From the wreckage of the 6-10 record in 1978—the Giants' sixth straight season without a winning record—came a new general manager, 48-year-old George Young, a scholarly Baltimorean. Young had 11 years of NFL experience, mostly alongside Shula, and had an intimate knowledge of all aspects of the game. This prompted the suggestion that it was Commissioner Pete Rozelle's intervention, not the brainwork of the Maras, that brought Young to the Jersey meadows. In the past, the Maras had shown an antipathy toward hiring able executives. Young's choice as coach was Perkins, 37, a lean and whipcord-tough Mississippi native.
Perkins had all the right credentials as a player—national championship ring from Alabama, Super Bowl ring from Baltimore—and as an NFL assistant. He had learned Fairbanks' system at New England, and then he had put the juice into a San Diego offense that had led the NFL in passing in '78. And work, Lord, how the man could work—6:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
"He goes on five hours sleep during the season," says his wife, Carolyn, "and then he collapses."
So now it is Wednesday afternoon, and Perkins' 0-5 Giants are four days away from playing Tampa Bay, the NFL's only unbeaten team. Three young writers who have watched the Giants practice the 3-4 defense all afternoon are confronting him with very long faces.
"You lied to us," one of them says, "and you expect us to lie in print."
"I answered within the context of the question," Perkins says. His deep-set eyes look very tired. His face is drawn. He has lost 20 pounds from his already spare frame since he got the job in February.
They straighten the matter out, Perkins getting the message across that it's too much to expect that he lay out his strategy before 50 strangers and the Tampa Bay PR man.
"I feel sorry for him sometimes," says Jim Clack, the Giants' center who taxied on Chuck Noll's first team in Pittsburgh, the 1-13 Steelers of 1969. "He wants to win so bad it's just killing him. His ideas are sound, his offensive principles are great, but the facts are that he's ballplayers away from making it go. You see him run through here at lunch-time. He'll just grab a roll and a piece of ham or something—half the time he doesn't even know what he's eating. Look at him. It's almost six o'clock at night, and he's still in his coaching gear."
There's sympathy for Perkins among his players, but there's a dark side, too.
"If he keeps pushing himself this way, he's headed for a crack-up," one veteran says. "He's got to lighten up on himself, and on us. You can't keep guys on the practice field almost three hours, and then give them three more hours of meetings. Our legs are dead, our minds are dead. We're drained before we even get on the field on Sunday."