Chris Calloway returned from a short shower to find the Death Watch arrayed at his locker. A sweaty, sharp-elbowed herd of reporters, packed into a tight semicircle, was jostling for position, mini-cameras clunking into the heads of writers, radio guys jabbing their microphones through the tangle of bodies. Calloway turned his back and toweled himself dry, dressing so slowly and calmly you’d never have guessed 75 men and women were staring at his bare butt, all silently awaiting the chance to ask the 29-year-old receiver how it felt to fumble away the Giants’ season.
His answers weren’t particularly enlightening – “The ball was wet and it took a funny bounce and I missed it” – but the remarkable thing was that Calloway, both naked and clothed, was unfailingly dignified. So were his teammates. Surliness is routine in pro-sports locker rooms, even under much happier conditions, so the Giants’ gentlemanly behavior in the wake of their shocking, season-aborting loss to Minnesota was amazing and admirable. This season, they not only became a playoff team again but also became a nice team.
Which, down the road, might be their biggest problem. The Giants suffer from badass deficiency. They don’t need anyone choking a reporter, as Lawrence Taylor once did, but they sure could use some of LT’s on-field brutishness. Their failure to put away the Vikings turned partly on bad hands (Tiki Barber’s) and slow feet (Tito Wooten’s), but mostly on a lack of killer instinct. Phil Simms used to seethe in defeat; it’s hard to imagine Danny Kanell, even when he’s finally old enough to shave, expressing anything stronger than the gee-whiz disappointment he displayed last week. And Jessie Armstead’s celebratory kung fu kicks are more comical than threatening.
The Giants are one of the last NFL franchises owned by an actual human being instead of a corporation or a megalomaniac. Wellington Mara’s style is low-key and patrician, and he now has a coach, Jim Fassel, who fits his image of the organization. Fassel screams when necessary, but he often uses New Agey visualization techniques to coax his players. For 1998, Fassel emphasizes adding players of “good character.” Maybe that will keep the Giants from arguing among themselves, as a few players did when the Vikings game grew taut. It might also entail moves like bringing back Kent Graham, a solid citizen but not much of a quarterback. In a sport where character is usually judged by the willingness to rip an opponent’s head off, Fassel’s challenge will be to make the Giants both cleaner and meaner.