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Giants have been bad for a while, but losing is a new experience for first-year coach Joe Judge

Head coach Joe Judge of the Giants looks

Head coach Joe Judge of the Giants looks on in the first half against the San Francisco 49ers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Sep. 27, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Since the Giants fell to 0-3 on Sunday, many fans have become despondent, disinterested and demoralized. There is some consolation for them, though, as they grapple with the foundering state of the franchise.

They should be used to it.

The Giants aren’t among the worst teams in the NFL this season, they have been for quite some time. And whether you are a longtime follower who is having flashbacks to the 1970s or a newcomer to Giants Nation who has been hand-wringing your way through these last few seasons, none of these feelings that come with failure should be especially new.

Joe Judge? That’s a different story.

He’s in his first year with the Giants so he doesn’t have the hands-on experience with losing football that others who have been with the organization longer know all too well. What’s more, he’s not really used to losing anywhere.

"I’ve been on a lot of teams that started out 5-0, 6-0, 7-0, 10-0," he said on Monday.

That was a humble brag to get to this point: Those teams all came in after their wins the same way the Giants are after their loses.

"It’s the same feeling in every building across the league right now," Judge said. "All you are thinking about is things you have to work on, things you have to improve on. It’s not sunshine and rainbows. Mondays are always days that are tough on everybody because all you can think of as a coach is what you can get better at… I look at the film every week the same way, win, lose or whatever in between."

Judge insisted that even when his teams got off to those blistering starts he referenced, the seasons didn’t always end the way they wanted them to.

"We had a lot of years we were the most successful team in the world and it started out really, really rough," Judge said. "Sometimes early on you really get a vision of what you are, your identity, by how you have to correct your mistakes and what you have to learn from."

He said there were plenty of times he would look around the meeting rooms and locker room in the middle of a season and "it’s just doom and gloom."

It’s been a while since he’s had to face this level of those two things, though.

Judge spent the past 11 years with New England and Alabama. In his eight years with the Patriots, his teams averaged 3.75 losses per season. In his three seasons with Alabama, his teams lost four games… total. You have to go back to 2008, when Judge was the linebackers coach in his only year at Birmingham-Southern, his first real job after being a graduate assistant at Mississippi State, to find his last losing record. The Panthers were 3-7 that year.

But unlike these Giants, they did win their first game of the season. That’s the victory that becomes the toughest to get the longer it lingers, the first one.

Only one head coach in Giants history had to wait longer than Judge already has for his first win with the franchise. In 1979 Ray Perkins lost his first five games before finally notching a victory. There are just two other Giants head coaches who, like Judge, lost their first three games on the job: Steve Spagnuolo, who took over as an interim coach late in the 2017 season, and Robert Folwell who led the team in 1925. That was the franchise’s inaugural season. Forget about a rebuild, that was just a build.

Even coaches whose names are synonymous with Giants misery never had to wait as long as Judge is waiting. Bill Arnsparger who started in 1974 and John McVay who replaced him mid-season in 1976 – and is the grandfather of Rams head coach and this week’s opponent Sean McVay – each lost their first two games before winning.

The good news? The Giants have never had a coach who didn’t eventually win a game. And Perkins, who drummed his fingers the longest waiting to break through, is generally credited with recalibrating the direction of the franchise toward its successes and Super Bowls in the 1980s… even if he left before he saw it through. Perkins jumped at the opportunity to replace a legend and his mentor at Alabama which, come to think of it, would not be the most outlandish end to Judge’s Giants career at some point.

For now, though, Judge is looking for W number one with the Giants. Recent history tells us he may have to continue to wait.

The Giants have started 11 other seasons 0-3, and the last two didn’t stop there. In 2017 they lost their first five games and in 2013 they lost their first six. The last time the Giants started a season with three straight losses – and only three straight losses before a win – was 1995. Morbidly curious to hear the record for most losses to start a season in Giants history? It was nine in 1976.

Judge’s Giants aren’t there yet. And everyone associated with the team – other than those who have already invested in a blue Trevor Lawrence jersey -- hopes they never are.

"In the NFL, not a lot of things get easier as the year goes on," Judge said. "We have to improve so as the year goes we can be competitive and put our team on the field with a chance to be successful."

If they can’t for a while? At least Giants fans will have the muscle memory to know how to handle it.

Judge, he’s learning how to handle losing on the job.

Head coach // Losses before 1st W // Year

Ray Perkins // 5 // 1979

Robert Fowell // 3 // 1925

Steve Spagnuolo // 3 // 2017*

Joe Judge // 3(?) // 2020

Bill Arnsparger // 2 // 1974

John McVay // 2 // 1976*

Pat Shurmur // 2 // 2018

*Initially hired midseason as an interim head coach

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