Tough Task

Some believe ego is nothing more than the extreme manifestation of confidence, the belief you are capable of great deeds. Autonomously, if need be.

"I'm the straw that stirs the drink," Reggie Jackson once said.

Give the slugger credit. He did mix a nice drink when October rolled around.

Ego in the NFL is best reflected in the "give-me-the-damn-ball" mindset popularized by Keyshawn Johnson. That's essentially responsible for Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson and all the self-importance running post patterns through the league these days.

Apparently, to be the best you have to think you're the best and then tell everybody you are.

Well, here's a big surprise: Tom Coughlin is not crazy about egotists. He considers them polarizing, although one might make the case the Giants coach, with all his regulations and regimentation, may be the most egotistical guy in the Giants organization.

"I don't have a chip on my shoulder," Coughlin contested. "I don't have a big ego. But I do have knowledge of the game and a deep belief in what it takes [to win]. And my door is always open. Come in and sit down. I am there for them in any circumstance on any level, if they need me. But I believe in the chain of command and we all take our marching orders from someone. The players from the head coach, the coach from the general manager and owners."

Make no mistake, he is the boss. And Coughlin's urge to control flows unabated since management also equates discipline and punctuality with success. In his world five minutes early is often five minutes too late. And late is bad.

"There is no agenda," Coughlin said.

But it now appears – ever so subtly – that his approach is being met with a cynical smirk by some of his players who are demanding their skills and personality quirks be accepted and deferred to.

Coughlin clearly can see that many of his stars roll to the beat of their own drum – as opposed to the tick of his clock.

Ego tells them they should be catered to, that when the game is on the line the ball should be in their hands. Reality says this is simply impossible. Coughlin may be omnipresent but he has only one ball to play with. And last year that meant just 1,055 offensive snaps to share the wealth.

"The way the team ultimately meshes won't be a concern for the organization," Tiki Barber said. "We have great personalities, despite the egos on our offense. None of us are jealous types. If one of us has a great play the other will be the first to congratulate them."

If things don't go the way Barber anticipates, the Giants coach will be expected to turn all for one into one for all – and win the Super Bowl while he's at it.

"I think there are plenty of opportunities, plenty of situations that occur," Coughlin said. "I think there is some patience that has to be exhibited by some individuals, particularly on a game-to-game basis. I can remember a couple of years ago having talked to Amani (Toomer) after he came off a game where he had maybe one catch. I asked him not to be frustrated … and the next week he catches five or six balls.

"You just have to keep asserting yourself, keep believing, and know that the bottom line is you've got to appreciate and take great pride and joy in the team. It's about team success, so hopefully that message will be conveyed, and guys will believe in that. I don't worry about that part of it, as long as we have the ability to have people playing at the top of their game and pose that kind of threat to the defense where those individuals have to be defended that there's going to be some opportunities."

But there is more to the equation than that. The modern-day NFL player wants more. He desires a pleasant hello in the morning and a comfortable relaxed workplace. He expects to be able to laugh and joke without it being misconstrued.

"People are who they are," Coughlin said. "I'm just as approachable as anyone else for a good story or a laugh. If it happens, it usually happens spontaneously. I'm no different than anyone else. I want the players to know that I have their best interest at heart and my whole approach is ... to make them individually and collectively the best they can be."

Still, Coughlin is not a fan of standup comedy during practice.

"What you don't want happening is when guys start to have a little fun and coaches say you need to focus," cornerback R.W. McQuarters said. "What happens then is you start to work without a lot of natural enthusiasm. It's a fine line. We come to work every day. We want to be here. So let's try to have fun while we're doing it. Let's get the job done, but let's also try to be focused at the same time."

The independent streak in some of the Giants flared this summer as they prepared to defend their 2005 NFC East championship. Some even started to have a little fun with their coach, whose stoicism exemplifies the mocking acronym – The No Fun League – given the NFL by its critics.

"Guys joke around a lot," offensive tackle Luke Petitgout said. "It's a pretty loose locker room … Arrington has his little Segway. Plax has his four-person golf cart. I don't think you'll see Plax driving on Rt. 80 in New Jersey in it. It's just something to get you through camp, a little fun both of them can have. I know Plax does it to save time. If he can pull up to the door and park you'll save five minutes a day over a month – that's a lot of time and walking you can preserve. They are just different guys who like to do their own thing."

Just not usually on Coughlin's clock?

The Giants may be the most complete team they've been since the Parcells era. It may also be the most top-heavy with personalities who expect the ball – and deferential treatment.

"I don't know what the team is like right now," Toomer said. "There are a number of younger players who still have to develop their personalities. It's during the regular season, when the real bullets start flying, so to speak, that's when the personality of the team develops. You can tell if guys get along, but you can't tell how people will react when adversity hits and you guys [the media] start writing the friendly articles you write."

Coughlin hopes it doesn't take a lot of heavy lifting to keep all his egos unscathed because the 2006 Giants appear to be as potentially temperamental as they are talented.

"If we win games and I don't catch any balls, I'll be happy," Shockey said when asked how he'd control his frustration if things go poorly. "But if we're not winning the game and I can see I can have an opportunity to make a play to help the team win, that's when I get upset. So, everybody that's competitive is going to get mad. Everybody makes a big deal about the way Plaxico acts. Well, he's a competitor.

"Our league is very competitive and I'm a competitor in life, too, not just football, everything I do, so it's just how people are born. So there's one ball to go around, but it's a long game. If we can get a lot of yards and score a lot of points, a lot of touchdowns, we're going to win, too."

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