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Unsung scouts are the stars of NFL Network's 'Finding Giants'

Steve Verderosa, executive scout for the New York

Steve Verderosa, executive scout for the New York Giants, appears in a scene from “Finding Giants,” a series on NFL Network that takes viewers inside the team’s process of scouting players during the 2013 season. The four-part series premieres Sept. 30, 2014. Verderosa graduated from Ward Melville High School. Photo Credit: NFL Network

John Mara sounded alive and well on the phone Monday, so the first question was obvious: Why did a guy who once said the Giants would appear on "Hard Knocks" over his dead body green-light "Finding Giants," a series built on an un-Giants-like level of access, including video and (gasp!) audio from their draft room?

Mara credited the persistence of producer Philip Michelson, who conceived the four-part series that premieres on NFL Network at 9 Tuesday night, and also the warm feelings John's father, the late co-owner Wellington, had for scouts.

"That was a huge part of it," said Mara, the team's president. "His favorite people in the organization were always scouts. He enjoyed spending time with them and being in draft meetings. I think he always considered himself an old-time scout."

The series follows Giants scouts through the yearlong cycle leading up to the 2014 draft as they scour North America in search of talent -- a lonely, often tedious job that inevitably puts strains on families.

But their work is the heartbeat of an organization, especially in the form of late-round picks and undrafted players.

Exhibit A: tight end Larry Donnell, whom the Giants signed as a free agent in March 2012, developed on their practice squad, then scored three touchdowns in the first half in Thursday night's win.

It will take time before we know how many players found on "Finding Giants" pay off, but the series shows intriguing behind-the-scenes moments that set the stage.

We hear team officials drool over wide receiver Odell Beckham's speed at the scouting combine, project Weston Richburg for starting center duty during an all-star game and debate the merits of taking safety Nat Berhe on the final day of the draft.

Be advised, though, nary a negative word is heard about a player the Giants did not select, part of an understanding between team and producers.

"These are young men with their futures ahead of them," Michelson said. "We were not here to denigrate people."

That's OK, because the show is not about players, it is about scouts, and it is an eye-opener. Initially Mara had to convince general manager Jerry Reese it was a good idea, and some scouts initially were wary, too. That did not last long.

"Some of our scouts were pretty enthusiastic," Mara said, laughing. "They think they're going to be up for Emmy Awards . . . They enjoyed it, and it was fun for the rest of us to watch them in that setting and tease them about it."

In one memorable scene, veteran scout Joe Collins takes full advantage of a famously impressive spread of candy in the Elon (N.C.) University press box.

"It really humanizes the NFL and scouts to the rest of the populace," Michelson said. "People think of the NFL as just the players. But the NFL is a business with hundreds of people in support positions."

Michelson's Moondog Films partnered with NFL Films, led by co-producer Jay Jackson. It was the final project approved by the late NFL Films president Steve Sabol.

Michelson, a lifelong Patriots fan, initially pursued the Pats for the project, but did not hear back. So he cold-called Mara and eventually secured his approval. "John Mara in my book is the greatest guy in the NFL," Michelson said, despite the fact that the Giants "recently ripped my heart out twice."

Still, there were negotiations along the way. Mara said Michelson did not get "nearly as much as he wanted."

"We finally were allowed at the 11th hour to use two robotic cameras with no sound [for the draft]," Michelson said. "It was very frustrating. For us, the draft was the real payoff of the show."

After the fourth round, Michelson and Jackson convinced Mara and Reese to allow audio access. Said Mara: "He was very persistent and kept asking for more and more and kind of wore us down a little bit."

The producers sent edited episodes to the Giants for approval. "Ninety-nine percent of what we did they didn't even argue with it," Michelson said. "They made very minor edits."

Mara was pleased with the end product. So was Michelson. "None of these guys felt like they deserved press, so to speak," he said. "But I think they were all happy there was finally a light shined on them."

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