Warner leads band of selfless Giants

Kurt Warner went into the Bears game with four touchdown passes, or two fewer than his total two games into his 1999 MVP season. We all know he has changed his game from the risk-taking Rams quarterback to the game-managing Giants signal-caller.

But Warner has done something just as impressively. He's shown an absolute commitment to being a team player.

From all indications, Warner hasn't once grumbled about modest numbers resulting from Tiki Barber's rushing success and the unit's traditional approach. So what, you say? Warner gets paid handsomely to do as he's told with a smile.

True. But remember, Warner isn't only playing for wins. Unless something bizarre happens, Warner's playing for a multi-year contract elsewhere starting next season.

Warner figures things will work themselves out, and he's probably right. Every win helps his stock. But Warner's inherent unselfishness sets a nice tone in the locker room.

Warner has company in the category of company men. Michael Strahan had three sacks and Amani Toomer zero touchdown catches through seven games. Deep down they probably aren't thrilled with the numbers. But they are chasing a greater goal.

"For us to win, everyone has to buy into what Coach is telling us,'' Toomer said. "We don't have much room for selfishness or anything like that.''

You need these kinds of players to be an out-of-nowhere team such as the Giants. These kinds of attitudes, these kinds of sacrifices, have great power in professional sports.

Ask the Detroit Pistons.

Ask the New England Patriots.

Both of them have won championships the old-fashioned way in the past year. In fact New England has won two of the past three Super Bowls with a relatively star-less group focused on team. The Giants are geared the same way.

It sounds especially hokey in today's sports world, where the media is head cheerleader for individualism. We devote so much time to end zone celebrations, to players basking as controversial figures, that we underrate the value of personal sacrifice.

It means Warner may need a superb sales job from his agent this offseason. It means a guy such as Jeremy Shockey being patient - clearly not his strong suit - when he's asked to block and catch 5-yard outs.

"All we talk about is team,'' Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "It is something that you just have to constantly talk about, constantly sell and hope these players will give an example of that more than anything else.''

They have. Credit Coughlin for believing in philosophies that are considered archaic by many. And credit the Giants for tucking aside their egos and employing Coughlin's system. There was a time in sports when players automatically focused on team goals. No more. Now it's something special, and it shows.

Teams can do amazing things when they hold each other accountable, when they remain united through adversity, when they constantly strive for improvement. When winning becomes the only goal.

These are the teams that don't need Shaq and Kobe to win the ultimate prize.

"We have kind of learned to grow together,'' safety Brent Alexander said. "We have faced all our issues together; we have faced all our trials together. We don't point fingers.

"It hasn't been an issue of who is getting interceptions or not. We are getting interceptions.''

Youngsters such as Gibril Wilson have added substance and style. Most of the free-agent additions have fit in nicely. Veterans such as Tiki Barber and Strahan and Toomer have been a steady influence. They have shared a hunger that comes from enduring last year's 4-12 debacle.

"A lot of people remember last year and are still hurting from last year,'' Toomer said. "The eight-game losing streak was brutal. It was brutal to be around here.''

They have bought into Coughlin's program the way the Jets have hung onto Herm Edwards' every word. The Giants have navigated three stages in their road to success. They endured the initial culture shock of Coughlin. They saw what their sweat could produce.

And they became a team.

A true team.

Faster release required: Warner must change one other part of his game for the good of himself and the Giants. He has to get rid of the ball sooner.

Warner's courage is admirable. Not all quarterbacks take the necessary time to let things develop in the secondary. His patience and guts can lead to big rewards.

But they also can lead to team and individual problems. The longer Warner holds the ball the more hits he takes, which both increase the chance of injury and fumbling. It also results in too many sacks.

Warner must find a greater balance among when to throw it away, when to take the sack and when to hold the ball another second. Not every sack is his fault. But he can cut down on them, and other potential problems, with an earlier release.

Poor Shaun: Anybody with a pulse has to feel for strong safety Shaun Williams, out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during practice before game three against the Browns.

Williams not only has had to endure the agony of missing the Giants' coming-out party. But he's had his Giants future placed in doubt because of Wilson's exceptional play.

"A lot of that stuff is out of my control,'' Williams said. "I look at it as, he's making the most out of an opportunity. He's helping the team win. I can't get mad at that.''

Bad call by Coughlin: Coughlin probably has no idea how lucky he was in the Vikings game. He's lucky Barber didn't get hurt while repeatedly carrying the football with the Giants ahead by four touchdowns in the final minutes.

Coughlin figured he had no alternative with Mike Cloud getting nicked up and Barber the only other running back dressed. But with the game out of reach, why not just hand the ball to fullback Jim Finn?

Just imagine the criticism Coughlin would have deservedly received if Barber got injured. Much worse, imagine the Giants without Tiki Barber.

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