Change of plans

It's already been a tumultuous season for Giants kickers and the dearly departed weren't even guilty of blowing an important kick. <BR><BR>

Then again, it's no surprise a team described by its coach as a work in progress would have a roster in flux a few days before its season opener against the Eagles.

It's always been Tom Coughlin's pledge to upgrade the Giants, and more than anything that spelled the premature end of Todd France's stay on the team.

Two days after offering France a spot on the team, Coughlin yanked it away Sept. 7 by signing Steve Christie, a 14-year veteran, who had impressed the coaching staff during a tryout the previous day.

"We've been studying and thinking about this all along," Coughlin said. "We felt the veteran presence was something we needed going to Philadelphia. This is very much a part of the game and people need to be reminded of it."

Christie, whose career began in Tampa Bay in 1990, was released by the Jaguars Sept. 4 after being signed as an insurance policy for rookie kicker Josh Scobee. Christie kicked the last three years for the Chargers after spending the previous 11 seasons in Tampa [1990-91) and Buffalo (1992-2000].

"Almost soon as I got there, he started to kick the way he should and I was no longer needed," Christie said. "So I asked for my release and the Giants called my agent as I was on my way back to Buffalo [where he lives]. It's great. I'm committed to doing the best job possible."

In releasing France, who made four of five field goals during the exhibition season – including kicks from 51 and 42 in Carolina – Coughlin tried to reassure him that what happened wasn't his fault.

"I tried to make him understand what we were doing and that I felt he had a future in this league," Coughlin said. "Just like at quarterback, sometimes it takes a little time to earn your spot in the league. I liked his performance in the preseason and made him understand he is certainly a guy who would be a strong candidate for other clubs because of the amount of time he now has on tape. But Steve has performed in a lot of big games and in cold weather climates. It was the right move to make for the team."

And here's why: Morten Andersen in 2001 was the last Giant kicker to make a 50-yard field goal. Neither Matt Bryant nor Brett Conway even attempted a 50-yard field goal over the last two seasons and neither was strong at kickoffs.

Coughlin believes Christie could be the answer. No, check that. Coughlin demands it.

"He kicked off well [during his tryout Sept. 6]," Coughlin said. "We're not talking about the end zone, but he kicked well with the wind and his work against it was acceptable."

Christie is 15th in league history in scoring. He made two of three from 50 and beyond with the Chargers in 2003 and is 18 of 36 from that distance in his career, including one from 59 in 1993 and a Super Bowl-record 54-yarder for the Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII. In his 213 career games, prior to his debut against the Eagles, Christie had made 314 of 403 kicks and all but five of his 440 conversions.

"Compared to five seasons ago, there probably isn't a lot of difference in my leg strength," Christie said. "Compared to 10 years ago, there likely is. Having to compete for jobs with two teams in obviously very different for me, but all I can do is my best. I feel I have a lot to contribute to a team."

France had been cut the last two seasons by the Vikings without getting a chance to kick in an exhibition game. But he had impressed the Giants with his gumption.

"It's a strange and crazy business we're in," holder Jeff Feagles said. "It's so hard to make it as a young guy. Todd did a tremendous job in the position he was in. You have to make the best of your opportunities and he did that."

Christie is already the fourth kicker Coughlin has processed. He cut Bryant, the team's leading scorer the last two seasons, prior to training camp. He waived Bill Gramatica prior to the final exhibition game.

As for France, more stable days are likely ahead. He reported to Giants camp free of preconceived ideas about what the experience might be like. All he knew was it likely would be his last run at the NFL before pursuing a doctorate in mechanical engineering.

"I didn't see him before he left, but I would have told him to keep his head up and he'll get a shot," Feagles said. "I think how far he made it this time, he was right on the cuff, might be enough to keep him going. He's got to keep going and I think he will."

After expressing happiness with France for most of the preseason, Coughlin was displeased about a 44-yarder he missed in the final tune-up against the Ravens.

"I wasn't too pleased with myself," France said. "In a way, it may have been a good thing. It helped me get used to being booed by the fans and getting ready for the next kick. Every kicker has the same job, make all their field goals, certainly the ones inside the 45. And make sure your kickoffs are deep. Every team is looking to do the same thing."

For one week, Coughlin gave France reason to believe he was the guy for the job.

"From the time he came he's been pretty consistent with his kickoffs and has made improvement in other areas. Let's face it, he has staying power," Coughlin said. "He's been able to grind through things while the others were up and down. I recognize that. He's a pretty solid kid."

France always said he was perfectly willing to ride the bike he took to lunch each day in training camp out of the NFL forever if he didn't make it this season.

"I don't want to be one of those guys who one day discovers he's 31 and all he's ever prepared himself for is kicking a football," France said. "The only question is whether I can do it consistently. And if I can't, I shouldn't be in this league."

If almost making the Giants turns out to be the high point of his career, France likely will not look back.

He'll just ride his bike right onto graduate school.

The Giants Beat Top Stories