Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New York Giants All-Lifetime Team

Following the Giants' 21-17 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, I asked my old pal Brian in a text message where this one ranks to him among the Giants' four Super Bowls. His response, verbatim:

4th out of 4...This one I thought the Giants were likely to win going into it, unlike 2 and 3. The first will always be special because I never thought I would live to see it.

I don't disagree with this, although being a Giants fan in Patriots country makes this one a little more special for me, at least partly because it denied them a measure of revenge for four years ago. But, mainly because it's nice to be on top for a second time in five years, although any talk of a dynasty is tempered by their underdog status in both recent postseasons.

But, the one thing about my friend's statement that I found funny is the part where he said "...I never thought I would live to see it."

The Giants won their first Super Bowl in 1986. Well, actually the game was in January 1987, but it was the conclusion of the 1986 season. Brian was 20 years old, so the idea that he didn't think he'd ever live to see the Giants win a Super Bowl is a bit laughable. I get what he means, since the team was terrible during our formative years of fandom. But still, it's kind of like a kid born in 1984 considering himself a long-suffering Red Sox fan.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on those four Giants Super Bowl championship teams:

1986-87: The team was almost as dominant as the Bears team that did the Super Bowl shuffle the prior year, but as the long-suffering fans we were (tongue firmly in cheek), there was still some concern they'd come up short on the big stage. When they trailed John Elway's Broncos 10-9 at halftime, those doubts seemed warranted, but the Giants exerted their dominance in the second half of a 39-20 victory. Although it was a one-sided affair, Big Blue's first Super Bowl was pretty special.

1990-91: The Giants were underdogs to the Buffalo Bills in this one, mainly because of the Bills' high-powered offense and the fact Phil Simms was injured and replaced by Jeff Hostetler. Hostetler proved a more than capable backup, though, and the Giants slowed Buffalo down by controlling time of possession with a grinding running attack. Running Back Ottis Anderson won the MVP, but the game is most known for Scott Norwood's last-second missed 47-yard field goal. Because it went right down to the wire and was somewhat unexpected, there was something a little more satisfying about it than the first.

2007-08: Possibly the greatest upset in the history of professional sports, I don't think there are many Giants fans who don't rate this at the top of their list.

2011-12: Despite being slight underdogs, the Giants were kind of expected to win. Personally, going into the game, I thought they were good enough to win by two touchdowns, and the way most of the first half went, it looked like I could be right. But, I also had a feeling the game was going to be tougher than that, and when Brady engineered two consecutive touchdown- scoring drives in a span of about eight minutes, you could see why. In the end, all the Giants' Super Bowl wins have been special for their own reasons, but this one was probably the least so.

Anyway, let's finally get to the all-lifetime team that the post's title promises. This, of course, is an all-pro team consisting of players who played at least the majority of their careers with the Giants from the mid-'70s to present.

In researching this, I came across an advanced statistic on pro-football-reference.com called Approximate Value, which more closely resembles Bill James' Win Shares than the more commonly used baseball metric, Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

Since I was going to look primarily at games and seasons as a starter and Pro Bowl selections, especially for the non-skilled positions, this metric was a helpful alternative to that. I did, of course, add a little extra credit to those who were starters or played significant roles on Super Bowl champions, but otherwise Approximate Value really helped me measure the contributions of those who played positions without quantifiable statistics.

An asterisk (*) denotes an active player still with the Giants.

Offensive Skills Players
QB - Phil Simms (1979-93)
RB - Tiki Barber (1997-2006)
FB - Maurice Carthon (1985-91)
WR - Amani Toomer (1996-2008)
WR - Plaxico Burress (2005-08)
TE - Mark Bavaro (1985-90)

Most people are ready to anoint Eli Manning as the greatest QB in Giants history, and I think he'll get there eventually. But, as of right now, I still think he trails Simms. Let's not forget his legendary performance in Super Bowl XXI.

Carthon's career started around the time the fullback position was transitioning to more of a pure blocking role. At the time, it was pretty rare for a true blocking back to make the Pro Bowl. I'm convinced he would have been selected for a couple otherwise.

You're probably surprised to see Burress here, and I don't blame you. But, after Toomer, there was really no obvious choice. Burress's game-winning catch in Super Bowl XLII gives him the edge over Chris Calloway, Ike Hilliard and Lionel Manuel.

Offensive Line
C - Bart Oates (1985-93)
G - Chris Snee (2004-2011)*
G - David Diehl (2003-11)*
T - Brad Benson (1978-87)
T - Doug Riesenberg (1988-95)

I don't think it's any coincidence that these five guys have eight Super Bowls among them. On the offensive side of the ball, in fact, Barber is the only player who doesn't have at least one ring.

Defense
DE - Michael Strahan (1993-2007)
DE - Leonard Marshall (1983-92)
DT - Keith Hamilton (1992-2003)
LB - Lawrence Taylor (1981-93)
LB - Brad Van Pelt (1974-83)
LB - Jessie Armstead (1993-2001)
MLB - Harry Carson (1976-88)
CB - Mark Haynes (1980-85)
CB - Perry Williams (1984-92)
SS - Beasley Reece (1977-83)
FS - Terry Kinard (1983-89)

When I started following football, 4-3 defenses were more common than 3-4s. Then, the 3-4 became all the rage, but now the 4-3 is back in vogue. Because picking Armstead as a fourth linebacker option was better than Erik Howard or Jim Burt as a second defensive tackle, this defense plays a 3-4. This does mean I picked three outside linebackers and only one inside linebacker, but I couldn't justify leaving Armstead or Van Pelt off in favor of Brian Kelley or Pepper Johnson.

Carl Banks being left off in favor of Van Pelt and Armstead might seem surprising, but Banks is not necessarily the most deserving linebacker not on the team. Brian Kelley just might be that guy.

Hopefully, Justin Tuck will take Marshall's place in a few years, but he's not quite there yet.

Special Teams
K - Lawrence Tynes (2007-11)*
P - Sean Landeta (1985-93)
KR/PR - Dave Meggett (1989-94)

Brad Daluiso might otherwise have been my pick at kicker, if not for Tynes's two overtime NFC championship-winning field goals.

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