Think of it as a homage. A tip of the hat to all of the bad, unwatchable football played in the early years at Giants Stadium. A nod to Joe Pisarcik and Flipper Anderson and all the other moments that caused heartbreak and heartburn.
The Giants went old-school awful in their finale in the swamp, leaving its turf to a cascade of boos from the few thousand fans who stuck around for the final countdown.
"They were showing all those highlights and memories of LT and Simms, everybody who played here," Justin Tuck said after yesterday's 41-9 loss to the Panthers. "To have yourself be the team that gets booed off in the last game at Giants Stadium, I don't think you're going to get anybody who wants that."
The Giants didn't play as if they wanted anything. Not a proper send-off for their home for the past 34 seasons. Not a chance to stay in the playoff hunt. Not a desire to tackle the Panthers, who ran for 247 yards with their leading rusher, DeAngelo Williams, on the sideline.
Tuck noted he has been with the Giants for the "highest of the highs," a reference to the Super Bowl win. "From my vantage point," he said, "this is the lowest I've been in a Giants uniform."
The loss itself did not eliminate the Giants (8-7) from playoff contention. They had to wait until later last night, when the Cowboys beat the Redskins, to have their hope extinguished. The Cowboys and Packers clinched NFC playoff spots with their wins and the Giants' loss.
The Giants made the playoffs the previous four seasons. The prospect of not making it this year seemed like an unlikely nightmare when training camp began, even more so when they were 5-0. But they have not won consecutive games since then.
Tom Coughlin said he even showed the team a chart Saturday night illustrating how they often played flat after their best performances this season.
"That is not how good football teams operate," he said.
Even though they still had a faint postseason pulse late Sunday afternoon, the Giants weren't in a position to be focusing on positives. "It was an opportunity that we had and we didn't take advantage of it," Chris Canty said, refusing to acknowledge the hope. "Right now, everyone is just shocked."
The game's start was promising for the Giants, who went on a seven-minute drive. But after a 26-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith was negated by a holding penalty against Madison Hedgecock, Mario Manningham caught a third-and-14 slant for 16 yards to the 14 but fumbled it away to the Panthers. Suddenly, all of the Giants' intensity and heart seemed to leak out and puddle up at their feet.
"It shouldn't have been [demoralizing], but it was," Brandon Jacobs said. "We never overcame it and the game just went downhill from there."
The Panthers (7-8) scored a field goal off that turnover and went up 10-0 on a 29-yard run by Jonathan Stewart (206 yards on 28 carries) early in the second quarter. Stewart started running left and cut back to the right, where overpursuing linebackers should have been able to stop him. Instead, he had a clear path to the end zone.
The bumbling continued from there for the Giants. Two touchdowns in about three minutes of play made it 24-0 at halftime, and Carolina scored on the first drive of the third quarter. Matt Moore hit Steve Smith on a post at the 5 and safety Michael Johnson hit Smith hard, but it was Johnson who bounced off. Smith - who suffered a broken left arm on the hit - walked in for a 27-yard TD and a 31-0 lead.
Even when the Giants did something well, it was sullied. Eli Manning hit Steve Smith for the Giants' only touchdown early in the fourth, but the two-point conversion pass failed. Later, on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Manning threw to a wide-open Hedgecock. The ball bounced off his hands.
Kevin Boss called it the most disappointing game he'd ever been a part of. "Peewee, middle school, high school, ever," he said. "We've been blown out before, but not in a situation like this. It's an understatement saying this is disappointing. We had everything to play for."
It was the stakes that made the way the Giants played so shocking. "I wasn't prepared for it," Coughlin said of the performance. "I'm at a loss for words."
Coughlin did note that the Giants have one more game to "regain some kind of respect for the way the game is to be played."
As for the way it was played at Giants Stadium yesterday, that disrespect and disappointment will be forever unchanged and embedded in history.