Sunday, April 30, 2023

Review: Once a Giant (2023)

By Gary Myers

Everyone who cares about sports has that one special team in his or her past. Maybe it was the team that justified the faith of their fans with a championship. Maybe it was an unexpected season that came out of nowhere. Maybe it was a team from the fan's youth that lured him in for a lifetime of rooting for the laundry. 

No matter how objective he had to be as a reporter while covering the 1986 New York Giants, Gary Myers obviously has fond memories about the 1986 New York Giants and their players and coaches. Admittedly, it was the end of a long run of failure for the Giants, who won a title in 1956 and then took a little more than 30 years before duplicating that accomplishment. Even so, it's the personalities that count here.

It was only natural that Myers wanted to revisit that particular group of me. Therefore, "Once a Giant" comes across with a touch of sweetness in terms of nostalgia and in personal relationships. The book also fits in nicely with the "Whatever happened to ..." theme that has been propelling book sales for years. 

Any discussion about that Giants' team must start with its coach. Bill Parcells almost lost his job in the early 1980s, but held on long enough to see the team succeed. He was a big enough personality to keep his band of characters in control and willing to play hard for him. A master manipulator, Parcells' mind games often worked wonders. If he needed a little advice on X's and O's along the way, his top assistant coach was Bill Belichick. As we know now, Belichick eventually went to the New England Patriots ... and certainly is in the discussion as the greatest coach in NFL history. 

Any discussion about the players starts with Lawrence Taylor, the legendary linebacker for the teams of that era. If he's not the greatest defensive player in NFL history, he's in the argument. Taylor did everything hard - partied hard at night, used drugs recklessly, etc. It's hard to know how he good he might have been had he stayed on the straight and narrow - in other words, if he was the football equivalent of Mike Pence. Probably not as well. Somehow, L.T. pulled it off. 

Then there's the quarterback, Phil Simms. His career had some interesting ups and downs, but he was ready to blossom during the mid-1980s. Simms saved the best day of his football life for the biggest day of his life - the Super Bowl in 1987. Simms played an almost perfect game in leading New York to a win over the Denver Broncos. 

There were plenty of other stars here. Mark Bavaro was a tank of a tight end. Harry Carson was a Hall of Famer at linebacker. Running back Joe Morris had the year of his life with 1,516 yards rushing. And so on down the line through the various starters and role players. 

Myers' prior relationships with the principals come in handy here. It's almost as if everyone involved couldn't wait to tell stories about those teams. Yes, there are moments about the games, but there are also stories about the relationships among the team members. There are tales about nights out that ended in the parking lots of Giants Stadium on Saturday mornings as players wanted to make sure they'd make a road trip. It's surprising how honest the players were about that era of their lives.

The author also emphasizes the way that the players stick together, even all these years later. Some of the team leaders check in on the rest of the squad, more than 35 years later. Not surprisingly, many of those players have physical problems that have bothered them for years, and sometimes they need help. Often a teammate or coach has been there to provide. Even Parcells is willing to get his checkbook out when one of the boys needs support.

Myers has been around football for decades, and at times this feels like he's emptying out stuff from his notebooks that has been accumulated over the years. Maybe this could have been slightly more organized, but it might be more fun this way. It's also easy to wonder if other championship teams have maintained similar bonds over the years. It's easy to do that these days, between alumni weekends and autograph shows. 

No matter. There are certainly many fans in the New York City area who will never forget that 1986 Giants team, and will always cherish their memories. "Once a Giant" will offer a chance to feel a flood of emotions about that group's past and present. It ought to be a big, big hit in the New York City area.

Four stars

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