A Post-Thanksgiving Toast to Big Blue

The glass is half full today. Check that, let's make the glass bubbling over with fullness. Only days removed from the holiday of thanks, let's pause to consider our fortunes as Giants fans and followers.

There is a whole lot to be satisfied about these days. And yes, I realize I'm taking a calculated risk with my optimism, as the Giants still show signs that they can dip into the league's crowded cast of mediocre teams at any moment.

But we must assume the Giants are a playoff team, for each week they can be trusted to provide focus and effort and heart, a combination that usually nets results.

The Giants have shown their warts. They have lost the three toughest games on their schedule, two to Dallas, one to Green Bay. They still have a heck of a time putting away teams, namely Miami and Detroit, and once more they've become vulnerable to injuries.

But the Giants deserve a humble, gracious thank you from the masses. And if we don't fully appreciate their 2007 season to date, we should.

We should appreciate the coach, Tom Coughlin, for looking within and changing the flaws in his game. For those who lobbied for Coughlin's departure following the 2006 season, and I was one, we should remember the cast of veteran coaches who have struggled to adapt. Washington's Joe Gibbs comes to mind. So does San Diego's Norv Turner, who has managed to turn a 14-2 team into a .500 squad lacking consistency and cohesion.

There are a bunch of younger coaches who serve as reminders to the difficulty in winning on a consistent basis. We need only look at the Giants Stadium co-tenant, the Jets, and coach Eric Mangini, who only months ago had gained boy wonder status among fans and the media. Now he's struggling to keep from an embarrassing season brought on by eight losses in the team's first nine games.

We should appreciate the quarterback, Eli Manning, for being himself when it seems everyone wants him to be something else. We want him to be Peyton. Or we want him to be a hell-raising leader like Brett Favre. Or we want him to be a polished player in his third full season at the toughest position in sports.

Eli Manning is none of these things. But he is a borderline top-10 quarterback, someone at least 25 organizations would want guiding their future. And like Coughlin, maybe we need to compare Eli to the rest of the league's quarterbacks to fully appreciate his skills.

We should appreciate the general manager, Jerry Reese, who made a bold statement soon after taking the job. He released Luke Petitgout, LaVar Arrington and Carlos Emmons – and that was just on one February day this past offseason.

He passed on a big-name linebacker in the draft and announced that the team had plenty of linebackers. Mathias Kiwanuka, the defensive end from the previous draft, was being moved to linebacker. Then we wondered if Reese and the Giants had completely lost their minds when Kiwanuka started slowly and the defense allowed a combined 80 points in the first two games.

Reese passed on a big-name left tackle in free agency and in the draft. "We have a left tackle with experience,'' he shrugged. And we replied yeah, but he's started only two games his entire career at left tackle.

So we should appreciate the starting left tackle, David Diehl, and the strongside linebacker, Kiwanuka. Diehl went out and proved he was more than capable of protecting Eli's blind side. And Kiwanuka, before his season-ending injury against Detroit, had become a key cog in the team's rejuvenated play on defense.

But we should especially appreciate Reese, who also chose a cornerback in the first round named Aaron Ross, who is going to play in a few Pro Bowls before he's done. Reese uncovered a few more gems in the draft, including a safety in the seventh round named Michael Johnson, who also has shown the ability to be a starter for years to come.

If that's not all, Reese traded underwhelming receiver Tim Carter for veteran back Reuben Droughns. With injuries to Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, Droughns suddenly is playing a vital role in the team's running game.

We should appreciate Chris Snee, who has the perfect temperament to handle the dual responsibility of starting at guard and carrying the burden as Coughlin's son-in-law.

We should appreciate Plaxico Burress, who has matured while having a splendid season on one good ankle.

We should appreciate Amani Toomer, whose season-ending injury last year reminded us of his value in the Giants' pass attack.

We should appreciate Osi Umenyiora, one of the best young players in the league.

We should appreciate Michael Strahan, if not for his training-camp stance than his on-field play and leadership skills that still resonate through the locker room.

We should appreciate Antonio Pierce for his hard-nosed style and ability to pick up the leadership load in Strahan's absence.

We should appreciate Justin Tuck, a fine spokesman after games, win or lose, and a blossoming talent who endured injuries his first two seasons.

We should appreciate cornerback Sam Madison, another veteran leader who has turned in a good season after a shaky Giants debut in 2006.

The Giants certainly aren't the prettiest looking team around. But they are a beautiful surprise to the many folks who had them penciled in at 6-10. They are on the verge of making the playoffs for the third straight season, which in today's flavor-of-the-week NFL constitutes an impressive feat.

So here's a post-Thanksgiving toast to Big Blue, the best team in New York, and when it comes right down to it, one of the best teams in the NFL, warts and all.

Kevin Gleason covers the Giants for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y.


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