Joe Judge has made it clear he wants nothing to do with the standings or any potential playoff implications.
"We can’t go ahead and start looking at rankings and division races and all that type of stuff," he said this week. "We just have to focus on getting better each week. That’s what will ultimately help us in the long run."
Twenty years ago this Sunday, a different Giants coach took a decidedly different approach. And to nearly everyone’s surprise, it worked out for him.
On Nov. 22, 2000, Jim Fassel turned an otherwise sleepy Wednesday into the spark that ultimately ignited a run to the Super Bowl when he guaranteed that his team, coming off a 31-21 loss to the Lions and sporting a 7-4 record, would make the playoffs.
"This is a poker game, and I’m shoving my chips to the middle of the table," Fassel told reporters on that day before Thanksgiving. "I’m raising the ante, and anybody who wants in, get in. Anybody who wants out can get out. This team is going to the playoffs, OK? This team is going to the playoffs."
He didn’t stop there. He guaranteed the postseason appearance seven times during the course of the 25-minute news conference, according to Newsday’s coverage of the day by Neil Best.
While the dramatic declaration had its intended effect — the Giants won their final five regular-season games and two in the playoffs before losing to the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV — it was not, at the time, received as the moment it might have been. In fact, many in the building barely noticed it had occurred.
Just a few minutes after his news conference, Fassel barged into a room where general manager Ernie Accorsi and team president John Mara were sitting and trumpeted: "I did it!"
His two bosses had no idea what he was talking about.
"Well, he has the pulse of the team," Accorsi told Newsday after being filled in on what, exactly, Fassel had done. "If he feels that way, that’s great. He would know better than me."
Even the players were confused.
"We were like, ‘What the hell are you talking about, Coach? We’re not that desperate yet,’ " Tiki Barber recalled. "But I think he felt like he was."
Fassel likely would have been fired if the Giants had not made the playoffs, so there really were not a whole lot of chips he was pushing to the middle of the table. He spoke with director of communications Pat Hanlon the night before his news conference and said he would be guaranteeing a playoff berth. Hanlon warned him that he would be putting his job on the line. Fassel knew that was the case no matter what he said or didn’t say.
He wound up coaching another three seasons after that 2000 run. Fassel never won another division title, the Giants appeared in only one more playoff game under him — anyone remember the name Trey Junkin? Can anyone forget it? — and the team went a combined 21-27 in those remaining regular seasons. After they ended 2003 on an eight-game losing streak, Fassel was fired and replaced by Tom Coughlin, who led the team to two Super Bowl titles.
But for two glorious months that began two decades ago, Fassel was able to steer the Giants right where he needed them to go. And right where he unabashedly declared they would go.
"If anyone gets sweaty palms or is nervous, they don’t need to be around here right now, because I love it," he said at that news conference. "I love this. You know what gets me excited? Pressure."