"Paralysis by analysis," former NFL Coach Tommy Prothro once called it. But Perkins has an excuse; no coach carries a heavier burden of history than he does. Sixteen years without a playoff team, including the worst record in the NFL over the last five, was the Giant illness Perkins was hired to cure last February. The Giants are a team with a past of cronyism at the higher management level, and a history of making top draft choices who bottomed out—Larry Jacobson, Eldridge Small, Rocky Thompson, Big Al Simpson, John Hicks. The names pierce like arrows.
And then in 1978 the fans rose up, and so did Timmy Mara, the 44-year-old nephew of President Wellington Mara and, with his uncle, the co-owner of the Giants. For years Timmy had lived an untroubled existence at the sports watering holes in Manhattan, P.J. Clarke's and Mike Manuche's. Oh, he occasionally showed up in the stadium lot in his golf cart to chase a photographer or two out of a privileged parking spot, and when things got tough, Timmy fired the team's PR man, Don Smith. The reason: "negative publicity." In a bold move during the '77 season, he ruled that secretaries would henceforth refrain from bringing coffee or sandwiches to their desks. He followed this with an edict that the cars of all coaches and players had to display proper stickers—or they would be towed away from the special parking area. Unfortunately, the moment he chose for his announcement was right before a game.
"There we were, ready to go out on the field," says John Symank, a defensive coach with the Giants from 1974 to 1978, "when all of a sudden everyone's running out to the parking lot to take care of their cars. Players were out there in uniform, with kids climbing all over them for autographs...and the kickoff was coming up in five minutes."
In 1978 Timmy came out of the closet and showed a genuine interest in the club, particularly in the way his uncle had been running it for the previous 14 years. There were bitter words of criticism, a public feud. People who know Timmy say there was a Svengali behind him, one of his buddies from the club, an ex-player who yearned for power. The fans didn't care. Suddenly theirs was a new voice brought to the fray. They were angry and rebellious, those loyal fans, who had again bought up every seat in the 76,821-seat Giants Stadium, ensuring that the club would lead the NFL in attendance for the third straight year.
Ron Freiman, a Livingston, N.J. printer, publicly burned his tickets in the parking lot before the game against the Rams on Dec. 3. After that, a group called The Committee Against Mara Insensitivity to Giant Fans met in a Clifton, N.J. hotel to plot strategy for a protest at the Dec. 10 game with St. Louis. The protesters planned to have a plane fly over the stadium, towing a streamer reading: 15 YEARS OF LOUSY FOOTBALL, WE'VE HAD ENOUGH. As the plane passed above, the fans would chant, "We've had enough!"
"Not even that worked right," says Dr. Arthur Milne, a dentist from Basking Ridge, N.J., who collected the $234 to hire the plane. "It was supposed to fly over in the first quarter, when the stands were full. Instead, it came in the third quarter, when they were half empty. And the Giants were winning."