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Giants arrive in Los Angeles far from Super Bowl memories they created there

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Giants arrive in Los Angeles far from Super Bowl memories they created there

On the subject of the Giants: What is there to say about a 4-8 team that counts Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm as its best available options at quarterback? Giants fans are suffering again, and after a brutal decade, the older ones surely are being reminded of the franchise’s 17-year run of playoff-free football that brought the paying customers to the brink of mutiny. 

“It’s not all that different, to be honest with you,” co-owner John Mara confessed last spring, before even knowing what the first dozen games of this season would look like. Mara was right there with his old man Wellington through the darkest days, from 1964 through 1980. 

“I’ve said things in the past like, ‘I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again,’ yet here we are,” Mara said nine months ago, “four losing seasons in a row, we haven’t won a playoff game since Super Bowl XLVI.” 

Four losing seasons in a row will now almost certainly become five, and Giants fans need the kind of break from the misery that their team just took in Tucson, Ariz., before arriving in the Los Angeles area, where the Giants landed 35 years ago next month to end their 30-year championship drought. The fans need something more than an assurance that general manager Dave Gettleman won’t be returning next year to temporarily forget about Daniel Jones’ injury, the ungodly mess that is the offensive line and Saquon Barkley’s failure to honor the terms of his employment as a No. 2-overall draft pick. 

They need an extended reminder of that glorious, sunshiny day in Pasadena, when in the middle of winter, the Giants became the boys of summer. That day — Jan. 25, 1987 — altered everything about the franchise and started notarizing the legacies of three of the greatest defensive forces the sport has seen: Lawrence Taylor, Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells. 

Giants
Bill Parcells celebrates the Giants’ 1987 Super Bowl win.
AP

For starters, after shutting out Washington amid 35-mph Meadowlands winds for the NFC title, the Giants desperately wanted to escape the North Jersey climate for that of Southern California. Just feeling the California sun on their bones, quarterback Phil Simms said, was “a tremendous psychological lift.” 

Speaking of lifts, those Giants’ defensive coordinator, Belichick, was given one off the Giants Stadium field after his unit forced Washington to go 0-for-18 on third and fourth downs with the bid to Super Bowl XXI on the line. Once mocked and completely disrespected by Giants veterans who saw him as a nerd who hadn’t earned his place in the league, Belichick, then 34, was wearing a hoodie beneath his red Giants jacket when he was carried on the shoulder pads of the Parcells players who now saw Little Bill as irreplaceable. The New York Times ran a photo of the scene on its front page. 

Though the boyish-looking Belichick had arrived, Taylor didn’t much care. He wore sunglasses and a cap pulled over his eyes during Super Bowl-week meetings while the coordinator droned on about Broncos quarterback John Elway’s strengths and weaknesses. After LT twice failed to respond to Belichick’s instructions in one session, Little Bill walked over to the motionless linebacker, removed his glasses and found him sound asleep. He didn’t do anything about it, of course. 

“Bill was standing on a long line of individuals who gave that broad latitude to Lawrence,” defensive end George Martin said. 

Parcells was also on that line. The NFL had never seen an explosive defender the likes of LT, and the head coach wasn’t about to derail that train with an unnecessary application of some unnecessary team rule. 

Plenty of Giants struggled to sleep the night before the big game. Simms got three hours’ worth, tops, before taking an early cab to the Rose Bowl with offensive linemen Brad Benson and Chris Godfrey. 

During warm-ups, Simms was thrilled that the ball didn’t feel like an NFC East ball (cold and rock-hard) in his hands. “Hey Blondie,” receivers coach Pat Hodgson called to him, “you are smoking.” 

Simms only got hotter during the game. He threw for three touchdowns and completed 22 of 25 passes, including all 10 in the second half. Simms said years later that he was inches away from going 25-for-25 against the Broncos, which would’ve been the Super Bowl’s answer to Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series. 

Giants
Bill Belichick is carried off the field after the Giants’ NFC Championship Game victory over Washington.
AP

Elway had a much tougher time against a Giants defense that had already spent that postseason just crushing Hall-of-Fame offensive minds (Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs) and literally knocking out a Hall-of-Fame quarterback (Joe Montana). 

Soaked by a Gatorade bath after the Giants’ 39-20 victory, Parcells shouted at his players in the locker room: “The rest of your life. The rest of your life, men. Nobody can ever tell ya that ya couldn’t do it, because ya did it.” 

Belichick walked back onto the field to soak it all in, just in case he never got the chance to coach in another Super Bowl. As it turned out, he got to coach in another 11 and counting, nine as a head coach of the Patriots. 

Meanwhile, his former Patriots assistant Joe Judge is merely trying to secure his future in his second year leading the Giants. They will play the Chargers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium, site of the next Super Bowl. 

Judge’s Giants have no shot of being there in February. So that’s why today was a good day to revisit the old Rose Bowl in spirit, for the sake of those older, beleaguered fans who remember a time when the Giants landed in greater Los Angeles and had their day in the sun. 

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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