Justin Pugh is entering his fifth season with the Giants.
That may not sound like a long time, but consider the changes that have taken place during his tenure. There’s a new head coach, he’s playing a different position than he was when he started at right tackle as a rookie, and virtually everyone who was in the locker room to greet him in those first days with the team is gone.
Only four current players have been with the Giants longer than Pugh: Eli Manning, Zak DeOssie, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mark Herzlich.
Which makes Pugh not just one of the longest-serving Giants but the longest-serving without a Super Bowl ring. No one on this team has been with the Giants longer without anything to show for it.
“It [stinks] to be me, huh?” Pugh said with a chuckle when told of that status.
There is only one way to change that.
“I want to get one,” he told Newsday this past week. “I want to get my first, get Eli and Zak their third. That’s all I’m focused on this year is getting to the playoffs and then making some noise. We got there last year and now we can build off the success of last year. I think we have the team to do it.”
When Pugh arrived with the Giants, he walked into a room that was filled with players from the Super Bowl XLVI team.
“Everybody had a ring,” he said. “I was the only one without one.”
Now he’s the rule and not the exception.
Part of the reason for that dry spell during Pugh’s time with the team lies in his position among the elder statesmen. He not only is the only remaining member of his 2013 draft class but the only remaining player the Giants acquired in any fashion — draft, free agency, waivers, anything — between the day they won Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis in February 2012 and the start of the 2014 season.
Those dark ages of front-office moves left the Giants with a thin and often uncompetitive roster. Pugh spent the first three years of his career on losing teams before last year’s 11-5 mark got him a winning record for the first time.
Now the roster is replenished.
“I’m loving this team,” Pugh said. “I feel like this is the best team we’ve had on paper. Going out and proving that is the true test. Who cares what you look like on paper, what talent you have on paper? It’s not winning you any games. We have to go out there and execute and get it done now.”
If they do get it done, Pugh could be the link between championships past, present and perhaps future. He could be the bridge from one era to the next.
“I would love to be that guy,” he said. “That’s my biggest goal, which is to just continue to keep the Giants’ tradition. But who knows what’s going to happen. Football is a crazy game, it’s a crazy business.”
Ah, business. Yes. Pugh is in the last year of his rookie contract and due to be a free agent at the end of this season. That should add urgency to his quest to earn a title with the Giants. So much has changed in his time here, it would be a shame if he were to leave without having altered the decor a bit. To have the same number of trophies, the same number of banners, the same number of championship team murals in the building on the day he leaves as there were on the day he arrived likely would be a disappointing way to end things.
Rather than think in those terms, though, Pugh chooses to be more optimistic. Like others, he spends time thinking about how the Giants will arrange their fifth Super Bowl banner in the cavernous fieldhouse. It was a thought Odell Beckham Jr. voiced this past week, but one Pugh has been chewing on since long before then.
“We’ll figure it out,” he said. “I’m hoping that they’ll ask me. Maybe Mr. Mara will be like: ‘Well, where do you think we should hang the banners?’ ”
It’s not outside the realm of possibility. After all, if the Giants do win the Super Bowl this season, no one else will have waited as long as a member of the team to get his first championship.
And it would stop stinking to be him.