This was only a few minutes before the Giants’ biggest training camp melee in recent memory erupted, before Evan Engram retaliated for a chippy hit by Jabrill Peppers on running back Corey Clement and then Logan Ryan hit Engram from behind to precipitate a fracas that drew every player, including quarterback Daniel Jones, to the middle of the field.
Osi Umenyiora, who has seen his own share of training camp brawls during his illustrious career with the Giants, was talking about how he liked the fight in Joe Judge’s team. How the Giants were taking on Judge’s personality like Umenyiora and his teammates once took on Tom Coughlin’s persona and turned it into Super Bowl championships in 2007 and 2011.
"Watching the team last year, one thing I came away from was they fought to the end," said Umenyiora, who was asked by Judge to address the team after Monday’s practice, alongside former teammates Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka. Umenyiora returned to watch Tuesday's practice. "They played with a lot of heart. They played all the way through. In this day and age, that’s a very difficult thing to do. It’s very easy to stop, to quit nowadays. The fact that they didn’t have it in them [to quit] reminded me of a certain coach we played for."
Umenyiora, of course, was referencing the fight the Giants showed against their opponents last year, not each other, as was the case on Tuesday. But the passion was the same, and that’s why the former pass-rushing star thinks this team has that something special that will eventually lead the Giants back to greatness. Maybe not this year, maybe not even the next couple of years. But he believes it will happen.
And the dynamic of what went on Tuesday only reinforces that belief. It’s not just the intensity of the players, it’s Judge’s furious reaction to what he saw as an unacceptable breach of that passion spilling over into undisciplined play that can cost them games. Judge blew his whistle furiously as the gaggle at midfield grew, with his quarterback in the middle of it and at one point at the bottom of the pile.
And then Judge screamed at them, using as many curse words per capita as Coughlin or Bill Parcells or any other coach from the school of hard knocks. He ordered them to the goal line at the far end of the field, had them do two minutes of gassers, and then had them do 30 pushups. Then more gassers. And more pushups. As the exhausted players gathered around him near the end of their first padded practice of training camp, he excoriated them for their behavior.
What he didn’t do was scold them for their competitiveness.
"The team will take on the personality of the coach, and I feel like we took on the personality of Coughlin," Umenyiora said. "From my understanding of coach Judge, he’s that type of person, and they played that way last year. I told the team if they continue to do that, they’re going to be a really good football team, as long as they have that mentality. They’re definitely in the right hands. How long it’s going to take for them to get back to a Super Bowl, I don’t know. They have that fight that they showed last year. You just don’t see teams fighting like that until the end."
Ryan referenced Umenyiora’s post-practice speech, reminding reporters that the Giants’ championship teams — and the ones Ryan played for in New England under taskmaster Bill Belichick — have a fire that sometimes crosses the line.
"Just like the great defensive linemen and great linebackers and great leaders of the past, you don’t think they had chippiness about them? You don’t think they had griminess about them?" Ryan said. "I’ll take a team like that every day."
But as Judge reminded his players, underscored with an invective laced with curse words, you’re never allowed to hurt your own team by hurting each other.
"We’ve got to control our energy and enthusiasm and our wanting to compete," Jones said. "We’ve got to be able to harness that and make it productive toward what we’re trying to do."
Would he be surprised to see this ever happen again as long as Judge is the coach?
"Yeah, I’d be pretty surprised," he said.
Lesson learned, but passion undiminished.
Umenyiora knows. He hopes this group can transfer that desire into another championship.