Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden on the sidelines during...

Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden on the sidelines during an NFL game circa mid 1970s. Credit: AP/Mitchell B. Reibel

To most of the current players he was the video game guy. To another generation, including Joe Judge’s, he was the colorful TV commentator. But John Madden, as anyone who has been paying attention over the past day or so has come to understand, was so much more than any of those things.

On Wednesday, a day after his death, Madden was invoked as an inspiration for a Giants team that has already been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention and now must summon the fortitude to play the two games remaining on its schedule.

"One thing John Madden was great about when you really sit back and you listen to some of the things that he said throughout his career was the importance of every game and every opportunity in the National Football League and the value of the opportunity that we have to coach or play in this league," Judge said on Wednesday. "None of that should be taken for granted."

It was part of the message that Judge delivered to the team as they reassembled to begin preparations for the Bears on Sunday.

"I hear people all the time say ‘meaningless games,’ " Judge said. "What is a meaningless game? Everyone here has worked very hard to be in this position, to play or coach in this league. We’re only guaranteed or promised so many games a year. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to go out here and compete. There’s no such thing as a meaningless game. There’s wasted effort, there’s wasted preparation, but there are no meaningless games."

If only that were true for the Giants, who over the past decade have played more than one full season’s worth of contests while having no mathematical opportunity to reach the postseason. Since their Super Bowl win in 2011 there have already been 21 of them, with two more coming this season.

For many on the team, this is an entirely new experience. Safety Logan Ryan is in his ninth NFL season and has never before been eliminated with games remaining on the schedule.

"I’ve never been in this position, fortunately, and I don’t want to be," he said. "I don’t like this position…

It’s been very frustrating and a tough year for all of us."

So how will he handle it?

"There’s only one way to do it," he said. "Regardless of time, score or mathematical playoff implications, you still have to play the game the right way. Hopefully I symbolize that."

For others, though, this is rather routine. Evan Engram was drafted in 2017 and in his five years as a Giant not only has he never made the playoffs, he’s had only one season (last year) in which the Giants were not eliminated with two or more games remaining. By the time this season ends he’ll have been on teams that have played 13 such post-elimination games.

Thirteen in five seasons!

"It just comes down to your perspective on this game," Engram said of dealing with such circumstances. "We have limited number of opportunities to play this game, especially at this level. Do you want to take it for granted or do you want to make the most of it?"

It’s unlikely any of the players were thinking about Madden as they began to make that decision for themselves. He probably wasn’t in their thoughts at all until they heard the news of his passing and then learned more about him from Judge as part of the squad meeting on Wednesday morning.

But Madden does have a place in Giants lore even though he never coached the team. In 2007, after the Giants played the undefeated Patriots toe-to-toe in the final regular season game of the year, Tom Coughlin came into his office the following morning to a voicemail from Madden. The message was one of congratulations for having competed at full capacity despite having already clinched a playoff spot the previous week and with no seeding advantage to be gained or lost by the outcome.

"It’s one of the best things to happen in the NFL in the last 10 years," Madden said of the Giants’ effort. "I believe so firmly in this: There is only one way to play the game. It is a regular-season game and you go out and win the darn game."

That was a different kind of "meaningless" game, of course, but Madden’s words still ring for the Giants.

"The expectations and the competitiveness, that doesn’t change," Judge said. "We’re not negotiating or compromising our standards around here. Every game is important. It’s the National Football League."

The one Madden helped define during his lifetime, and now beyond it as well.

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