By Marc Rasbury
As part of our Salute to Black History Month, I would like to do a series of features on African Americans who have made a difference in the world of sports.
I usually talk about individuals from years gone by. This time I want talk about the present.
Folks snickered when New York Giants GM Jerry Reese suggested before the season began that his squad was a playoff caliber team. Well, no one is snickering now. Big Blue prepares for their second Super Bowl appearance in four years. Not only has Reese supplied the Giants with the talent to make several post season runs but he has weathered many in house storms along the way.
Even before he made his first draft pick as General Manager, Reese had to deal with two potential explosive situations after former GM Ernie Acorsi retired. First, he had to decide whether to retain Head Coach Tom Coughlin. There were rumblings that Coughlin was losing the team, which was on the verge of executing a full fledge mutiny against the beleaguered leader. Reese did not succumb to the public sentiment and kept Coughlin on board. He knew Coughlin was an outstanding coach. Reese just asked Coughlin to lighten up a bit, to open up to the players a little more. Coughlin did just that and he rewarded Reese’s faith with a Super Bowl victory at the end of the GM’s first season. Reese’s quiet demeanor paid off here and put out a fire that could have ruined the GM’s first year.
One of main voices of discontent against Coughlin during Acorsi’s last season was the Giants’ captain Michael Strahan. Reese inherited a mess when Strahan threaten to retire and wanted to renegotiate his contract. The then first year GM was steadfast and stood by his principles. Strahan relunctantly reported to camp just before the regular season started and campaign ended with the outspoken Defensive End hugging Coughlin as they hoisted up the Lombardi trophy.
After watching Kevin Boss fill in for Jeremy Shockey, he released the talented but disgruntled Shockey. Some feel that this was the huge step in the Eli Manning’s development. Former WR Amani Toomer has gone the record stating that without Shockey’s constant complaints about not getting the ball, Manning started distributing the ball as he saw fit verses trying to pacify Shockey and he has become a better QB as result of it.
There are a number of experts out there who are the belief that Reese won with Acorsi’s players and that he stepped into an excellent situation. First of all, he put out two fires (the Coughlin and Strahan dramas) that could had derailed the season before it started. Reese was also Acorsi’s right hand man and was instrumental in scouting several key draft choices including Osi Umenyiora. Justin Tuck and Brando Jacobs during the former GM’s tenure.
However, Reese has had some impressive drafts as head of the organization as well. In his first draft in 2007, all seven of his picks not only made the team but played a significant role in the team’s Super Bowl run. Aaron Ross, Kevin Boss, Steve Smith, Ahmad Bradshaw and Jay Alford all made key plays throughout the season and in the Super Bowl as starters or reserve players. Zak DeOssie and Adam Koets were special team demons. Then last year, Reese drafted DE Jason Pierre-Paul when they were already loaded at that position and discovered a kid named Victor Cruz.
Once again people questioned the Paul pick. And once again nobody is questioning that move now. Paul has emerged as on of the best defensive linemen in the League. He is one of the best pass rushers in the game and is excellent against the run as well. And let’s not forget that blocked FG against the Cowboys that sealed Big Blue’s victory in Dallas. And no one has to justify Cruz’ spot on the roster
Reese’s knack for putting out fires and eye are for finding diamonds in the rough-see Jacobs, Umenyora and Victor Cruz-are impressive enough but his standing by his convictions is what stands out in my mind when it comes to one Jerry Reese. He stood behind Coughlin when others were calling for his head. He did not let the Strahan situation overshadow his first training camp as GM. Then he jettisoned Shockey when he felt that he was hampering Manning’s development. But his best moves were perhaps the ones he did not make.
When Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg, everybody and their mothers were crying for Reese to go out and trade for a big name WR to replace wounded Burress. They wanted Reese to go after Braylon Edwards or Brandon Marshall. Reese decided to replace Burress through the draft instead of trading away a key player or giving up multiple draft picks. Since then he has drafted Ramses Barden, Mario Manningham, Hakim Nicks and Cruz. This unit has emerged as on the best in the League. For once Manning does not have people yelling at him in the huddle that they were open and his receivers are following him instead of the other way around. Yes, there were some rough stretches were Manning and his young receivers were not on the same page and mistakes were made. However, now they seem to be on the wave length and that is why the Giants’ QB threw for nearly 5000 yards and the team is in the Super Bowl. Reese might have taken a step back by not trading for Edwards or Marshall three years ago but now the Giants have taken three steps forward as far as the receiving cops goes.
Then fans accused Reese of being asleep at the wheel when he did not go after a number of key free agents this summer and let some his best players, Kevin Boss and Steve Smith, walk about the door. When the Eagles signed five or six of the best free agents, folks thought that the Giants did not have a chance to make the playoffs or win the Divisions. How did those moves turn out? The Eagles will be watching the Giants play in the Big Show like the rest of 200 million fans on Sunday.
As we begin Black History month, I would like to talk about the contributions that African American have made in the world of sports. You can add Jerry Reese to that list. He was the first African American GM to win the Super Bowl. From an historical standpoint, that was impressive but the manner in which he did it was even more impressive.