For Fassel, an emotional return to Giants Stadium

OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens senior consultant Jim Fassel still drives by Giants Stadium all the time because he maintains a New Jersey address.<br><br> The Ravens' preseason finale against the New York Giants on Thursday night will mark Fassel's first visit inside the stadium since being fired as Giants head coach after losing his last eight games in a 4-12 campaign last season.

It figures to be an emotional return to the Meadowlands for Fassel, who led the Giants to a Super Bowl in 2000 when they lost to the Ravens and is now on the opponents' sideline.

"Every time I go by there, it's not like it doesn't hit me, but it's gotten easier," said Fassel, who celebrated his 55th birthday Tuesday. "I think there will be emotions. I've thought about it, and you get yourself ready for it. Being in the preseason lightens the load a little bit."

Fassel, who's likely to be a top head-coaching candidate after this season, maintains strong ties with the Giants, particularly the owners.

"I think the world of Wellington Mara," Fassel said. "John Mara is one of my best friends. I think a lot about Bob Tisch and what he's going through."

Tisch, a co-owner of the Giants since 1991, has been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.

"I talked to Bob on the telephone a couple of weeks ago and my prayers are with him," Fassel said.

Fassel will be on the field during the first half before adjourning to the press box after halftime. He declined to comment on the Giants' current activities under new coach Tom Coughlin.

Fassel is expecting a series of warm greetings after 58 victories, two NFC East titles, a conference championship and a wild-card berth in a head-coaching stint that began in 1997.

"You have a lot of fond memories, a lot of camaraderie with those guys," said Fassel, who commutes to the Ravens' training complex from his home in the New Jersey suburbs several days a week. "It just doesn't disappear. I don't leave there with bad feelings. I really don't."

RETURN GAME UPDATE: Undrafted rookie B.J. Sams has one more final exam to pass in his bid to officially unseat incumbent return specialist Lamont Brightful.

After an impressive debut against the Detroit Lions that included an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown that was negated by a penalty, Sams will return both punts and kickoffs against the Giants.

"I'm still trying out for the team," Sams said. "I'll know for sure after Thursday night, but I'm feeling really good about everything that's happening."

TRAINING ROOM: Linebacker Ed Hartwell aggravated a strained quadriceps and didn't practice.

Wide receiver Travis Taylor (groin) returned to practice along with cornerback Corey Fuller (bruised lower leg) and fullback Ovie Mughelli (hamstring, sprained knee).

Rookie wideout Devard Darling remains out after aggravating his quadriceps during pregame warmups Saturday. Cornerback Javin Hunter (strained abductor) was limited.

Defensive ends Tony Weaver (high ankle sprain) and Marques Douglas (elbow) have been cleared by doctors, but won't play against New York. They are expected to be available for the regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns.

The rest of the injured list includes: quarterback Anthony Wright (shoulder), linebacker Peter Boulware (knee), tight end Todd Heap (bruised shoulder) and center Mike Flynn (broken collarbone).

Cornerback Fred Weary (quadriceps), return specialist Derek Abney (shoulder), tight end Trent Smith (leg) and defensive tackle Matt Zielinski are on injured reserve.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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