Among the first words out of Joe Judge’s mouth during his introductory news conference in January were about his vision for what he wanted his Giants team to become — and why it was so important that they reflect that image for the people who live here.
"We’re going to put a product on the field that the people of this city and region are going to be proud of, because this team will represent this area," Judge said. "We will play fast, we will play downhill, we will play aggressive. We will punch you in the nose for 60 minutes, we will play every play like it has a history and a life of its own, with a relentless, competitive attitude."
There was more.
"I want this team to reflect this area," he said. "I want the people that pay their hard-earned money and the neighborhoods of New York, North Jersey, South Jersey, to come to our games and know that the players on the field play with the same attitude they wake up with every morning. That is blue collar, it’s hard work, it’s in your face. We’re not going to back down to anybody. We’re going to come work every day and grind it out the way they do in their jobs every day."
Ten games into his first season as an NFL head coach, Judge believes fans are starting to see a team in his image. It’s not perfect, not after an 0-5 start and close losses in games against superior opponents they might have won. But it’s there.
It’s there in Daniel Jones’ heartfelt desire and determined effort to overcome the mistakes that have plagued much of this early part of his career. And in Wayne Gallman’s tough inside running as he tries to make up for the loss of Saquon Barkley. In a young offensive line that is beginning to find its rhythm. And in a defense that has played beyond expectations, even if there still is a long way to go.
No, this is not anything close to a complete team. Their 3-7 record might feel a lot different in a division in which the front-runner is 7-3, not 3-5-1. But Giants fans can see it, can feel it. They see a team that tries hard, that fights and scraps the way Judge implores them to — in games and in practice. And Judge can see it and feel it, too.
He doesn’t care about the divisional race, because with six games to play, there is much to be decided and there’s no use looking ahead. But he does care about the product on the field. And about what the people of this area — tough-minded people, just like Judge wants his players to be — think of his team.
"Absolutely," he said when I asked if he believes this team looks like a reflection of himself. "You talk about our team and one word I use all the time is resilient. And when I think about people in this area, blue-collar people work hard every day. It’s obviously a very competitive area to be in. That’s what you have to be up here."
We don’t know what Judge’s tenure with the Giants will amount to in the years ahead, whether he will be a coach good enough to make his team competitive every year or whether he will take this team to a level seen with only two other Giants coaches in the Super Bowl era. But he is a lot like Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin in what he believes it takes to win in the NFL. To win in New York.
"Look, we want our guys to be successful on the field, but it matters how we’re successful," he said. "We want to play with the right attitude. We want to play a tough brand of football. We want to run the ball, stop the run, cover kicks, we want to go out there, we want to play in tough elements and be successful. We’re not going to be a team that makes excuses or comes back and says hey, we had ’em, but this happened instead. That’s not the way we’re made up. That’s not what we’re gonna do."
He won’t get to feel what Giants fans feel as they sit in the stands at MetLife Stadium and cheer on his team. The COVID-19 pandemic means his team will play in an empty stadium until at least next season and he won’t hear them roar the way they surely would have throughout Sunday’s win over the Eagles. But Judge believes they will experience a measure of hope as his team rebounds from a rocky start.
There certainly are no guarantees that the Giants will be good enough to pull off an unlikely divisional title. But as they showed on Sunday, they certainly aren’t counting themselves out.
Never mind about the divisional race, though. Judge said it’s not important right now. Playing the right way is all he cares about. And he’s starting to see definitive signs that is happening — for the fans as much as the players.
"I think we’re getting closer to putting a product on the field that hopefully [fans] can see themselves in and that people are proud to put on those blue caps and T-shirts on Mondays and go to work and celebrate that they root for the Giants," Judge said. "That’s very important to us. We want this team to be about the area, not just the guys in the building."
Still a long way to go and no guarantees they will reach the mountaintop with a Vince Lombardi Trophy. But at least there’s a flicker of hope that hasn’t been there for a long, long time.