By Jason Keidel
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Even if you’re not a Big Blue devotee, Sunday had to summon some sense of sadness.
We’re now all engaged in the twin eulogies of our football teams, and the frosty, dark reality that while we usually wrap lights around our trees and towns for a most festive December, we have nothing to celebrate during our most celebratory season. A most frigid winter is coming, a time normally reserved for a red-hot Giants run.
Even if you’re a frothing fan of Philadelphia, Washington or Dallas, or even a Gang Green nut who abhors the Big Brother of MetLife, there’s no joy in jumping on the Giants’ grave.
As a native of the five boroughs or beyond, you must concede that the Giants have given us a reason to watch football after Christmas, even if out of a small sense of provincial pride. The Giants, even indirectly, have made us proud to be New Yorkers.
The hardline, red-faced, angry, avuncular coach who stormed into our town by telling us that injuries were a thing of the mind, his morbid, military ethic as old as the single-wing. But Tom Coughlin was not so ornery or obdurate to resist changing his old-world ethos. He realized he had to relate to his personnel, the newly-minted, more sensitive player who respond as much to the kind word as the whip.
Coughlin mutated into a more approachable boss. And his new penchant for pliability got him and his team two Super Bowl rings. Even as a Steelers fan, I could appreciate a team coalescing when few of us gave it a chance.
In 2006, folks were calling for his vocational head. And then he won a Super Bowl. Then after a year or two, the very fans who adored him now abhorred him. And then he won another Super Bowl.
So over the last two years, when the reflexive, rancorous fans barked for his hide, I resisted the growing chorus to fire the man who gave you, Big Blue fan, just as many rings as his mentor, Bill Parcells had. No one ever called for Tuna’s headset. Yet every time Coughlin lost a few more games than expected, the media and masses developed a savage case of amnesia, all too quick to discount the two trips up the Canyon of Heroes.
But now it’s obvious Tom’s time has come. Too many snapshots of his hands glued to his hips, his apple-red face scowling at Eli and his offense and his defense. Too many montages of the Giants losing games they could not. Too many inexcusable picks, penalties, and performances that belied the coach’s eternal maxims of mistake-free football.
The irony is that the Giants have morphed into the very team Coughlin detests. They are sloppy and stupid. Eli Manning had thrown six interceptions all year, then threw five in four quarters on Sunday.
It’s just not working anymore. And maybe it’s entirely unfair for Coughlin to be partly judged by the needle nudging perilously forward on his age. But you can’t be old and bad, not in a sport that relies so heavily on youth.
With every loss the Giants are being depicted and dissected as a team with a colossal chasm in age. The team gets younger, but Coughlin gets ancient. But even if he were 40 and not 70, the team is not playing like they’re being orchestrated by a man with a neurotic passion for detail.
Coughlin has earned the right to leave with dignity. But leave he must. You don’t fire someone with his resume mid-season. You don’t humiliate a man whose next uniform is a yellow jacket and a bronze bust, whose next away game is in Canton.
But it’s over. Coughlin would be best-served by tendering his resignation at the end of the season. Don’t make Mr. Mara can him in public. Both men are too classy, too cogent, too respected to make a spectacle out of a relationship that has been epic, special, successful, and surreal.
Tom and Eli have peeled themselves from the turf too many times for us to jam the eject button after a single, bad season. But this is now no longer an aberration. It’s a pattern, and a haunting one. You don’t can a quarterback in his prime. But you do put an old man to pasture when it’s time.
There’s no sin in aging. There’s no sin in failure. But the two are too toxic for Coughlin to keep his claws on a job that would suck the soul out of a man half his age. No man knows the meat-hook realities of life in the NFL better than he does, that it’s pro forma in pro football to lose your job when you can’t even contend for the playoffs.
Not only did Coughlin learn his trade from Tuna, but also the zero-sum maxim that you are what your record says you are. Recent history says the Giants are losers. And just as the coach and QB get an inordinate praise when they win, they get inordinate blame when the team tanks.
Coaching in the NFL is equal parts glory and gory. But there’s just too much of the latter to leave Coughlin in charge. And that’s a sad fact — for Coughlin, for the Giants, and for those of us on Tri-State turf who have been privileged to watch a good man who has done a great job lose his job.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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