Plaxico Burress was cornered on the way to his University at Albany home inside Freedom Apartments, training camp still a couple hours away. He took the shade under a Maple tree when someone asked about Tom Coughlin's preference for a "quieter'' Giants team this season.
Burress hesitated. "A quieter year?'' he repeated, carefully absorbing each word as if he were on a witness stand. "I guess we'll see.''
A feint smile formed and Burress said, "He wants a quieter year. Well, we want a lot of things. I guess we'll try to abide by it.''
If anyone were the least bit skeptical that these Giants would play nice off the field for their old-school coach, Burress pretty much squashed the notion before unpacking his bags. He was almost mocking Coughlin, all but coming out and saying, "Yeah right coach, whatever you say.''
And yet Burress' words would become only a side note by day's end, a notebook page buried under the weight of temperamental star Michael Strahan.
Nobody really knew why Strahan decided to stay away from camp, no less provide such late notice. This thing was orchestrated so late, I wouldn't be surprised if Strahan had his Escalade gassed up and the GPS reading "University at Albany.''
Included in that who-knows-why group, it would seem, is Strahan. Not to excuse Strahan for letting down teammates and the organization with such late notice. But the man clearly has a lot on his plate.
He's coming off an ugly divorce that is running $15.3 million plus a tidy $18,000 a month in child support for his twins. He's almost 36 years old trying to regain Pro Bowl form while recovering from a serious mid-foot injury. He's in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career and, at $4 million per, making a portion of opportunistic younger players such as Dwight Freeney.
Strahan's timing was deplorable, no doubt about it. But then, diplomacy isn't always a strength, as ESPN reporter Kelly Naqi would attest after being browbeaten by Strahan during a strange locker room episode last season.
The true champions in this mess are first-year general manager Jerry Reese and president John Mara. They quickly moved on, bringing Simeon Rice in for a visit almost before Strahan had actually spoken to a Giants official. Reese and Mara, meanwhile, fined Strahan 14K a day, not exactly loose change for someone who suddenly could use every penny, and Mara said there would be no new contract.
But that's exactly how the front office had to respond. Any new contract now would basically amount to a lifetime achievement award, and it's not like the Giants haven't padded Strahan's bank account through the years. A player is worth what he can get, and in this case it's $4 million, not a cent more.
On the field, Strahan finally is starting to act his age. Once with Cal Ripken-esque durability – he played every game for eight straight seasons – Strahan has missed a total of 15 regular-season games in two of the past three years. Given his age and recent injuries, Strahan probably isn't even the best defensive end on the team.
That designation would go to Osi Umenyiora, who put his own signature on Coughlin's accelerated EKG a couple days later. Nah, Umenyiora said when asked about the possibility of moving over to left defensive end in place of his buddy, not me. These are the kinds of unselfish moments that must make Giants fans weepy.
But then, it's possible, as Reese said later, that Umenyiora was trying to protect his pal by refusing to ever take his position. Logic indicates that Strahan won't be gone for long. His pride and ego wouldn't seem consistent with a guy who would leave the game one sack shy of setting the franchise record. Strahan and Lawrence Taylor both have 132.5 sacks.
If Strahan hasn't reported to camp by press time, rest assured he will bounce into the state capital by mid-August at the latest. Any longer disappearance than that would mean his heart truly isn't in the game and the Giants are better off without him. What's that they say about players and coaches? If they are talking about retirement, they are retired.
Either way, the Giants already have gained a measure of consistency. That is, they have started the season in the same dysfunctional capacity in which they ended last season. Last year it was Tiki Barber's retirement announcement, his and Jeremy Shockey's criticism of the coaching staff and a slew of injuries.
A pair of cleats had barely touched a field in Albany when another player talked about retirement, two others indirectly dissed the coaching staff (Burress, Umenyiora) and a pair of key players (Jim Finn, Jason Bell) suffered season-ending injuries.
Publicly, players showed their support for Strahan, calling it a business decision and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. What else are they going to say? The last thing any of them want is to get Strahan's ire the way Barber did all those years ago. Privately, teammates can't be thrilled that the strongest voice in the locker room isn't being heard from New Jersey.
The one variable that's being virtually ignored is Strahan's need for work. He needs to be out there testing his body and working into football shape. When someone suggested to Antonio Pierce that Strahan, given his experience and skill level, could afford to show up late, Pierce said tellingly, "I wouldn't say that.''
Pierce has no problem taking on a major leadership role. He might have to expand his wings even greater without Strahan in camp. If and when Strahan returns, you have to wonder the true feelings of his teammates. After all, skipping out on your team just before the start of training camp hardly qualifies as the stuff of leaders.
Strahan Lost Lots of Leadership Luster
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