Hope. Optimism. Anticipation. Exhilaration. Enthusiasm.
Call it what you want. The first day of football season is one that fans look forward to for months. It’s an exciting day. You watch your team sign big-name free agents. Then, you get all hyped up about the young players that get drafted. Then, you read endless quotes from players and coaches about how much progress is being made, how well-prepared they are, how hard they are working.
You make yourself believe. This is the year that good things are going to happen.
Then, you sit down, maybe with your favorite beverage in hand, to watch the team you are all hyped up about play for the first time in a new season in a game that matters.
For fans of the New York Giants, all of that optimism and happy-talk has, in recent seasons, quickly turned to disappointment or disillusionment. Again, pick your own word.
The Giants have started four straight seasons and seven of the last eight 0-2 or worse.
Even worse, the Giants are 9-23 at MetLife Stadium over the past four seasons. John Mara has had to get used to disgusted fans heading for the exits long before games were officially over, sometimes before the third quarter was over. At least last season, with no fans in the building, Mara didn’t have to watch that as the Giants went 3-5 at home.
Mara did not threaten jobs directly during a training camp press conference, but he might as well have:
“It’s time for us to start winning,” he said bluntly.
Yes, it is.
Which makes the next five days critical for the 2021 Giants. The Giants face the Denver Broncos Sunday and the Washington Football Team Thursday, and five days from now we might know a lot about the direction of the 2021 season and perhaps the future of the franchise.
Head coach Joe Judge is, technically, correct when says that all of that past season-opening and home misery is not “relevant” to the 2021 Giants.
It is relevant, though, to having an edgy owner who has seen too much failure, a distrustful fan base and a media horde waiting to pounce on all of the organization’s recent failings.
Judge is also right, technically, that “the most important thing throughout the season is improving week by week.”
Teams have to get better throughout the year. The absolute most important thing, though, is winning some games. Getting better is nice, but at some point that doesn’t matter if you continue to bury yourself before you have a chance for that improvement to actually mean something.
Nobody wants to hear prized free-agent wide receiver Kenny Golladay talk about being “rusty” or say things like this:
“There’s guys out there the whole training camp. I mean, you never know. We’ve got some vets on this offense that have made a lot of plays in this league, but at the same time as far as all of us playing as one, it’s going to be tough with just a week under our belt.”
Golladay is playing Sunday. What the Giants want, and need, is not an excuse. They need him to go do what they’re paying him to do — rusty or not, make a play or two that helps them win a game.
It will be fantastic to see Saquon Barkley play on Sunday if, as expected, he does. It’s not fair to expect vintage Barkley. Still, something like six carries for 15 yards and post-game chatter about how it was nice to get out there and he will get better isn’t going to cut it. Make a play or two to help the Giants win a game.
Same with first-round pick Kadarius Toney. You got drafted because you were one of the most electric players in college football with the ball in your hands last season. So, go make a couple of plays.
No one wants to hear after the game about how the offensive line competed and the Giants will watch the film, correct the mistakes and they will get better. They want to see holes for running backs and time for Daniel Jones to throw the ball.
Same for Jones. The time is now to be better, not to talk in the post-game about needing to be better.
The Giants have an opportunity Sunday. This will be their first game that counts in front of MetLife Stadium fans since 2019. The Giants are 3-point underdogs, but they are facing a beatable Denver team that went 5-11 a year ago.
“They [fans] buy a ticket and they have the right to be themselves. Coming out there, we’ve got to earn their respect,” Judge told Giants.com. “It’s obviously exciting for us to go out there and play in front of fans. That’s something we’ve missed now for over a year. Obviously, we had a taste of it in preseason. But to go out there in the first week with the stadium truly full with emotion and the adrenaline pumping, that’s something we missed. As coaches and players, that’s something you really work for, your reward is game day.”
Fans’ reward for their money and their loyalty is good football, and the Giants haven’t given them nearly enough of that in recent years.
The Giants have a chance on Sunday to give their fans hope — there is that word again — that things are finally changing. The worst thing that could happen would be for Mara, Judge, and the Giants to watch those fans they so desperately want back in the building trudging disgustedly to the exits long before Sunday’s game is over.
Well, unless the Giants follow that up by going to Washington and losing again on Thursday.