Select Giants season ticket-holders enjoyed a special treat on Monday afternoon when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Giants President/CEO/co-owner John Mara, and Super Bowl Champions Amani Toomer and Shaun O’Hara gathered for a season ticket holder town hall.
Giants radio play-by-play man Bob Papa moderated the group discussion, which mainly rolled on fan questions, with conversations focusing on both local and national topics.
In terms of exclusively Giants news, O’Hara and Mara announced that the 2007 team that earned victory in Super Bowl XLII would be honored prior to the Giants’ home opener on September 18, a Monday night tilt against the Detroit Lions.
“September 18, we’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of our 2007 team. So we’re having all the players back that weekend,” Mara revealed to applause. “It’s pretty cool. We have a lot of great events planned for them. We’re really looking forward to it. It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years. It’s going to be a great event to us.”
O’Hara and Toomer shared several tidbits from that season, where the Giants earned their third Super Bowl title by shocking the undefeated New England Patriots, a victory often referred to as the biggest upset in NFL history.
Toomer, one of two holdovers from the 2000-01 NFC Champion squad (the other being Michael Strahan), spoke how he used the defeat in the previous Super Bowl as fuel for his teammates. Toomer, who had two touchdowns in the NFC Divisional playoff victory over Dallas en route to that Super Bowl, erased bad memories of the 34-7 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV with a strong performance against New England.
Toomer called that Super Bowl XXXV game “the worst experience” and, along with Strahan, motivated his teammates by reminding them that “no one remembers who came in second” in New York sports.
The pair also shared memories from the first meeting with New England that year, a Week 17 Saturday night showdown at Giants Stadium. While that game ended in a New England victory, it ended up being the spark the Giants needed to embark on their title run.
“We wanted to play the Patriots, we wanted to test ourselves against the best team in the league,” Toomer recalled. “I remember vividly Coach Coughlin standing there and saying, we’re going to play our starters. I just remember being so excited because we were going to go out there and see exactly how good we were against the best team in the league.”
Goodell called that game, which was broadcast on NFL Network, one of his “proudest moments”. Just over a month later, Goodell would present the Giants with the Lombardi Trophy after their improbable 17-14 win at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“Coach (Tom) Coughlin didn’t have to play his best players,” Goodell said. “(The Giants) weren’t playing for much from a playoff standpoint. But he played them, they wanted to play.” Goodell stated that the resting of players by playoff teams led to him scheduling divisional games late in the season, including making the entire Week 17 slate divisional games.
In his discussion of national topics, two of the most important plays in Giants’ history, one from that magical 2007-08 team, were referenced by Goodell when the commissioner defended the human element of NFL officiating.
Goodell cited David Tyree’s famous helmet catch and Mario Manningham’s sideline grab in Super Bowl XLVI, also against the Patriots, as examples got the call right on the field, without the assistance of instant replay. He ended up using a New England example as well, referencing Julian Edelman’s circus grab during the game-tying drive of Super Bowl LI.
After Mara left the stage, Goodell and his player representatives tried to quell fan doubts about Thursday Night Football. Since 2013, the full season edition of TNF has earned mixed reviews from fans. Goodell, however, mentioned the positives it brings to the league, claiming that the NBC editions of the games were the 2nd-highest rated program on the crowded Thursday night schedule.
“I think fans want to see more football. That’s what we always hear. We wanted to make we could do it well, and do it safely,” explained Goodell. “The injury rate is slightly lower on Thursday than it is on the weekend. That doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult for players coming off a Sunday game, but we try to manage the schedule.”
Goodell went on to cite the subsequent ten days off players and coaches customarily get after a Thursday night game, likening those days to “a mini-bye.”
O’Hara, who once played in 16 consecutive 1:00 PM kickoffs while with the Cleveland Browns, brought positives from a player perspective.
“I always equated it to working out in the morning,” O’Hara said. “There’s a lot of (complaining) when you go to the gym at 6 AM, but around 7:15 you’re like, man, I’m really glad I did that. Same thing with the game. When you play that game, when you win and you have Friday, Saturday, Sunday off, it feels like a bye week.”
Papa, who served as NFL Network’s TNF play-by-play voice from 2008-10, also came to its defense, citing that no team has ever complained of playing on Thanksgiving, despite the extreme similarities between TNF and the holiday’s afternoon games.
With the season fast approaching, discussion turned to the topic of preseason games, which began on Thursday when Dallas faced off with Arizona in the Hall of Fame Game. After praising the festivities in Canton, Ohio, during which Mara joked about the length of Cowboys owner and recent inductee Jerry Jones’s induction speech, Goodell admitted that four preseason games may be too many for teams.
“At the NFL, I believe we should do things at the highest possible standard. Preseason games are not that,” Goodell said. “I still believe we don’t need four preseason games. There’s clearly value from a football standpoint in evaluating your team, your players. But there are other ways of doing that. I believe we can do that with three preseason games. We could potentially get to two.”
Questions were also fielded on the future of rivalries in the league. Papa took center stage to address why intrastate rivalries, namely Giants-Jets, have not become more prevalent in the league.
“Not every city has two teams in it,” Papa said after explaining the NFL’s scheduling formula, which predetermines all but two games of future schedules. “Just look at baseball. It’s great that the Yankees play the Mets. But then you have those random interleague games where the Blue Jays play the Braves. Who cares? But they do play ever third preseason game and every four years. So at least you have that.”
O’Hara jokingly added that the Jets wouldn’t want a yearly matchup with the Giants anyway, much to the delight of the crowd.
Goodell seemed most proud of the increasing role of women in the NFL.
“We want to share with everyone. One of our fastest growing audiences is women,” Goodell said. “They do understand the game. I always say just invite them in, make them feel welcome. I think they’re a driving force, even a driving force in football operations. We have several of our key executives that are women. We have nine women in coaching or personnel jobs for the first time ever. That’s going to make a huge difference going forward.”
After his session with fans, Goodell very briefly fielded questions from reporters. He had no update on the Ezekiel Elliot situation, disputing an assumption from Fox Sports 1’s Cris Carter, who stated he would be “shocked” if Elliott wasn’t suspended “in the next 48 hours”.
“I don’t think Cris has anything to do with the decision,” Goodell said. “We haven’t made any decisions yet.”
Elliott or not, the Giants will open against the Cowboys on September 10 on the road.