Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
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
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
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."
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.
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,"
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.
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
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.
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."
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:
Giants at Jets
TV: Ch. 5
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