Lost in the confetti of two super bowl victories in the last 5 years is the slow, quiet death of a Giants tradition I hold closer than no other: Granite tough Linebacking corps.
Worn by my dad at my very first Giants game in 1979, through the last game we attended 30-years hence was the blue No. 10 of Brad Van Pelt- a symbol of strength among years of offensively challenged suffering. Yes, those Giants teams of the late 70’s and early ‘80’s were as forgettable as they come, much before Hall of Fame Bill righted the ship.
But the Linebackers…were the one shining dignified light amongst darkness.
The Billy Taylor Express wasn’t likely to strike fear into the steely hearts of Landry and Vermeil, but they, along with the rest of the NFC East knew they’d leave their annual visit to the North Jersey Swamps wondering what hurts more: the carpet covered stone surface housing Hoffa’s bones or the repeated punches to the grill served cold by Harry Carson, Brad Van Pelt, Lawrence Taylor and Brian Kelley…aka The Crunch Bunch.
It was our one gleaming source of pride on a team otherwise known for their Pro Bowl punter…Dave Jennings. Number 10, 53, 55 and of course 56 represented all that made their fans proud.
That he mantra of all who walked the circular concrete corridors of Giants Stadium on game day. They were a proud symbol fans from the toughest city in the world, and its beleaguered, underdog neighboring state across the river, hung their hats on. The Linebackers.
Then what? LT played out his legendary string. Carl Banks made for a great foil, the Robin to LT’s Batman. Pepper Johnson carried on Carson’s work-pail tradition with quiet ferociousness. Gary Reasons’ unheralded nose-for-the-ball knack changed games.
Big games. Meaningful games. They gave us mettle. In turn, fans packed the house, week after week, beat down after beat down knowing, yeah, Theismann and Riggins walked away with a win. But that walk came with a limp and a fresh batch of bruises and stingers, courtesy of the Crunch Bunch.
Jesse Armstead brought the Dave Brown era a desperately needed injection of athleticism and swagger from “The U.” Antonio Pierce brought a no excuse/no nonsense leadership to a defense that stifled arguably the greatest offense in history in surely the biggest Super Bowl upset ever.
Once again, then what? Where once stood pillars of strength, now sit piles of ground dust. The remains of paper tigers like LaVar Arrington, Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim.
Sure, Chase Blackburn, undrafted out of Akron, hanging around the league on grit, determination, and smarts makes for a compelling underdog story. But what concerns me most about this current incarnation of the Giants is not their repeated second half collapses.
It’s their loss of the true identity of Giants football…and their lack of concern about rectifying this.
This only changes one way, and it starts at linebacker. The very essence of Giants football is on trial. Their Toughness in question. Never, not at 3-12-1…not with Dave Jennings as their ‘star’ did a city, a state or a fan base question the mettle of the men in the trenches.
Now they do. I’m talking to you, Mr. Reese. Where’s the Crunch?
Chris Uhl / Giants Rush Featured Columnist