On the last day of a football season that felt like the last day of a high school semester, the Giants’ Brian Daboll finally had to concede that there are things that are beyond the control of a football head coach, even an excellent football coach, even a coach who has spent the last 11 ½ months lending oxygen to a franchise and adrenaline to a fan base.
Even Daboll — never too rambunctious after wins, never too downtrodden after losses — couldn’t disguise the hurt in his voice and the fatigue in his bones.
“I wish we could do this again next week,” he said.
The Eagles flattened the Giants 38-7 Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, and it honestly didn’t take very long for them to delete whatever mystery had been attached to the proceedings. The Eagles scored the first two times they touched the ball. They stopped the Giants on an early fourth down, which seemed to pick Daboll’s pockets of the surplus of pixie dust he’d carried around all year.
It was 28-0 at the half. The Linc was beside itself. Giants fans spent halftime checking out what was available on Hulu and Netflix.
“A crash landing,” is how Daboll described it, again and again and again, and there really was no better wordsmithing on this night. The Giants, flying into the game on such a high, wound up colliding with the back end of a row of buses like Evel Knievel, only the buses were dressed in green Eagles uniforms.
“They did everything better than we did,” Daboll said.
They did. It was complete, it was thorough, it was an evisceration start to finish — and it doesn’t reduce by even one ounce what the Giants accomplished this year. If, back in August, you picked the Giants to win six games there was a term your friends used for you: eternal optimist. And even you didn’t get them to nine. Even you couldn’t have fathomed they would win a playoff game for the first time in 11 years.
“It was a special thing to be a part of,” quarterback Daniel Jones said, and it was a special thing to watch, from the moment Daboll flashed two fingers at the end of the opener at Tennessee to the remarkable tsunami of faith that followed the Giants down the Turnpike for this NFC divisional playoff.
The sting will linger a day or two.
Then you will remember a stolen moment: Jones trampling the Vikings last week? Kayvon Thibodeaux ransacking the Commanders in Week 15? Saquon Barkley showing extended examples of why he was once described as being touched “by the hand of God?” Go ahead. Pick as many as you want. There are plenty of them.
Soon enough, of course, you will begin to think about something else.
You will think about next season, and the seasons to come, and you will want to ponder how this season ought to be a building block for something better, something greater, something sustainable. General manager Joe Schoen and Daboll, no doubt, will already have thought about that by the time you wake up Sunday morning, and there are few franchises in any sport right now whose fans trust their leadership more deeply than Giants fans trust Schoen and Able.
Of course there’s a world of difference, and sometimes a vast chasm, between what ought to happen and what does. Daboll sounded a familiar tone for longtime New York football observers when he said, near the end of his postgame gathering with reporters:
“Disappointed. I wish we could’ve done a better job, I wish I could’ve done a better job. It feels like crap, that’s as honest as I can be.
“You have to work extremely hard to get to this spot,” Daboll continued. “It’s a hard place to get to, this division round.”
In that moment Daboll sounded precisely as his spiritual antecedent had, almost 24 years earlier. By January 1999, Bill Parcells had moved on to the Jets and in two seasons, he had them within 30 minutes of a Super Bowl. That didn’t happen, though the moment those Jets stepped off the field at Mile High Stadium, they were christened Next Year’s Champs.
Parcells, who’d seen this gauntlet before, looked 120 years old as he leaned against a wall just outside the Jets’ locker room, his eyes hollow and his voice soft.
“You realize just how much work you have to go through just to get right back to where we are right now,” Parcells said. “Free agency. The draft. Voluntary workouts. Training camp. Sixteen games. All of it. Just to get right back to where we’re standing.”
The Jets never did get back there under Parcells. Things happen. Players get hurt. Rookies don’t pan out. Seasons often behave with a mind of their own. So the Giants know, right now, immediately, that there are no guarantees about what’s next.
Still at the end of a day — at the end of a season, the end of a semester — it’s good to be a Giants fan, and good to be a part of this team’s future. One crash landing doesn’t change any of that. If anything, it makes you want to push the fast-forward button, you know?