In Joe Judge’s mind, he proved just one thing to the world when he took his now famous flop into the mud to cover up a loose football at the end of Giants practice on Tuesday afternoon.
“It means I still got it,” the one-time college football quarterback-slash-special teams ace said with a straight face.
But there was plenty more symbolism in that one image than just being about a closing-in-on-40 guy trying to recapture some glory days. In a training camp that has been defined — by outsiders at least — as rigid and strict and intense, Judge participating in a fumble recovery drill on a soaked patch of turf showed what may be the biggest underlying truth of this summer.
Judge hasn’t even worn a headset in a regular-season game yet, so it’s impossible to tell how good of a head coach he actually will be. But in terms of time and place, he may be the perfect coach for this decidedly imperfect team right now.
Would his lap-running and harsh demands work on a roster filled with proven superstars? Probably not. Could he demand that players buy into his proven system that has won championships in both college and the pros if any sizeable number of them had had even a sniff of success otherwise in the NFL? Doubtful. Would his long-term goals be tolerated with patience by an organization that put itself in the middle of a journey rather than at the cusp of one? Unlikely.
Judge may have found himself rolling in the muck on Tuesday, but it was in an effort toward lifting this franchise out of the mire it has been in for close to a decade.
It’s one of the reasons why general manager Dave Gettleman coined a phrase on Wednesday for this team that is, by all appearances, rallying around its coach and ready to follow him.
“The Fightin’ Joe Judges,” Gettleman said of the Giants players reflecting Judge’s personality.
Judge himself wasn’t amused by that.
“I’m more concerned they represent the area of New York and North Jersey a lot more than just Joe Judge,” he said.
Yet at the same time he seemed to agree with the idea that the qualities he is looking for from his players must come from the top. From … himself.
“We’re going to always push our guys and we’re not going to accept anything less than their best. That’s just the way it’s going to be,” Judge said. “Along with that, there has to be a personal connection. You play a lot harder for someone when you understand that they are a person themselves, they have a life outside the building like you do, and you actually care about him. That’s important to keep in perspective here.”
Which is what led Judge to the mud. The drill began with just rookie players participating. Soon, there were some unexpected attempts from assistant coaches. Finally, with the team chanting his name, the coach stepped up and gave it a whirl. The team went crazy. When the video hit social media on the team’s accounts, everyone else went crazy too.
The drill itself — Judge’s role in it excluded — was the ideal expression of what Judge wants. It was a way to reinforce fundamentals while also making it entertaining, intriguing and engaging.
“This part of camp right here, you have to change it up a little,” he said. “We’re been staring at each other too long. Normally you have preseason games coming up, it gives you a chance to hit somebody else. At this point they all want to hit me, but that’s OK with me. We have to make sure we keep it light sometimes and take time to keep it in perspective.”
Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham suggested the drill while the team was in the middle of practicing on Tuesday. It’s one Graham and Judge and others picked up from their time with the Patriots.
Of course, up in Foxborough, the head coach doesn’t get down and dirty with the players. Judge offered a sound reason why Bill Belichick has never taken his turn on the slip-and-slide.
“He doesn’t have near the ball security technique I do,” Judge said proudly.
That’s not how Judge eventually will be measured up to the greatest coach in NFL history, but for now it’s a start with a rare leg up.