Rivalries are generally developed with a team's division; sort of a familiarity breeds contempt sort of thing.
But as far as Terrell Thomas and some of the other Giants are concerned, a rivalry exists with the Carolina Panthers. Even as denizens of the NFC South, seeing the Giants only irregularly through the years, the Panthers have managed to get under the Giants' skins. And that is enough for Thomas to consider Sunday's meeting with John Fox' gang even more important than a typical regular-season opener.
"The way the league has set this up for us, what with the history between us, it's kind of a rivalry," the starting cornerback said.
There is a symmetry to the scheduling. The Giants ended their home schedule in last season's fall to 8-8 with an embarrassing 41-9 loss to the Panthers. It marked one of the worst losses in Giants history, not because of the score, but because the Giants still were in position to creep into a playoff spot. Instead, they laid down, allowing Jonathan Stewart to pile up 206 ground yards, the third-highest rushing total any Giants defense ever allowed.
Now, they get to avenge that loss right off the bat. But while they're working at opening the new Meadowlands Stadium with a bang, they might also consider what the Panthers had done to them in previous years. There was that wildcard playoff game in 2005 when the Panthers shut out the Giants 23-0 in Giants Stadium. Linebacker Chase Blackburn broke a vertebrae in his neck in that one. There was that 37-24 loss in Carolina in 2003 that sent Jim Fassel into the sunset, ending a 4-12 campaign.
They've only met five times in the regular season, and the Panthers won three. Not exactly the makings of a heated rivalry, but it's getting there.
Especially the way last season ended.
"The way they did us at the end of last season, nothing against them, but they ran the ball down our mouths," Thomas said. "They just beat us to the ground. They took the physicalness out of us. That's what we're known for, and that's what we're going to come out and show the league that we can be physical."
Keith Bulluck didn't have a great time in his last season in Tennessee last year, either, what with a torn ACL to wind it up. So he knows the feeling the holdover Giants veterans have now.
"They had a pretty rough time of it," Bulluck said. "But we're gonna turn the tables on them."