Former F-15 fighter pilot Jim Demarest, a Northport native, is...

Former F-15 fighter pilot Jim Demarest, a Northport native, is now a performance/leadership consultant who has worked with the Giants this season Credit: Handout

When Jim Demarest describes an experience as "awesome'' and "pretty great,'' it carries added weight, given that the guy is a Desert Storm veteran as an Air Force "Top Gun'' fighter pilot.

But that was precisely what he was thinking last Sunday as he shared in the Giants' NFC championship -- a victory in which he played an indirect but important role.

Amid the postgame celebration outside Candlestick Park, defensive backs coach Peter Giunta introduced Demarest to his brother by saying: "This is Boots. He really helped our team get to the Super Bowl.''

Demarest, who got his nickname as a young pilot with an especially well-shined pair of flying boots, said: "It doesn't get much better than that.''

That was true in the professional sense because Demarest and his firm, Afterburner, specialize in team building from the perspective of former military men.

But it also was true at a more personal level. Demarest, 51, grew up in Northport as an avid Giants fan, and when he learned the team had hired Afterburner, he quickly volunteered for the consulting assignment.

"When they said 'NFL,' it piqued my interest,'' he said. "When they said, 'New York Giants,' I said, 'If this comes to fruition, you have to put me on it.' ''

What began as a presentation with Demarest and two colleagues, including a former Navy Seal, during the bye week, led to a daylong visit to the Timex Performance Center by Demarest on Nov. 7.

Since then, he has remained in contact, primarily via email, with Tom Coughlin and other coaches, especially defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, with whom he spoke on the field before last Sunday's game.

Charles Way, the Giants' director of player development, initially invited the firm to speak as part of the NFL player engagement program.

It was a good fit for Coughlin, long an admirer of the military and its personnel, as well as for Demarest, whose imposing resume includes class president at the Air Force Academy, active duty flying F-15s, a Cornell Law School degree and operating a martial arts school near his home in Naples, Fla.

Of the several themes the Afterburner consultants addressed, the one that seemed to resonate most was on the proper approach to "debriefing,'' in the sense of reviewing what went right or wrong.

The trick is to do so in an open, "nameless and rankless'' environment in which anyone can say what is on his mind without fear of consequences. The offense embraced the idea more quickly than the defense, whose meeting, according to Demarest, initially devolved into a "half-free-for-all of finger-pointing.''

But once the notion clicked, it probably benefited the defense most. What had been a unit beset by infighting and miscommunication became more cohesive.

"Nameless and rankless, those are the two words we've taken from the Afterburner presentation to really help our defense over the last two months of the season,'' Fewell said. "Those words enabled us to really understand that we are all human, we all make mistakes and no one on our defense is on a pedestal.

"It's forced us to all be accountable to each other. When we have our debrief sessions after games, our leaders are forced to stand up and take charge of the room to get everyone on the same page and working together.''

Said defensive end Dave Tollefson: "You have to be brutally honest to have everybody on the same page . . . We've been able to take care of some issues defensively. Without question, a detailed breakdown of what went wrong, what went right, 'fessing up to your mistakes, is a big part of it.''

As Demarest was warned from the start, getting and keeping the attention of football players in meeting rooms is an age-old challenge. But fighter pilots and Navy Seals have a better chance than most to engage young athletes.

Safety Deon Grant said: "For them, it's life and death. So hearing them talk about how they can put their pride and feelings to the side and come together was the main key I took from what they tried to teach us.''

Guard Kevin Boothe said pilots and players have in common the need to do things without much time to think. But better to miss a block than a midair maneuver. "It's not winning or losing a football game; you're talking about lives,'' he said.

Some players bought in more than others. But Demarest sensed he gained their trust, assuring them he was not a coaches' spy. "I also introduced myself as a lifelong Giants fan, and they seemed to appreciate that,'' he said.

The Giants arranged for Demarest to be in San Francisco, but as of late this past week, he was unsure how he would get into Lucas Oil Stadium for Super Bowl XLVI.

One way or another, though, he said he will be there to see the journey through, determined to be on hand for what he hopes will be the happiest debriefing of all.

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