This win means a little more to Mara
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Throughout a week of verbal salvos hurled from one corner of the Jersey suburbs to another, at least one prominent, powerful voice remained adamantly silent.
Giants president John Mara declined all interview requests in advance of the game against the Jets, but anyone who knows him could guess what it meant to him -- not to mention to the future of Tom Coughlin.
After the Giants' 29-14 victory Saturday, I finally got to ask a question with an obvious answer: Did this one mean a little something extra, above and beyond the playoff implications?
"What do you think?" Mara said, standing and beaming in the middle of a euphoric winning locker room.
"Yeah, it does, it does, given everything that was at stake, and given all the noise that's been coming out of Florham Park. Yeah, it means a little more."
There is no guarantee that Coughlin will return as coach if the Giants lose to the Cowboys next Sunday night and miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year in the prime of their franchise quarterback's career.
But let's just say the odds of Coughlin's return were greatly enhanced by the results of Saturday's quadrennial showdown, the first in the teams' co-owned new stadium.
Asked if he was bothered by the Jets' trash talk, led by their head coach, Rex Ryan, Mara smiled and said, "Let's just say I wanted this game."
Mara refused to get drawn into a conversation about Coughlin's job security, not with another big game against another passionate rival ahead.
"Ask me after the season," he said. "If I answer questions like that, it just leads to more speculation, so let's just enjoy the win."
Fair enough. But you could almost feel the warmth emanating from Mara as he spoke about Coughlin and joked about the left leg injury the coach suffered when D.J. Ware slammed into him after a key run.
"I told him it was worth the 9-yard run with him getting knocked down," Mara said. "I'm sorry."
Mara said Coughlin "seems to be at his best when everybody puts his back against the wall." Then again . . . "I wish they'd respond a little sooner than having their backs against the wall."
Someone asked Mara if he was offended that the Jets used black curtains to cover depictions of the Giants' Super Bowl victories on the wall outside their locker room.
He correctly noted that the Jets do that for every home game. He also said, "I was a little surprised to see it today, seeing this is our locker room, but that's what they decided to do."
Mara said he did not feel disrespected by Ryan. "That's just who he is," he said. "I try not to pay a lot of attention to it. It's difficult to ignore sometimes, but I was proud of the way our players kept their emotions under control. I know they were jacked up all week."
Coughlin was about as gushy as he gets, joking about his injury as he mounted the interview podium. "Never better, never better,'' he said, "and thank you very much for asking."
He said he had no plans to have an MRI exam on his leg -- "I'm not going anywhere or checking anything," he said -- and added that his players threw his words back at him, joking, "No toughness, no championship."
Said Coughlin, "Nobody is worried about how fast I am and nobody was ever worried about that, as a matter of fact."
Mara said he never doubted that Coughlin would remain on the sideline, even though the hobbled coach clearly was in pain. "You'd have to kill him to keep him down," he said.
That's not the kind of thing one generally hears from an owner thinking about canning his coach.
Best of all, Coughlin and his players saved Christmas at the Mara home in Westchester County. Mara said his children were "scared to death" of facing him Saturday night if the team lost.
"That's why they took my year-and-a-half-old grandchild to the game, too, figuring I would behave myself if she was in the crowd," he said. Now? "It'll be a happy Christmas."
As happy as he was, Coughlin refused to talk back to the Jets. When asked what kind of statement the Giants made, he said, "We won the game. That's the statement."
But surely there was more to it than a win that kept the team in the playoff race. "It's a win that keeps us in the playoffs," he said.
Well, Mara thought it meant extra to the coach, and so did the players. But even though some of them used postgame interviews to talk back -- notably, and colorfully, running back Brandon Jacobs -- Coughlin essentially stuck to the tone of what he said in response to Ryan on Wednesday:
"Talk is cheap. Play the game."