The Giants are in the playoffs, which for many of the players is a first. The locker room is filled with young players who have spent the first few seasons of their careers on losing Giants teams, along with free agents who came here from other franchises for which January football typically was a spectator sport.
There are a few veterans, of course, who have won Super Bowls, and a few who have been there and lost. But when it comes to getting to the postseason, no one on the Giants has done it more often than Leon Hall.
The cornerback spent the first nine years of his career with the Bengals and was part of six playoff teams in that time. While that sounds terrific, the fact that Hall has as many playoff wins as the rawest rookies in the locker room chews at him.
“I’ve been there plenty,” he told Newsday. “I’ve won zero. I’m looking for that to change.”
That’s one of the reasons he was excited about signing with the Giants during the summer, he said. The franchise is one that players around the league point to when it comes to giving yourself a shot just by reaching the postseason.
In the 2007 season, the Giants won a championship as a wild card. In 2011, they got in with a win in the final regular-season game, only their ninth victory. Then they won the Super Bowl.
“That’s all you really want is a chance,” Hall said. “You’d love to be a No. 1 seed or a 2 seed, but as long as you get in the dance, the Giants have proved that if you just get in there, you can go to the Super Bowl and win it.”
Even the current Giants who were not part of those runs are well versed in that reputation. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas said it is part of the NFL fabric.
“I feel like since I’ve been little, they always say: ‘Once you get Eli to the playoffs, you can roll them off, he’ll be the Manning that everybody thinks he is,’ ” he said. “That’s our goal now.”
For the Giants (10-5), the postseason usually is an all-or-nothing proposition. In the past 25 years, they have had only four seasons in which they won at least one playoff game. Three of those years landed them in the Super Bowl. Manning is 8-3 in the postseason, with all eight victories coming in two runs.
If they do it again this time, it will be as the No. 5 seed, a position they locked up on Saturday when the Saints beat the Buccaneers. They will play a wild-card playoff game on either Jan. 7 or 8 at any of four possible locations: Green Bay, Detroit, Atlanta or Seattle.
“There is a process in progressing to your ultimate objective,” coach Ben McAdoo said after the Giants clinched their playoff spot. “This is the next step in the process. But each step requires focus on the task at hand, and our focus right now is on learning from Thursday night’s game [a loss to the Eagles] and moving on and getting better. It’s all in front of us, and we are still working toward playing our best, most complete game.”
McAdoo downplayed the significance of just making the playoffs as opposed to the goal of a championship. But Hall said he appreciates making it to the tournament even though he’s heading there for the seventh time in 10 years.
“I think a lot of times when you’re a rookie, sometimes it’s hard for you to realize how hard it is to get in there,” Hall said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be in it a few times. But those years I didn’t get in, it felt terrible . . . It’s a lot harder than you think, whether it’s somebody from the outside or somebody just coming into the league. A lot of people think just because you have a good team, you get in. Like in basketball. I could probably pencil in who’ll be in the [NBA] playoffs right now.”
Football is different. Which is why Hall will take some time to savor going to a postseason game again.
And then he’ll get to work on trying to win one.