HERNDON, Va. -- Matt Millen wanted to make one thing perfectly clear.
"I personally have done tremendous in New York," the Washington Redskins middle linebacker said yesterday, looking out at the media throng that surrounded his locker at Redskin Park.
Millen's geography was as dubious as his grammar. Although he played on San Francisco 49er teams that won two of three games against the New York Giants the last two seasons, all of those games were played in San Francisco. You have to go back to his rookie year in 1980, when the then-Oakland Raiders beat the Giants 33-17, to find a Millen victory in New York/New Jersey.
So much for truth in advertising.
Fact is, this is the reason the Redskins signed the 33-year-old run-stopper last April. To help beat the Giants. To help shut down thatblue blur of a running game and to beat the Giants.
Millen, who is 4-2 lifetime against the Giants, gets to strut his stuff Sunday night in the Meadowlands, where the 7-0 Redskins try to exorcise some demons of their own. Discounting a 1987 strike replacement game, the Skins haven't won at the Swamp since 1983.
What's more, they have lost six in a row to the Giants, and nine of the last 11.
And that's why Millen was trying to disassociate himself from the Redskins' one-sided rivalry.
"San Francisco has this kind of Giant thing also," Millen said. He didn't mean six-game losing streak, either.
"It's because of the position [the Giants] have in the standings. In my two years with the 49ers, it was because they had the best record in the NFL, after the 49ers."
In the Redskins' case, the rivalry has intensified because of the proximity of the two teams in the NFC Eastern Division. Between the two teams, they have won three of the last five Super Bowls. But for the last three years, the Redskins have been eating the Giants' dirt.
Last year, the Redskins moved to remedy the problem, trading for defensive tackles Eric Williams and Tim Johnson early in the season, and signing Millen out of the Plan B free agency pool. This season that redesigned defense has registered three shutouts and is limiting the opposition to 11.7 points a game.
The Giants have changed head coaches and quarterbacks, but their calling card still is a punishing ground game. Although they are 4-3, they have rushed for only 14 fewer yards than the unbeaten Redskins.
The new ramrod in the offense is running back Rodney Hampton, who has rushed for 444 yards since supplanting Ottis Anderson in Week 3. Hampton is averaging 4.9 yards a carry.
"The biggest change is Hampton and his ability to get outside," ** Millen said of a Giant offense now directed by quarterback Jeff Hostetler instead of Phil Simms. "They're still going to pound it, but they'll do it a little different than they did with Ottis. He'd stay inside [the tackles]. Hampton runs inside and cuts back quickly."
Millen will get limited opportunities to tackle Hampton, however. A marvelous defender against the run in his previous 11 NFL seasons, he played almost exclusively on first downs, or in obvious run situations.
"I get more play on Wednesday with reporters than I do in games," he joked yesterday.
Asked if that might be construed as a complaint, Millen responded diplomatically.
"Any player would like to play more," he said. "Andre [Collins], Kurt [Gouveia], Wilber [Marshall]. Anybody wants to play all the time."
He admitted he had been forewarned when he signed, though.
"I didn't really realize it would be like that," Millen said. "[But] they were up front about it."
In his abbreviated role, Millen has delivered 34 tackles, sixth best on the team, fourth best among linebackers. But his contributions go beyond mere tackles.
"He's a formidable run player," Giants coach Ray Handley said yesterday via phone hookup. "He's a solid guy and really a leader. He was that at San Francisco and with the Raiders. Guys seem to play better when he's in there."
For what do his teammates appreciate Millen?
"Leadership," Williams decided. "And his elevator doesn't go to the top floor."