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Last Thursday, one week before the kickoff of the NFL draft, Giants coach Tom Coughlin stopped by the office of p.r. chief Pat Hanlon at the team's headquarters in East Rutherford, N.J., before heading back into afternoon draft meetings. Coughlin held a square Styrofoam container with the remnants of his salad inside. While he talked to Hanlon and a visitor, the container fell from his hands, stray seeds and cloudy dressing spilling onto Hanlon's carpet.
"Look at that!" Coughlin said disgustedly. He turned around to walk to the kitchen to fetch paper towels.
"Tom, we'll get someone to clean it up!" Hanlon called after him, but it was too late. Thirty seconds later the 65-year-old Coughlin was on his knees, picking up sunflower seeds and carefully wet-wiping and then dry-wiping the dressing. In a minute the carpet was spotless, and Coughlin left for his meeting.
In the midst of the newsiest NFL off-season in recent history—Peyton Manning moving to Denver, Tim Tebow shipped to the swamps of Jersey, the Saints' bounty scandal shocking the league, the Colts and the Redskins homing in on franchise quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III—the biggest headline from the Super Bowl champions is this: Eli Manning will host Saturday Night Live on May 5. As the league begins its three-day draftapalooza on Thursday, can anyone identify a juicy off-season morsel about the Giants? Bueller? Bueller?
That's how Big Blue operates: ego-free, hype-averse, everyone contributing. And that's the team's approach to the draft, all seven rounds and beyond.
Most non-Kiperized NFL fans will be glassy-eyed come Saturday, when rounds 4 through 7 take place. That's when Giants general manager Jerry Reese and his staff do some of their smartest business. In the 2007 draft, his first as G.M., Reese took tight end Kevin Boss of Western Oregon in round 5 and running back Ahmad Bradshaw of Marshall in round 7; both were key contributors during that Super Bowl season. (In fact, all eight of New York's 2007 picks took part in the playoffs as rookies.) And last April the Giants drafted three players in the sixth round who would be core special-teamers in another Super Bowl--winning campaign: linebacker Greg Jones of Michigan State, defensive back Tyler Sash of Iowa and linebacker Jacquian Williams of South Florida, who forced the decisive overtime fumble in the NFC Championship Game at San Francisco. If you get drafted by the Giants, you've got a terrific chance of playing in a playoff game. More than half of Reese's picks have.
"One of the great things about the way this team operates," says club president John Mara, "is how workmanlike Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese are, and how egoless. All they care about is building the best team they can."
In the last two decades a generation of fans has grown to love the NFL's hot stove league. When free agency begins, they clamor for big names and big moves. When the Bills signed the best defensive player on the market this year, pass rusher Mario Williams, western New York was so excited you'd have thought Buffalo had just won the AFC East. When the Eagles brought in a cadre of stars in free agency last summer, training camp practices felt more like a coronation than preparation for a season. But teams that win free agency rarely win the Lombardi Trophy. Ask the Redskins of a decade ago, who gave an $8 million signing bonus to 32-year-old Deion Sanders (he lasted one season before retiring), or the wild-spending Raiders of recent vintage. "We have a saying around here," says Mara. "You don't win the Super Bowl in March."
Reese, Coughlin and Mara have the same team-building philosophy as predecessors George Young, Bill Parcells and Wellington Mara a generation ago: get big people up front on both sides of the ball, be able to run the ball late every season when the weather gets dodgy, and find a quarterback whose passes can cut through that weather. And on defense the front seven takes precedence over the secondary, sending waves of rushers at the opposing QB.
The Giants don't ignore free agency to fill those needs. In the six off-seasons since he replaced Ernie Accorsi as G.M., Reese has signed four players to contracts averaging $5 million a year or more: defensive tackle Chris Canty, linebacker Michael Boley, safety Antrel Rolle and center David Baas. All started in the Super Bowl XLVI victory over the Patriots in February. But when New York spends, it's not a knee-jerk reaction for a quick fix or in response to outside pressure; it's to address a long-term need at a position. Canty was the Giants' top-rated free-agent defensive lineman, and Boley the linebacker they wanted in 2009. Rolle was their top-ranked safety in '10, and Baas was the No. 1 center on their board last summer. Those four players were 26, 26, 27 and 29, respectively, when New York signed them. "We don't have a template in how we build here," says Reese. "We use every way."