As the New York Giants revamp this off-season, preparing for championship contention after last season’s catastrophe, I’ve been thinking a lot about what this young team can take from its rich history and apply to a fresh start. The Giants’ legacy was built on greatness, both on and off the field, and there are clear attempts being made to revisit the times when the team was at its best.
In my most recent column, I explored how a change in morale is bringing the team together in ways that the organization hasn’t seen in recent years. The future of this team will be presumably a bright one, but there is much that can be learned from the Giants of the past.
When compiling this All-Franchise team, a few factors were kept in mind when considering each player in this club’s vibrant history, and how they might contribute to a modern Giants franchise. As the Coach Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) says to Craig Patrick in the 2004 film Miracle, “I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.”
New York Giants All-Franchise Team
Head Coach: Bill Parcells (1983-1990)
After two separate stints as a Giants assistant, Parcells had a rocky start to his tenure as head coach. After replacing Phil Simms with Scott Brunner at quarterback, the Giants incurred 12 losses, and Parcells almost lost his job. Smartly, Parcells made Simms the starter again after that first year, and the team’s record began to improve, as it would for the next several years. The Big Tuna eventually led the team to two Super Bowl titles in the 1986 and 1990 seasons. Similarly to the task currently at Pat Shurmur’s hand, he was brought in to rebuild a struggling Giants team and he succeeded at doing just that.
The only coach ever to take four different NFL teams to the playoffs, Parcells was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013. His many assistants over the years, including Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin, and Sean Payton, who have won a combined nine Super Bowls of their own as head coaches, credit his skills as a player motivator for his successes. His knowledge of what makes his players tick and the best methods by which to push them have made him the best head coach in Giants franchise history.
Quarterback: Phil Simms (1979-1993)
Simms played his entire career with Big Blue, after being snagged from his pre-draft assumed team, the San Francisco 49ers, with the seventh overall pick by the Giants in the 1979 NFL Draft. Despite his initial disappointment with his assignment, he went 6-4 as a rookie starter, and was runner-up for Rookie of the Year. His subsequent four seasons were riddled with injuries and inconsistencies, leading new head coach Parcells to bench him. He requested to be traded, a request that was endorsed by Giants fans, but after his request was denied, Simms took advantage of his time on the bench, studying game film and changing his strength training regimen. When Simms resumed his place as the starter, he was better equipped for success than ever before, and in 1985 led the Giants to 10 victories—the most the franchise had seen since 1963. Moving forward, the team’s record continued to improve, and Simms lead the G-men to his first Super Bowl in 1986, where he was named the MVP.
In his 14-season career with the Giants, Simms outdid his own records for most passes completed and attempted in one game and one season, and retired with Giants’ career records for touchdown passes and 300-yard games, only recently surpassed by Eli Manning. On September 4th, 1995, Simms’ jersey was retired in a ceremony during halftime of a game against the Dallas Cowboys. That day, he donned his jersey once more, to throw one final pass to Lawrence Taylor, who later described the situation as more nerve-wracking than any play of his career. Naturally, they completed it!
Running Back: Tiki Barber (1997-2006)
Although Tiki Barber is described as the red-headed stepchild of the Giants’ Ring of Honor, there is no denying the stat that qualifies him as the leading rusher in Giants history. Having played his entire career with the Giants, the three-time Pro-Bowler gained the most yards from scrimmage by any NFL running back from 2003-2006. He led the team to two NFC East titles and was a key playmaker through his final six years. Known for his consistently exceptional running style, and ability to take notes and improve in his weak areas (strength training and fumbling), Barber set many franchise records, including longest touchdown run.
Reporters and fans have criticized Barber’s character, citing his shaky relationships with Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning (with whom he has since reconciled) and his outspokenness in teammate Michael Strahan’s contract negotiations. Despite his standing with the Giants organization, reports surfaced earlier this week of his contact with Pat Shurmur, who reached out to Barber in hopes of helping him to repair his relationship with the franchise and be a part of the team whose reputation is currently in rebuild. His plans to ally with the new head coach exhibit his enthusiasm for continuing his legacy with the team.
Wide Receiver: Frank Gifford (1952-1960, 1962-1964)
Yet another all-Giant player, Frank Gifford’s career boasts five championship appearances, one title win and the league-wide MVP award (both in 1956). His first stint with the Giants was as a running back, but after returning from retirement, he played at the position we now know to be wide receiver. His big year may have occurred in the first part of his career, but his achievements in his second stint were similarly bounteous (and I’m not trying to get my house egged by leaving him off the list).
Wide Receiver: Amani Toomer (1996-2008)
Starting his career with the Giants as a punt and kickoff returner, he set a franchise record in his first-ever NFL game with an 87-yard return for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills. He began playing wide receiver in 1998, and won the starting job in 1999. Manning praised Amani Toomer’s work, stating that he “has a way of being in the right place at the right time.” Despite injuries and exercise-induced asthma, he assisted the Giants to a Super Bowl win against the previously undefeated New England Patriots and set the franchise record for most postseason receptions during that game.
Toomer holds the Giants’ records for most receiving yards, receptions, receiving touchdowns, and most consecutive games with at least one reception. He was inducted to the Giants Ring of Honor in its inaugural year, 2010.
Wide Receiver: Odell Beckham, Jr. (2014-present)
Selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Odell Beckham’s career thus far with the Giants has been highly publicized and acclaimed. Despite entering his rookie year with a hamstring injury, missing the first four games of the season, he had at least 90 receiving yards in all five November games, setting an NFL rookie record for a single calendar month. Beckham became the first NFL rookie with at least 12 catches, 140 yards, and three scores in a game, tying Mark Bavaro for the most touchdowns in a game by a Giants rookie. He is the only player in NFL history to have had at least 90 receptions and 10 receiving touchdowns in a season, scoring 12 touchdowns in 12 games. His rookie season is considered to be one of the greatest ever. He became the fastest player ever to reach 200 receptions, doing so in the span of only 30 games. In 2016, he assisted the Giants to their first playoff appearance since 2011.
Though Beckham spent much of last season on injured reserve, he is expected to perform at the same consistently excellent level for seasons to come. Phil Simms described OBJ as “one of the best weapons on offense (he’s) seen in the NFL in a long time,” in a recent interview with the New York Post. “I just look at Odell Beckham, Jr. and, man, I don’t know what to say.” Beckham, known for his outspoken behavior on and off the field, exhibits nothing but passion for the game, to which Simms responds with a comparison to former teammate Lawrence Taylor, “He makes the Giants really relevant. He’s one of the big names in the NFL. Old-timers and writers look at his antics and this and all that. We had a guy who had some antics, too. We put up with him, and it worked out pretty well.”
Tight End: Mark Bavaro (1985-1990)
Bavaro played for three different franchises during the course of his NFL career, but his best years were as a Giant. Bill Parcells started the Notre Dame product before the start of the 1985 season after Zeke Mowatt was injured. He set a team record with 12 receptions in one game his rookie year and remained the starter even after Mowatt recovered. Bavaro won two Super Bowls (XXI and XXV) with the Giants while setting several franchise records.
Regarded as one of the toughest players in the league, he was known to play through injury and was advised to retire several times. Bavaro fought ahead, playing three more seasons after his departure from the Giants. He is known, also, for his humble demeanor and low-key lifestyle. He was inducted into the club’s Ring of Honor in 2011.
Left Tackle: Jumbo Elliott (1988-1995)
Left Guard: Al Blozis (1942-1944)
Confession: William Roberts was my first choice for left guard. Upon research, I present unsung hero Al Blozis as the selection. His honor and devotion towards his country has earned him a place on this list.
Blozis was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL draft in 1942. The All-Star and All-Pro selection was named to the NFL 1940s All-Decade Team. Blozis dreamed of fighting for his country and persuaded the U.S. Army to waive its size limit for him in 1943. In search of a missing Sergeant and private on enemy lines, second lieutenant Blozis was killed in 1945 in France.
The Giants organization retired the number 32 jersey in his honor. Blozis’ achievements on the football field were significant. Massive and dominant, he is remembered as a terror on the field and brought that passion to where his country needed him the most.
In 1946, True Comics featured a story about Blozis, titled The Human Howitzer. It can be read here.
Center: Mel Hein (1931-1945)
Mel Hein played all 15 of his years with the Giants before beginning an equally prominent coaching career. In addition to center, he also played on occasion as a defensive lineman. Starting at center in two NFL championship games with the club, in addition to playing in five more, he was selected as NFL MVP in 1938.
Hein’s achievements at Washington State earned him a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame and was later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in its charter class. Hein’s jersey number 7 has been retired by both Washington State University and the New York Giants.
Right Tackle: Roosevelt Brown (1953-1965)
Rosey Brown played his entire 13-year career with the Giants, missing only four games total. Having been selected as the 321st player overall, he is considered to be one of the biggest steals in history. Known for his speed on the field and his style off of it, Brown encountered racial prejudice in his travels with the team, being segregated from stays in hotels for several years of his career. In 1956, the year he took home his sole NFL championship, he was one of only two players to be selected unanimously by all 28 AP voters as a first-team All-NFL player. He also assisted the Giants to six division championships during his time with the franchise, and after retirement, coached the offensive line and worked as a scout. His total tenure with Big Blue spanned over 50 years.
In January 1975, Brown was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In 2010, he was included in the first-ever class of the New York Giants Ring of Honor, six years after his death.
Right Guard: Chris Snee (2004-2013)
Son-in-law of former Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, Chris Snee started all 11 games in which he played as a rookie. The two-time Super Bowl champion won both of his rings against the Patriots. Appearing in four Pro Bowls, Snee’s entire 10 years and 141 NFL games were played with the Giants. His pass blocking enabled Eli Manning and the Giants offense to achieve numerous franchise and club records.
Defensive End: Michael Strahan (1993-2007)
Another all-career Giant, Michael Strahan broke out with the team in 1997, recording 14 sacks and attending his first Pro Bowl. His first Super Bowl appearance came in the 2000 season. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2001, setting the record for sacks in a single season with 22.5 that year. In 2006, he tied Lawrence Taylor for the Giants franchise record for most career sacks with 132.5. After an injury two weeks following this achievement, it was thought that Strahan would retire, but he returned for one more year; the year that would be the best on record for the franchise since 1990, It resulted in Strahan’s only NFL championship ring, from Super Bowl XLII.
The seven-time Pro Bowler was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. Upon his induction, Super Bowl XLVIII, played at MetLife Stadium, was dedicated to him. His hard play, fun-loving personality and philanthropic efforts have all equally contributed to his earning of such an honor, just one year after his eligibility.
Defensive End: Andy Robustelli (1956-1964)
Andy Robustelli was traded to the Giants from the Los Angeles Rams in 1956, and thank goodness. His nine years with the G-Men contributed to copious victories. In his first season on the team, the Giants won the NFL championship. Additionally, he assisted the team to the championship games in the following five years. The four-time All-Pro played in 174 NFL games, missing only one in the entire duration of his career. Small for his position, Robustelli was as useful as his name suggests—fast and furious.
After his time on the field had come to an end, he continued his work for the organization as the director of operations, holding the position for six additional seasons. He was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a part of the 1971 class and was named the Walter Camp Man of the Year in 1988.
Defensive End: Justin Tuck (2005-2013)
Drafted to stand behind Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck spent his rookie season on special teams and as the first backup to each defensive end position. Despite a slow start to his professional career, mostly due to injury, Tuck came to the forefront as a New York Giant in 2007, joining the players he once backed up on the front lines to form a four defensive end pass rush scheme, helping the team to Super Bowl XLII, at which Tuck recorded two sacks and a forced fumble against Tom Brady. That effort brought significant speculation that Tuck was more deserving of the MVP award than Eli Manning. Tuck was promoted to starting defensive end upon Strahan’s retirement the following year; the year in which he recorded his first interception and only touchdown, and was voted All-Pro.
Tuck continued to perform at a high level for the remainder of his time with the Giants. He won his second Super Bowl in 2012 (Tuck later joked about Manning “(stealing) his MVP again.” After two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, he announced his retirement in 2016 and signed a one-day contract with the Giants to do so as a member of the club. Tuck was inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor that year.
Linebacker: Lawrence Taylor (1981-1993)
Inarguably one of the most notorious New York Giants, I covered Lawrence Taylor’s career in a previous column ahead of this year’s draft, in which Saquon Barkley was selected as the second overall pick—the same pick that reaped the reward of LT in 1981. Another player whose greatness also began his rookie year, Taylor led his Giants team to two Super Bowls (XXI and XXV). The 10-time pro-bowler was voted NFL MVP in 1986, and is remembered as the leader of the Giants’ defensive Big Blue Wrecking Crew, an unstoppable force that is considered to be one of the greatest defensive lineups in history.
Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999, and the franchise’s Ring of Honor in its inaugural 2010 year.
Linebacker: Sam Huff (1956-1963)
When Tom Landry came up with the 4-3 defensive scheme, Sam Huff had found his place as a member of the Giants squad as a middle linebacker. After replacing Ray Beck at the position in his rookie year, he assisted the Giants to the 1956 NFL Championship Game, which they won. Two years later, the team saw the championships again, and while defeated by the Baltimore Colts 23-17, the game was the first ever in NFL history to go into sudden death overtime, and became known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” The following year, 1959, brought on a similar championship appearance and loss to the same team. That year, Huff became the first NFL player to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. 1961-1963 saw more championship visits and defeats. Huff was ultimately traded in 1964, to the Washington Redskins.
Huff played for the Giants in four Pro Bowls and was named MVP of the game in 1961. During the duration of his career, he recorded 30 interceptions, five touchdowns, and recovered 17 fumbles. He was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
Linebacker: Harry Carson (1976-1988)
In his 13 seasons with the Giants, the whole of his professional career, Harry Carson contributed heavily to the Giants success with both his on and off-field participation. He led his team in tackles for five seasons and served as captain for 10. Another member of the Big Blue Wrecking Crew, he was also a part of the previously existing Crunch Bunch linebacker corps. The nine-time Pro Bowler helped the team to its first-ever Super Bowl win (XXI), recording seven tackles in that performance.
After removing his name from the ballot in 2004 under the grounds that the vote is from the media, and not football players and coaches, Carson allowed himself to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. In the inaugural class of 2010, Carson was inducted to the Giants Ring of Honor. He has remained closely involved with the Giants franchise through his broadcasting career.
Linebacker: Carl Banks (1984-1992)
Third overall draft pick Carl Banks brought home two Super Bowl Championships (XXI and XXV) in his nine-year career with the Giants. Another member of the Big Blue Wrecking Crew, Banks’ legacy with the Giants is ongoing, as he is still highly involved in the club’s broadcast operations. He was inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor in 2011.
Banks was in his senior year at Michigan State University when he first met Pat Shurmur, with whom he played when Shurmur joined the Spartans as a freshman. Of the new head coach, Banks sees success on the horizon for the coach and their team. After the announcement of Shurmur taking over as head coach, Banks told the New York Post, “Here’s a kid who grew up in Michigan, he grew up in football so he gets it. He doesn’t have to try to fit in New York. New York is a melting pot, everybody fits in, if you fit in and are yourself, authentically who you are. He’ll do just fine, believe me.’’
Cornerback: Mark Collins (1986-1993)
Though not a particularly flashy player, Mark Collins has two Super Bowl rings (XXI and XXV) that represent his successes in Big Blue. A starter with the Giants since his rookie season, Collins has been outspoken since his time with the team about their future as a franchise. A coveted free agent throughout his career, he was described by scouts and general managers of his time as one of the best cornerbacks on the market. His focus throughout his playing career was on team unity, and of the four franchises for which he played, the Giants were his most loyal and longest employer. Collins’ reputation for playing hurt and hard resulted in a luxurious football career.
After a game against the 1993 Rams, Collins described his strategy in the best way that he could—a way that encompasses his mentality throughout the entirety of his Giants career. “I just put my head down and ran. When you’re scared, you’re sometimes amazed what your body can do.”
Cornerback: Mark Haynes (1980-1985)
Though his rookie season was riddled with injury-related issues, Mark Haynes was a sleeper success for the Giants. For a cornerback, Haynes was reputed for the rarity in his mistakes. Detached in personality and unconcerned with image, Haynes provided a kind of calm to his dramatic and intense locker room and was always considered more of a “football” player than a “New York Giants” or “Denver Broncos” player. That said, he is remembered as a player for being at the top of his game when he was with the Giants, despite playing for the Broncos in their 1987 Super Bowl loss against his previous team. Former teammate Zeke Mowatt said of Haynes, “When Sunday comes, Mark pushes a different button.”
Mark finished his Giants career with three Pro Bowl appearances and earned All-Pro honors on two occasions.
Strong Safety: Antrel Rolle (2010-2014)
After six years with the Arizona Cardinals, the Giants signed Antrel Rolle to a deal that made him the highest paid safety in the history of the NFL. He won his sole Super Bowl (XLVI) with the team in his second year. Despite playing free safety, he was given nickelback duties as well at the beginning of his Giants career. After Stevie Brown tore his ACL in 2013, Rolle became the starting strong safety. In 2014, Rolle recorded a season-high 11 tackles, before signing to the Chicago Bears for his final NFL season.
Free Safety: Emlen Tunnell (1948-1958)
A two-time NFL champion, Emlen Tunnell played the first 11 years of his career as a Giant before he was traded to the Green Bay Packers. The first African-American Giant in history, Tunnell was selected as a first-team All-Pro six times and played in eight Pro Bowls. He was known as a key player in the famous “umbrella defense,” and recorded four touchdowns and 74 interceptions with the team, recovering 15 fumbles and returning 257 punts.
His 79 career interceptions remain the second most in NFL history, and he played in 158 consecutive games, which was also an NFL record at the time of his retirement. After retiring, he worked as a scout for the Giants and Packers before returning to the field as a special assistant coach and defensive backs coach. In 1974, he assumed the role of assistant personnel director, a year before his death. He was the first African-American defensive back to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1967).
Kicker: Pat Summerall (1958-1961)
Pat Summerall played for three franchises during his time in the league, but was at his best statistically in 1959, when he was with the Giants. That year, Summerall racked up 90 points on 30-for-30 extra point kicking, and 20-for-29 field goal kicking. The year prior, Summerall is credited for having led the G-Men to “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” In the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns, the teams were tied 10-10 with two minutes left on the clock, when the Giants barely broke into the Browns’ territory. Through the wind and snow, Summerall kicked a 49-yard field goal to win his team the game.
Punter: Jeff Feagles (2003-2009)
Two-time Pro Bowler Jeff Feagles may hold the records for most punts and most punt yards in NFL history. But with the Giants, for whom he played in the final seven years of his 22-season career, he is credited for so much more. He offered his number 10 jersey to Eli Manning when he joined the team in 2004—the number that we’ve seen the future Hall of Fame quarterback sport for the past 14 seasons. Feagles won his only Super Bowl with the Giants in 2008, and was the oldest player to have done so until his record was broken in 2010 by Matt Stover of the Indianapolis Colts. He holds the NFL record for the most consecutive games played in a career, having played in all 352 games during his time in the league.