NEW YORK -- The proud New York Giants franchise has worked its way so far from the elite Super Bowl level in two horrible seasons. Only 13 victories in 30 games.
The reconstruction project begins a week from Monday. The pressure to push the correct buttons in the overhaul is on PTC general manager George Young, who despite some health problems this year and his first hospital stay since tonsillitis 48 years ago, insists he's going nowhere.
First Priority: Ray Must Go. Young won't comment on coach Ray Handley's status until after the season, but the New York Daily News has learned management already is prepared to dump Handley at the end of the season. The Handley Era has been a nightmare for the Giants and a bad reflection on Young. Handley was Young's choice, ahead of Bill Belichick, who left before Bill Parcells quit and was unlikely to get the job even if he had stayed.
Second Priority: Get more players. The Giants have the Mara-Tisch bucks to be major players in the soon-to-be-wild market for free agents -- how would Reggie White look in blue if he's on the loose? Young, who believes in more money for more players rather than a truckload for the superstars, must discard his conservative ways, loosen up and play the game. He also must have a coach who can attract big-name players.
And free agency is even more important to the Giants because they gave up their No. 1 pick in '93 -- a top-five possibility -- to take Dave Brown in the supplemental draft in July.
Is Young, a Baltimore native, feeling the heat?
"Pressure is self-inflicted," he said. "I want, like others, to have as successful a franchise as we can have. That's the pressure. I worry about the franchise all the time. A lot of things have gone on this year and last year that are not very controllable. It's been difficult. Coming down from the mountain is the problem."
Getting back up is harder. "I just think the sadness of the season is too much time has been spent looking to the past and not realizing the past is gone and we have to look into the future," he said. "The past is meaningless."
When Young took over on Valentine's Day in 1979, the Giants had been out of the playoffs since 1963 and the team lacked everything. Young selected tough-guy Ray Perkins over Dan Reeves. And Perkins got the Giants into the playoffs in his third season and then left after his fourth.
"Ray Perkins was not a failure here," Young said. "His job was to come in here and make it uncomfortable for the players to lose. They got very comfortable losing. He did an excellent job. He helped get a lot of things started."
When Perkins left, Young promoted Parcells, who was 3-12-1 in his first season but pulled things together to win Super Bowls following the '86 and '90 seasons.
But the selection of Handley just hasn't worked. Parcells hired him as running backs coach in 1984, but there was never any indication Handley was preparing himself to be a head coach. With the rumors during the '90 season that Parcells might quit, the Giants never tried to entice either Belichick or Tom Coughlin to stay.
Speculation had it that it was Handley's job all the way. The Giants promoted him to offensive coordinator following the season in order to keep him from going to law school. And 3 1/2 months later, he succeeded Parcells.
Now Young must bring the Giants back to respectability and then the playoffs. It's not an easy job. The Giants must utilize the draft and be aggressive with free agents. Can Young deal with an open market? "My job is adjusting to change," he said.
He must be very aggressive. He must be able to compete with the Cowboys and Redskins and keep the Giants from becoming the Cardinals.
Young hasn't made all that many crucial mistakes. That's why the Giants own two Super Bowl trophies and only the 49ers and Redskins have more since Young arrived.
He has made questionable calls. He took Gary Zimmerman, who then refused to play for the Giants, over White in the 1984 USFL supplemental draft. He took Eric Moore over Michael Irvin in 1988. He passed on Thurman Thomas twice in '88. But you can play that game with any GM.
Young has the contractual right to fire coaches, but he says, "Whatever major decisions are made here, the owners are always involved. It's still their team. Regardless of what's in my contract, I respect that. If I trade a later-round draft choice, I talk to the owners about that. I'm an employee and very happy about it. It's always been my attitude."
The Giants have fallen fast since that glorious night in Tampa in January '91. They need a new coach. They need more players. The pressure is on Young to get this mess straightened out. "My hair," he said of the little he has, "isn't falling out."