Monday, the Giants head coach was presented with … a tiny pewter Great Dane.
Hopefully it wasn’t a harbinger of things to come for the defending Super Bowl champions and their coach, but 2008 is shaping up to be, well, a female dog.
Since 1998, 14 teams made their first Super Bowl appearance in more than five years. Nine missed the playoffs completely. Not a single one made it back to their conference championship. The Giants' last Super Bowl appearance before February’s stunning win over the previously perfect Patriots? 2000.
From starting up an expansion franchise in Jacksonville to resuscitating a Giants team that looked ready to go belly-up at the start of last year, Coughlin’s seen and been through quite a lot in his years as an NFL head coach. But preparing a Super Bowl champ to defend a title that — let’s face it — precious few people saw them winning, presents one of the biggest challenges of his career.
Not that Coughlin wants to go too deeply into that.
“Everybody wants to keep asking (how hard the challenge will be),” Coughlin said after the Giants’ morning practice at SUNY-Albany (home of the Great Danes). “We’re out here like everybody else, starting all over again. I’ve said it many times, this team has done a good job of listening and understanding what the challenge could be, whether it’s the next game or whatever it might be. I have a sense there’s enough pride here that we want to bring all the good into the next season.”
But there are hurdles to deal with as well. The retirement of Michael Strahan, the trading of Jeremy Shockey, the free agent departures of safety Gibril Wilson and Kawika Mitchell will be felt to some degree. Also, the Giants happen to play in the toughest division in the NFC and that’s a chore.
More than anything else, though, is dealing with the sudden success of their playoff run capped by the Super Bowl. The 2001 Patriots — a team the Giants were often compared to last year — missed the playoffs in 2002. Part of the reason? They just weren’t ready in terms of talent and mindset to deal with being the hunted.
How do they deal with that reality?
“We’ve been doing that for years ourselves (gearing up to give the best teams their best shot),” Coughlin explained. “It’s easy for the players to understand it. We’ve taken the pains to do some research and present other circumstances and situations and what was said between players and coaches. They’re very aware.”
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