Strahan Building His Case For Hall

Neil Best

Newsday columnist Neil Best Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

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After watching Michael Strahan rescue the Giants' season

Sunday with a tackle and two sacks on three consecutive downs, coach Jim Fassel

called them "Hall of Fame-type plays."

The question is, did a Hall of Fame-type player make them?

Short answer: He's getting there.

Week by week, sack by sack, Strahan continues to build his case, and he is

two or three typical seasons from turning it into a slam dunk. His 103.5 sacks

rank 17th since the statistic became official in 1982, he holds the

single-season record with 22.5 and he is headed for his sixth Pro Bowl.

"Another couple of double-digit sack seasons and certainly he's going to

have to be considered," said Vinny DiTrani, a columnist for The Record of

Bergen County, N.J., and a member of the Hall's board of selectors. "The more

you watch him, the more you can see he's a good all-round player who can sack

the quarterback."

As DiTrani has discovered in making the case - thus far unsuccessfully - to

his colleagues for former Giants linebacker Harry Carson, it often takes

watching a player regularly to appreciate him fully. Strahan has the sack

numbers, but his run defense is what sets him apart.

"I think he's in the middle of a Hall of Fame career," Giants general

manager and sports historian Ernie Accorsi said. "Two things I learned early

about great players: Number one, do you game plan against them? And No. 2, can

they beat the double team? I think he does both."

Maybe that was true of Dan Hampton and Elvin Bethea, two recent front four

inductees. But with all due respect to the former Bear and the former Oiler,

Strahan already is their equal, and he still is healthy, productive and only 31

years old.

Carson deserves to get in and probably will, but for now, there is only one

Hall of Fame player since the mid- 1960s who spent most of his career as a

Giant: Lawrence Taylor. So the fact that Strahan seriously can be discussed as

a candidate is an accomplishment in itself.

Strahan said he does not think about Canton. "I have a lot of years of

playing still in me, and when I look at the guys who are in it, they've done a

lot more than me," he said. "I am focused on hopefully winning a championship,

hopefully this year ... If the things that help me be considered for [the Hall]

help the team win, that's what I'm willing to do."

Winning a Super Bowl would help Strahan's candidacy immensely. He's doing

what he can. He is the Giants' best player and has played like it since his toe

injury healed during the bye week. He has seven of his NFC-leading eight sacks

in the four games since then and has led a turnaround on defense.

"Every contract, he has lived up to what you paid him," said Accorsi, who

has signed Strahan to the two most lucrative contracts in team history,

including a seven-year, $46-million deal in 2002. "I'm glad he is on our side."

Yard Marker

Today is the first anniversary of Jim Fassel wresting the offense from

former coordinator Sean Payton, a move made after a 3-4 start that produced

seven offensive touchdowns in seven games. The Giants have 38 offensive

touchdowns since then, 12 this season.

The decision clearly has paid off, but it also has been a burden on

Fassel's time and energy. He has relied heavily on his staff for support before

and during games.

"I know that I have bitten off a lot," he said. "My nature is when things

don't go well, to grab it and take care of it myself ... It probably winds my

clock to be that busy, that involved, that everything."

You can disagree with some of Fassel's decisions in games, but through all

the ups and downs, there is no disputing the improvement on offense during his

seven seasons, fueled by an infusion of talent under Accorsi and Fassel.

The Giants have at least 25 first downs in five straight games for the

first time in their history and are the first team since the Super Bowl

champion 49ers of 1994 to do so. Some perspective: The Giants had at least 25

first downs only five times in 96 games in the six years before Fassel arrived.

This season, they are averaging more passing yards alone (259.7) than they

averaged in total offense (246.4) during Dan Reeves' final season in 1996.

Foot Fault

Kerry Collins long has been prone to throwing off his back foot under

pressure, which much of the time he does not consider a big problem because his

strong arm allows him to deliver from awkward positions. He has cut down on

the tendency in recent seasons and Jim Fassel said there are times it is an

appropriate technique, but not always.

One example: Fassel said Collins failed to set himself on the failed

two-point conversion throw to Ike Hilliard on Sunday. "There is no question the

[pass rush] broke free, but he could have set his back foot and thrown it,"

Fassel said.

Blue Notes

The Giants' victory over the Vikings was their first on the road over an

unbeaten team with at least six victories in 40 years. They upset the 6-0

Browns, 33-6, in Cleveland on Oct. 27, 1963. The Browns finished 10-4, the

Giants 11-3 ... The Raiders' Rich Gannon is expected to sit out Sunday with an

injured shoulder, which would snap his streak of consecutive starts at 71 and

advance Kerry Collins to third on the active quarterbacks list. Collins and the

49ers' Jeff Garcia are to start their 62nd games, behind only Brett Favre

(181) and Peyton Manning (88) ... The Giants this week must decide whether to

open the three-week window during which they can activate receiver Ron Dixon

off the physically unable to perform list. He has had lingering knee problems

since June. They will announce a decision today.

STORY LINES

GREEN DAY

Interleague baseball has made Giants-Jets the rarest of local pro sports

encounters. Sunday will be their fourth regular-season game since 1989 and

first in four years. They won't meet again in a game that counts until 2007

unless in a Super Bowl. Three players - Keith Hamilton, Michael Strahan and

Amani Toomer - remain from 1996, the last time the Giants played a "road" game

in the stadium named for them. Will it be strange? "It's fine it's a Jets

game," Strahan said. "My man's up there doing the 'J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets'

thing. I enjoy it. I come to Jets games when we're not playing. I'm used to the

atmosphere."

GROUND HOGS?

Jim Fassel faces some interesting strategic decisions Sunday. Does he play

to his strength and come out chucking, even if it means risking Kerry Collins'

health behind a still-evolving line and in the face of a Jets' pass rush that

might be strong even without injured end John Abraham? (Collins leads the NFL

in pass attempts at 293 and completions at 170 and is second in yards at

1,882.) Or does Fassel give Tiki Barber and Dorsey Levens a chance to punish

the Jets' notoriously porous run defense? Barber's rushing totals have been in

the modest 70s in four consecutive games. He might be due for a huge afternoon.

GATHERING MOSS

The big decision on defense will be how to match up against the Jets'

receivers, notably speedy Santana Moss. Will the Giants keep having Will Allen

shadow opponents' most dangerous wideouts, as he did with that other Moss in

Minnesota? The Giants were encouraged about their cornerback situation after

the boffo debut of Frank Walker last weekend. Coaches and veterans love the

brash rookie's swagger, which the sixth-round draft pick out of Tuskegee first

flashed in an early September scuffle with star receiver Amani Toomer. "He is

not shy," Jim Fassel said. "He has that arrogant walk to him and I like it."

STAT LINES

NY Is Sack Central

The Jets and Giants rank first and second in sacks, which is particularly

impressive for the Jets because most teams don't throw at them much, preferring

to attack their shaky run defense; the 178 passes thrown against them are the

fewest in the league:

Team Sacks

Jets 26

Giants 24

49ers 22

Patriots 21

Broncos 21

Chiefs 21

Sunday

Giants at Jets

1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 5

Radio: WABC (770), ESPN (1050), WRIV (1390), WFAN (660)

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