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SI Vault provides an inside look at the 'Wilderness Years'

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Swright_mediumIf you're a sports fan and you haven't visited the SI Vault , I would highly recommend that you do so. It's like entering a time warp and taking a fascinating trip through sports history.

I bring this up because I was in the vault recently looking for information on some of the old-time Giants players we have been discussing as we vote on our Big Blue View All-Time Giants Team.

I came across an amazing SI piece by Steve Wright, a defensive lineman who played with the Giants for a brief period during the late 1960s. That is part of the time period we have come to call the 'Wilderness Years,' here at BBV and this article sheds a lot of light on just why the Giants were so bad during those days.

I will be honest. I was a kid during that time period, and I have no recollection of Wright at all. Maybe he was a troublemaker, which is what Giants management seemed to think. He was only with the Giants for 12 games spanning the 1968 and 1969 seasons. Yet, his article -- at times hilarious, at times just plain stupid or sad -- is an amazing look at a franchise that was entirely dysfunctional. It was published, incidentally, in November of 1974.

Here is Wright on the difference between playing in Green Bay, where he started his career, and with the Giants.

I can't think of anybody on the Packers I didn't like. There wasn't anybody you wouldn't have over to your house. If somebody got in trouble, everybody would help. It was, What do you want me to do? You could say, Look, I'm in a spot, could you take care of this for me? And if they couldn't, they knew somebody who could. It would get done.

In New York, forget it. On the Giants, it was I've got this to do and I've got that to do and why don't you call somebody else. There was a general distrust by everybody of everyone else on the team. I'd never seen anything like it. It wasn't at all like the "family" Lombardi taught the Packers to be.

It wasn't any mystery to me why the Giants were losing; I knew what it took to have a winning team. So I tried the best I could to help get the Giants together. You have to do what you think is right. So I tried, and I got suspended.

The club was full of cliques, the most significant being the Tucker Frederick-son clique. Tucker was the great running back. That's all I heard—how Tucker could do this and Tucker could do that, and I haven't seen him do anything yet. For most people, Tucker was easy to like because he was always having parties and it was someplace to go and there were always broads there. Except I'm the kind of guy who asks, What are you doing for the team?

Here is Wright on Wellington Mara, about whom he had nothing nice to say.

As Red Smith said, "Wellington was born naked into the world and had to inherit everything he has," namely, the New York Giants' football team, and he's playing it to the hilt. Who does he think he is? He's never been on a football field except to put on his New York Giant sweat shirt and run around and do 10 sit-ups and go to banquets and say, I'm Wellington Mara of the New York Football Giants, my father was a bookie, that's how I got to be the president of the team.

When he fired Allie Sherman as coach, Wellington told the team, "The reason we're not winning football games is because we have 40 bad football players." Who is this guy to be telling us we're bad football players?

Wellington had the players so uptight they were afraid to relax for fear they might say the wrong thing. One of the first things I was told when I got to the Giants was that if you use a four-letter word and Wellington hears you, you're in trouble. He wanted 40 professional football players to act like a Girl Scout troop.

Here is Wright on the way the Giants organization operated.

It just wasn't a professional operation. Wellington's friends were always around, and so were Wellington's kids. The kids would chase each other and play tag in the locker room the day of the game. A half hour before the game, they'd be chasing each other and throwing chalk back and forth. It was unreal. And at training camp, Wellington would be out there walking around with a little notebook jotting down notes.

It was a frightening atmosphere to be involved in. When we went up to Minnesota for a game I took along a tape recorder. I went to the locker room early to get taped and I set up the recorder and put on some music, just relaxing before the game. But in walked Allie and said, "What are you doing with that?" I said, "I'm listening to the music," which seemed like a reasonable answer. "We didn't come here to listen to music," he said. "Turn that thing off." Nobody had complained about the music. Nobody had protested. But that was life on the Giants. You never knew what you could do or not do until you were told you had done something wrong. Then you were in trouble.

Here is Wright on Rosey Brown, Wright's position coach in New York.

I played four years at Green Bay, where I was taught how to play football by someone I consider the greatest offensive tackle ever, Forrest Gregg. Now Rosey was, to say the least, not the quickest or the most agile of tackles. Strong, yeah, he could take on anybody. He believed in brute strength. I believed in quickness and finesse, because there was no way in the world I was going to take on a guy who weighed 280 and handle him physically. I'll take him out one way or another, but I'm not going to try to outmuscle him because I'd lose. I knew this.

Rosey and I had different philosophies but I tried to play it Rosey's way. One day Allie came up to me and said, "Steve, I'd like to talk to you for a minute." I knew I hadn't been playing good football so I knew what he wanted to talk about. He said, "I don't want you to get excited. I don't want you to get nervous or anything. But if you don't play better football this next game, I'm going to trade you."

Beautiful. No problem, don't worry about it, don't get nervous, but I'll trade you while your name's still good. I'd been around long enough to know I could still play football but I was thinking. What happens if he tells this to a rookie?

I told Rosey that Allie wasn't satisfied with the way I'd been playing, and I wasn't either, and I was going back to playing the way I knew how. Rosey said, "O.K., but just remember one thing. If you get beat playing my way I can stick up for you. If you get beat playing your way, I can't say a word."

It is hard for me to read some of that stuff, particularly the harsh commentary about Mara. However, I have no doubt the Giants were a mess not only on the field, but in the front office and in the locker room in those days.

Perhaps some of you older Giants fans remember Wright. Even if you don't maybe some of you can shed some light on the very negative things he had to say about the franchise.

George? Pot? '57? The floor is yours.