As soon as Logan Ryan recovered the onside kick to assure the Giants their first win of the season — and the first win of Joe Judge’s career as a head coach — the handshakes and hugs began on the sidelines.
One by one, assistant coaches approached Judge to offer congratulations. Players embraced him and he held them tight, patting them on the helmet and smiling as they parted. In the locker room afterward, upon receiving the game ball from Daniel Jones, down poured the Gatorade, that sweet nectar of celebration offering football’s most joyous moment of accomplishment.
Let the record show that the Giants’ 20-19 win over the Washington Football Team certainly was not the most artful victory by an NFL team. And, had it not been for Washington’s failed attempt at a two-point conversion, the conversation very well could have been the continued handwringing over Jones, who committed another egregious late-game turnover.
But football is a less-than-perfect game, and you earn your good fortune through hard work and sincere conviction.
Thus, the celebration that Judge wishes could have come sooner finally arrived after a five-game losing streak to begin his NFL head coaching tenure.
Not unexpectedly, Judge tried to deflect the attention away from himself and onto his players.
"There’s been a lot of pressure they put on themselves and we put on them," Judge said. "And they’ve been fighting hard for six [regular season] weeks and working through training camp. You just want to make sure you get the results. I’m happy the fans were able to have it. I’m happy the players were able to enjoy it today."
Judge surely enjoyed it, too. As he should. Winning your first game is special, and while he said he won’t really think deeply about it until a long time from now, he did think about his late father. Joseph Judge Sr. was Joe’s CYO coach, with so many lessons learned during their days together in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
"Within a couple of text messages I received when I went to my locker, yes," Judge said when asked if he took a moment to think about his dad. "That’s obviously a big part of a lot of the things I do. The emotion on the sideline was joy for the players. To see them smiling, to see them rewarded for their hard work, that’s what you play for."
It was far from perfect and the Giants were fortunate that linebacker Tae Crowder was in position to scoop up Kyle Allen’s fumble near midfield and race into the end zone for the eventual winning score in the fourth quarter. The Giants also survived a two-point conversion try when Allen failed to complete a desperation pass.
But they got the win and they’re still playing meaningful games in a brutally bad NFC East division in which front-running Dallas has just two victories. A Giants win over the struggling Eagles in Philadelphia on Thursday and who knows what might happen down the road for a team that is not very good but is at least competitive — thanks in large measure to the uncompromising vision of their coach.
"You really want to teach someone," Judge said, "and when you see someone carry out what you teach them and have success with it, that’s really the reward with our profession."
There is little time to dwell on the win with the Eagles’ game looming on a short week.
"Win or lose," Judge said, "there’s good things to highlight and there are things to improve on. Right now, I’m going to look at this tape, make any corrections we need to, and we get to turn the page quickly and get on to Philly."
There will come a time when Judge will reflect more philosophically on what happened Sunday. But that won’t happen until much later. Perhaps even after his coaching career has ended and he understands what kind of impact he has made on the game.
"I’ll sit back some day far in the future and think about internal things," he said. "I don’t think it’s time for that. It’s one game, and we’ve got another one coming up shortly."
What he’s most grateful for is the chance for his players to experience some success amidst an admittedly difficult beginning.
"They haven’t blinked," Judge said. "They show up every Monday and get the correction, and they show up every Wednesday to start on the next opponent, and they’ve done a tremendous job. They work tirelessly. The appreciation we as coaches have for the players’ work is tough to put into words."
He knows he doesn’t have the team to win a championship and knows it will take much more to get where he really wants to go. But for now, he appreciates what he has.
"We’ve got a good group of guys," Judge said. "They’re tough, they’re fun to coach. I’m happy they had success today."
And they’re happy the coach had success.
"It was an exciting moment in the locker room," Jones said. "To get [a win] was thrilling, and coach’s first win, and it was a lot of fun to do that. We were able to give him the game ball and rightfully so, he certainly deserves it."