By this time last year, the Super Bowl talk was everywhere. Pick a day, almost any day, around the Giants, and chances are you’d find a player — or even the head coach — talking about making a championship run.
Ben McAdoo wasn’t shy about setting the bar high and expressing publicly how confident he was that the Giants were good enough to win it all. Coming off an 11-5 season and their first playoff berth since the Super Bowl season of 2011, the optimism was overflowing.
And, as it turned out, completely misguided.
The Giants talked a good game in the preseason but were completely overwhelmed from the start and disintegrated by the end of a 3-13 season. Before the second week of December, with the Giants at 2-10, McAdoo was gone along with general manager Jerry Reese, the architect of the team’s two previous Super Bowl runs.
What are we hearing now at Giants camp under first-year coach Pat Shurmur?
You don’t even hear a whisper of a Super Bowl prediction.
Not from the players. And certainly not from the coach.
“I don’t go there,” Shurmur said. “I’m certainly not one to make predictions.”
Shurmur’s mindset is far less braggadocious, and downright boring compared to last year’s daily dose of bravado. He’s not thinking about Atlanta in February, he’s thinking about tomorrow’s practice, and then the day after that.
“I think the important thing for us is to get better every single day, and we need to do whatever we can to beat the opponent we’re playing on the day we play them, period,” Shurmur said. “And then stack it up as you go. We’re not talking about this or that, beating this team or this stretch of games. We’re trying to get better today, and along the way in the preseason point toward playing Jacksonville [in Week 1] and going from there.”
This “one day at a time” mantra certainly doesn’t make for sizzling back-page headlines, but Shurmur isn’t looking to make news with what he says. It’s what the Giants do that counts, so keeping quiet about expectations is entirely in keeping with his approach.
And that’s probably for the best, because history often has been unkind to the loudmouths of the NFL. Rex Ryan and his father, Buddy Ryan, before him could win the news conference any day of the week, but they never won a Super Bowl as head coaches. Same with former Falcons coach Jerry Glanville and other assorted colorful characters who have roamed the sidelines.
Bill Belichick has won five Super Bowls, and he’d rather be almost anywhere besides a news conference. Chuck Noll won four rings with the Steelers and hardly was a compelling speaker. Bill Parcells was a magnetic personality but never antagonized opponents with trash talk. And Tom Coughlin was no public-relations maestro.
It’s too soon to tell whether Shurmur will produce a Super Bowl, but one mistake he won’t make is overinflating his players’ egos with bold predictions.
By all indications, that message is getting through.
“It’s definitely fun to be excited and it’s good for a team to realize their potential and have aspirations to be the best,” tight end Evan Engram said. “But it’s also important to take it day by day and just remain humble, put in the work and let everything else take care of itself. It’s good to have high standards for yourself, but you also have to know it’s a process.’’
The Giants certainly look capable of competing in the NFC East and enjoying the kind of bounce-back season that many last-place teams enjoy the next year. As long as Eli Manning remains functional, hope remains. The defense should be improved under hyperaggressive first-year coordinator James Bettcher.
But as they found out last year, there really are no guarantees. Even when you proclaim you are a playoff team.
“I think what last year shows everybody is that it doesn’t matter what anyone says about you, what the preseason predictions are,” linebacker/special teamer Mark Herzlich said. “You have to go out and perform, and any game can be won and lost by any team.’’
The reminder came with 3-13, which smacked them in the face and resulted in sweeping organizational changes. Shurmur is here because of that debacle, and he understands no good can come from talking a big game.
Confidence is one thing; overconfidence is quite another.
The Giants learned the hard way about the difference between the two.
They won’t make the same mistake again.