Stirring halftime speech awakens sleeping Giants
Another collapse was com ing for the Giants. Another 30 minutes and another season would likely end in disgrace, failure, sorrow.
And right then and there, inside an angry, prideful halftime locker room, the complexion of a game, of a season, changed.
"Guys are just talking amongst themselves, and you could just hear excuses being made . . . not necessarily bad ones, but just saying like, 'I thought we had this and I thought we had that,' blah, blah, blah," Justin Tuck said after Giants 24, Jaguars 20.
That's when Osi Umenyiora stood up from his chair.
"I'm looking at his face, and I can tell he's about to say something," Tuck said, "and he just burst out and says, 'Man, c'mon guys, we sit here squabbling about this little stuff -- it don't even matter no more. We got a whole 'nother second half to play. And right now, playing like we're playing, we're gonna get ran outta here. We're gonna get embarrassed in our own place.' "
Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars (153 yards) had run the ball down Big Blue's throats in that first half, and the Giants, trailing 17-6, had been booed off the field.
Now Umenyiora sat down and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell began making adjustments, from passive to aggressive.
"Our passion is low," Fewell told Big Blue. "We need to get up and stop feeling sorry for ourselves and take it to this football team 'cause they're taking it to us."
Tuck: "At that point, man, we called it up, and he's still talking a little bit. . . . I just started my speech."
"A halftime speech for the ages," Barry Cofield said. "I was teary-eyed running back on the field."
I said to Tuck: "Give me verbatim as you remember it."
"Oh, you can't hear verbatim," Tuck said. "That's a friendly paper. And what I was saying -- it'd been a lot of bleeps.
"But basically what I said. . . . you know the thing about me, guys know that I love inviting guys to my house. I love cooking dinners for them. If they want to spend a night at my house, it got too late, they don't feel like driving home, I got an extra bedroom, they can sleep in my house. And basically what I said, 'That's only a luxury to my friends. Jacksonville is visitors.
" 'And they came in our house, and they took over. They kicked down our door, they're eating our food, they're sleeping in our bed, they didn't wipe their feet at the mat. They really disrespected us in our own house. And I don't allow that. And you shouldn't either.' That's, like I said, the friendly version. And I really challenged them to come out in this second half and end this here. Because I'm tired of hearing about this up-and-down season. I'm tired of hearing about us getting off to a fast start and not being able to finish."
The locker room was quiet.
"And I heard Brandon [Jacobs] in the background saying, 'Yeah, Tuck!' " Tuck said.
How long did you speak for?
"About two minutes," Tuck said.
And how loud were you?
Is that as loud as you've ever been in a football locker room?
As a Giant, or ever?
Were you louder than John Mara at the end of last season?
"Yeah," and he chuckled.
The Giants finally took the lead when Eli Manning and Kevin Boss combined on a 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown against a blitz with 3:15 remaining.
"It was on our shoulders," Umenyiora said.
Then Jaguars quarterback Garrard, from his 27, drove to the Giants' 29.
"Guys were almost throwing up on the sideline," Tuck said.
The brink of exhaustion; the brink of extinction.
"We were gonna bend but not break," Tuck said.
And so Tuck and Antrel Rolle sacked Garrard back to the 40. Then rookie Jason Pierre-Paul recorded his first sack. Then Terrell Thomas sacked Garrard, who fumbled, and Rolle recovered the fumble. Game over. Season not. Eagles lose to Bears.
I asked Tuck: "Why do you care so much about being a New York Giant?"
"I was basically Wellington Mara's last draft pick. After they drafted me, he walked out of the room, and he went up to his office. . . . It just resonated to me that sometimes you're just destined to be somewhere," Tuck said. "Why was I destined to be here? I don't know, but I'm gonna go wholeheartedly trying to find out what my purpose is for this football team, what my purpose is for this city. And just make sure every time they talk about me, they say that he gave it everything he had. A lot of people forget where they come from [Kellyton, Ala.] when they make it big, and I'm from probably the smallest place in America.
"But it's still home, and I'll love it 'til I die."