John Greco finished his 11th NFL season the way all the others ended: with a meeting.
It’s what football teams do when they wrap up the campaign, whether it be after 17 weeks of the regular season or after winning a Super Bowl.
More often than not, those final gatherings are formality and not formative. Coaches and front-office personnel ramble on about what happened and what will happen next, and the players already are thinking about where they’ll be flying to later in the afternoon to start the offseason.
“Every year, you go to these meetings, and it’s like, ‘Let’s get the hell out of here,’ you know?” Greco said Monday.
But this one?
“It was kind of inspiring,” the Giants guard said with some surprise. “We came out of the meeting and we felt like we really wanted to play again. I can’t wait. Guys want to play another game right away.”
The Giants will have to bottle that feeling for a few months. As they left the locker room Monday in a last-day-of-school frenzy of relief and nostalgia, they reflected on a 5-11 season that somehow felt better than that.
“In the midst of us losing 11 games, it was an extremely fun season,” wide receiver Russell Shepard said. “Nobody felt like this was a losing team from start to finish . . . This was the most fun losing season I’ve ever had.”
What made Monday’s final meeting so impactful was that general manager Dave Gettleman spoke. It was the first time he addressed the team in its entirety since Week 5, before the first road game he attended after his cancer treatments. The only other time he made such a speech was at the start of training camp, when his diagnosis was fresh and he was in the midst of those treatments.
“Just kind of some humor, which is what he’s all about,” Greco said of Gettleman’s speech. “He kind of wrapped it up and did what GMs should do. Just kind of put everything in perspective, assured everyone they would do everything they could to put together a winning roster.”
Ultimately, though, Gettleman laid the fate of the Giants in the laps of the players.
“He just kind of left it to us,” Greco said. “Everybody needs to look themselves in the mirror and do some soul-searching, and this team is going to get better if everybody looks at themselves and does one or two things to make themselves better. Everybody individually doing their part better will make the team better.”
That’s not to say the Giants will return in the same form as they departed. There will be plenty of changes, and maybe even some franchise-altering ones involving the starting quarterback and star receiver, neither of whom spoke to reporters Monday. Giants coach Pat Shurmur publicly has said he would like to have the majority of the players return next season so he can continue building what he started.
“We’ve talked about how one year can connect to the other and we made some progress as a team,” Shurmur said. “We certainly didn’t reach any of our goals in terms of being in the playoffs and competing for a championship, but we’re a different team than this team was a year ago, and that’s a credit to the players . . . We have to get better in all areas, and that’s the process that we now begin.”
So 2018 came to an end for the Giants with three straight losses, the last two by a single point each. Shurmur had wanted the team to win and carry that feeling over into 2019, but maybe this was better. It certainly was more bitter. And if in the coming months it drives the Giants to strive toward what they feel they can become as opposed to believing they already have achieved it, it might be worth it.
“Those are disappointing, I suppose,” left tackle Nate Solder said of the losses, “but then again, that’s life and you grow and you get better and you improve. You move forward.”