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Out of the Blue

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Harmon rests her left hand on the gleaming-white tablecloth, the perfect backdrop for the gargantuan 7 and 1/2-carat-diamond engagement ring Sehorn surprised her with during a taping of the Tonight Show last March. Tonight, Broadway Jason is basking in the love not just of Harmon but of an entire metropolitan region that hasn't had this sexy a football hero since 1977, when Joe Namath hobbled off to Los Angeles for a last, sad fling with the Rams. "I play a game for a living," Sehorn says. "I'm paid millions to do it. I'm going to marry a great woman. Who's got it better than me?"

Lately it seems like Sehorn unleashes a spectacular physical feat every week. Before shackling the quicksilver Randy Moss this afternoon, Sehorn had recovered two onside kicks in a single game -- sprinting 38 yards with one of them for the game-winning touchdown. Then there was Sehorn's all-time-highlight-reel moment, against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Giants' first playoff win. First he dove to his left to break up a pass; then, his back on the ground, he tapped the ball high in the air; then, seemingly all in one motion that combined ballet and volleyball and happened in less time than it takes to read this sentence, he scrambled to his feet, caught the ball, and dashed 32 yards into the end zone. So stunning was Sehorn's feat that the Giants Stadium press box erupted in gasps and applause -- a serious violation of sportswriter etiquette.

"Jason is destined to be in the limelight," Accorsi says. "As Wellington Mara says in such a classic way, dating himself a little bit, 'Jason likes the café society.' He's a remarkable athlete, and he's got that flair for the stage. The bigger the game, the bigger the play. Jason will do something in the Super Bowl. Just watch."

Part of why Sehorn is in such a joyous mood tonight is that he's still within first-down yardage of pain and disaster. His 1999 season ended with a broken leg. He missed all of the 1998 season with a blown-out knee, an injury that nearly halted his career. And oh, yeah -- at about the same time he was entering a protracted rehab, Sehorn's first marriage collapsed after nine months.

"It was a good experience for me, that injury, though I could have done without the six-inch scar," Sehorn says. "I learned a lot about people. I learned how much simple health is taken for granted. I couldn't walk my dog -- I said, 'Killer, go out and do your thing,' and opened the door. I learned a lot of patience, and I'm not a patient person. And I've learned about the things in life you can't control, and I love to control everything."

After a game last season, Sehorn's mother was waiting for her son beneath Giants Stadium. She noticed Angie Harmon hanging out with a girlfriend. Sehorn glanced at Harmon on his way to the parking lot and kept walking, preoccupied with his sore leg. His mother stopped, went over to Harmon, and insisted on introducing the pair.

Restoring Sehorn's relationship with his teammates took some similar nudging. He went into seclusion after his 1998 knee injury, and now says it was a mistake. "I realized one thing over the past three years, as difficult as they've been," Sehorn says. "And that is, what's best for Jason Sehorn isn't necessarily what's best for the Giants. When I tore my ACL, I felt what was best for my knee rehab was to go to California, work out, and get myself healthy with the people I know and trust. But that wasn't best for the team. It built no camaraderie. It built no accountability, and there was no togetherness. Coach Fassel has been trying to do something for the good of all of us, bringing us together off the field. He's not trying to be your father. He's not telling you this is what you have to do. He's asking you, 'Let's do this as a team.' And it's worked out. Every move that man's made in the past year has paid off. But the biggest is that we're unified in a way we never were before."

Way back on November 22, Giants head coach Jim Fassel, his job in peril after a loss at home to woeful Detroit, issued a public guarantee that the Giants would gain a playoff berth. The 51-year-old was greeted with tabloid and talk-radio hoots of derision. Seven straight wins and a Super Bowl berth later, space is being cleared between Vince Lombardi and Knute Rockne on the motivational Mount Rushmore for a bust of Fassel.

"It freed us to just play football," Sehorn says. "It was brilliant because it put the spotlight on Coach Fassel for two weeks and took it off us. But what people have missed is that at the same time, there was a whole edict from Coach Fassel to the players about talking to the media that was, 'Be concerned with yourself. When they talk to you, talk about yourself. Don't talk about your teammate and what he should be doing, or what he could be doing.' "

Fassel admits he banned newspapers from the locker room as a symbolic way to focus the team on itself and not outside opinion, but he claims his press-conference words were largely spontaneous. "I didn't do the guarantee for any specific reason," he says. "That was in my gut. I was angry. I didn't want my team walking around feeling like we're second-class citizens. It was, 'Take a tough stance, and don't be afraid to let the world know what you're thinking.' I was proud of my guys. I felt like we were going to the playoffs, so the hell with it, here we go."

The emotional makeover of the Giants actually began in a far more somber, private moment. In November 1999, Fassel's mother died after a prolonged, painful battle with cancer. Fassel took two days off in midseason to attend her funeral, an absence that in the control-freak, tunnel-vision world of NFL head coaches is about as rare as an expertise in classical violin. While Fassel was grieving in California, Micheal Strahan, the Giants' ferocious 29-year-old all-star defensive tackle and one of the team's primary veteran leaders, popped off in the papers about his anger at the team's lack of direction. Fassel learned of this challenge to his manhood just before he boarded a flight back to New York with his distraught family. He spent five hours in the air alternating between memories of his mom and strategies to reclaim his authority in the locker room.


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