The Giants’ offensive linemen will be busy Thursday playing at Washington, so they’ll get together Friday evening at Justin Pugh’s place for a traditional holiday meal. When you are feeding a voracious group of NFL players, of course, it’s not the normal menu.
Pugh said he has ordered 65 pounds of turkey, “a couple of hams,” and as many trimmings as can fit on the full sheet of plywood he’ll put over his pool table. Between the players, their significant others, and Pugh’s close friends who are also invited, there should be about 35 to 40 people at the celebration.
Think Norman Rockwell combined with Knute Rockne.
“Mine’s going to be the best,” Pugh said of his day-late spread. “For sure.”
It sounds like it will be a very impressive meal. But it won’t be the most important one.
Those happen on a much smaller scale, in the offensive line room at the Giants’ team facility, typically every Wednesday night. That’s when the linemen hold their weekly dinner party, a bonding experience that was absent earlier in the year but has become one of the tangible reasons for the improved play of the unit.
It started after the loss to the Lions in Week 2, when the line was proving its critics right and playing like the worst group in the NFL.
“We knew something had to be changed,” Pugh said. “We hashed out what we thought we had to do to get better and it was a collective effort to do some things.”
One of those was initiating a weekly meal. It’s something the Giants’ offensive linemen did in the halcyon title days of Shaun O’Hara, Chris Snee and David Diehl, but over the years the tradition faded away.
Pugh was one of the players who brought it back.
“Off the field, building that closeness and that chemistry is almost as important as what we do on the field,” Pugh said. “When you go out there and you’re blocking next to a guy and you know his story, you know what he’s been through, what he’s going through currently, you’re playing for your brother at that point rather than just some guy you work with. It becomes a different relationship.”
The meals seem to be working. The Giants are playing well up front. If they post at least 100 rushing yards against Washington Thursday night, they’ll have done so in four straight games for the first time since 2012. They have allowed only seven sacks in the past seven games. Even Ereck Flowers has been drawing attention for his positive play, something that seemed far-fetched at the start of the season.
But does ordering in Chipotle or Italian food or burgers once a week really produce better play?
“I think it’s helped out a lot with the camaraderie,” center Brett Jones said. “Just trying to build the unity between all of us, enjoying each other’s company . . . The communication has definitely improved, and it’s been good.”
The linemen take turns covering the tab for the meal. Pugh went first.
“Money,” he said, rolling his eyes at his healthy fifth-year option for this season.
The bill typically doesn’t get too ridiculous. And the benefits, it seems, are worth it.
“We just talk about things other than football,” Pugh said. “O-line has to have that relationship, and I think us doing some more stuff off the field will help.”