By Ernie Palladino
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I just happened to be awake enjoying a holiday toddy around midnight when none other than old St. Nick walked through the door. Yes, the door. Big urban myth, that chimney stuff.
Anyway, the portly fellow and I got to talking, and I convinced him to let me have a look in his bag.
Here’s a rundown of what some of our area sports figures found under the tree this morning; that is, if ole Santa didn’t change his mind.
Justin Tuck, that warrior at the end of the Giants’ defensive line, found himself a guarantee for another year in the Meadowlands. Santa has watched the Giants with great interest this year, and he being a huge fan of Big Blue suffered along with the rest of the faithful during that 0-6 start. But through it all, he saw Tuck out there, battling through his aches and pains. Sometimes he was successful, other times not so much. But he was always there, always giving it his best. For that and that alone, Santa brings him back for one more go-around, if only because of his professionalism and his influence on the younger players.
Rex Ryan got his pink slip, but a white one, too, with the name of the next team he’ll lead. Santa used to be a Jets fan, but he packed away his jersey and pom-poms the day Fireman Ed called it quits. He never stopped being a Ryan fan, though, and he fully recognized that coaxing seven wins (so far) out of the bunch that left training camp looking like a four-win squad was nothing short of a Christmas miracle. John Idzik and Woody Johnson put him in an impossible position and he made the best of it. Other teams will recognize that. He gets fired, but it’ll take less time for him to pick up another head-coaching job than it did for twin brother Rob to latch onto the defensive coordinator’s job in New Orleans.
Joe Girardi found a blueprint for an entire farm system under his tree. Santa didn’t even have to put it in a big box. Actually, he stuck it in one of those gift-card tins; just a note he can pass along to Brian Cashman asking him to stop trading off everyone who looks like a real prospect. There’s nothing wrong with pulling in a veteran or two in free agency, but when your entire plan for winning seems to revolve around collecting old, declining stars, there’s something wrong.
Matt Harvey received his present early — a new elbow. Now, Santa wants him to rest up, maybe sit in as an analyst on SNY and get ready for 2015. The way this offseason is stacking up, it’s going to be another “rebuilding” year, which makes Santa as unhappy as a Republican the night Bill DeBlasio won.
Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson found a secondary under their trees. The Jets’ defensive linemen did fantastic work all year heading up what is fast becoming one of the most fearsome front sevens in football. Now, if Santa can just get Dee Milliner to turn into something that looks like a first-round pick and entice Idzik to add some depth back there, maybe all that good work up front won’t be wasted by an offense that can’t score.
Santa wanted to give Curtis Granderson a revised layout of the Citi Field outfield, but he knows the Mets won’t move in the fences. So instead, he gave the Grand Man just a smidge more power so those shots that went out in Yankee Stadium won’t die on the warning track in the pitcher’s park in Flushing.
Eli Manning received Santa’s blessing for handing out all those footballs to deprived defenses around the league. Hey, those guys gotta eat too, ya know.
And speaking of giving, Tom Coughlin found an extra super blessing, not because of how he handled the Giants’ first losing season since his first year in 2004, but because of the many good things he does outside the world of X’s and O’s. We’re talking about the Jay Fund, and the families of children with cancer it helps. Nobody, but nobody, takes winning and losing more seriously than Coughlin, and nobody takes the negative harder. But likewise, nobody knows better that we’re all here for a bigger purpose than games. As long as people like Coughlin and others like him continue to do that job, Santa is a happy man.
As for the rest of us who watch our favorite players, judge our local coaches and cheer our cherished colors, Santa sent us good wishes for a successful sporting year in 2014. He had intended to give us one this year, but the elves misplaced it under a pile of iPads.
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