Giants-Eagles rivalry is still one of the best

October 17, 1993|By New York Daily News

No Randall Cunningham, Reggie White, Keith Byars or Rodney Hampton, Carl Banks, Pepper Johnson.

Free agency and injuries have forced the names to change. The intensity, though, is the same.

Giants-Eagles is still one of the very best shows in the NFL. They're both 4-1 with first place in the NFC East at stake on Sunday in the Meadowlands. The Eagles have defeated the Giants five in a row and nine out of the last 10.

This is a game of opportunity. One will stay in first at least until the Cowboys zip by. And with so many big names missing, the opportunity is there for new faces to emerge.

"Sore, a new feeling I've never had, but a good feeling," is how Lewis Tillman described his condition when he woke up Monday morning. Subbing for Hampton in Washington on Sunday, Tillman carried a career-high 29 times for a career-high 104 yards.

For his first four years with the Giants, Tillman has been a rarely used weapon but, given the opportunity, he's been productive.

And with Hampton out until at least the Jets game on Halloween, Tillman has been thrust into a crucial role to carry the running game in the key division games against the Skins and Eagles. Basically, he has been waiting five years for this shot.

Consider that he carried eight times on the Giants' first possession against the Redskins and that all of last year he carried six times.

It hasn't been easy: He was drafted in the fourth round in 1989 and first got stuck behind Ottis Anderson, a Bill Parcells favorite, and then was behind Hampton, who developed into one of the best backs in the league.

Tillman and Hampton are buddies, so rooting for the chance to play would have meant rooting for his friend to get hurt, something Tillman would never do.

He was excited last year when Ray Handley mentioned playing him and Hampton together a lot, but that never materialized, evidenced by his six carries.

"I hate the circumstances that gave me a chance to get in there now," Tillman said. "It's been frustrating for many years. I felt like I'd get my chance sooner or later. I just didn't know when."

Hampton said he was happy for Tillman and "I hope he continues to do a good job."

When Hampton comes back, certainly Dan Reeves will find some carries for Tillman, too, There's no way Hampton can get through the season running 30 times a game.

Tillman had an impressive preseason, and it seemed Reeves was going to give him the ball. But once the season opened, Reeves kept calling Hampton's number. In the second game against Tampa Bay, Hampton carried 29 times. He got it 41 times against the Rams, the most carries in a game this season. And he had 32 early in the fourth quarter against Buffalo before injuring his right knee.

Reeves said he thought Hampton was getting tired against the Bills and planned to put in Tillman, but the Giants never sustained a drive that enabled him to take Hampton out. After Hampton did go down, Tillman came in and rushed seven times for 55 yards in the fourth quarter.

Reeves said the Eagles would be a "better test for Lewis" because they have some game film to go on. "When a team has never seen a guy on film, they don't know what to expect," Reeves said. "I still think he will be successful."

Tillman has impressed Reeves with his strength and explosion and dispelled the idea he was just a "jitterbug" type runner. The power allows him to make some yardage on his own.

But the question has always been: would he ever get the chance? He carried 79 times in his rookie year, followed by 84 in Parcells' last year, 65 in Handley's first year and just six for 13 yards last season.

"That's the worst experience I ever had in my life," Tillman said. "I was at my lowest last year. I lived with it. I'm not the type of person who gripes. I just go out and do my job. It hurts to sit there and know I can go out there and help."

Although Hampton was late showing up for camp and Tillman caught Reeves' eye in camp, he was a non-factor until Hampton went down. At the point of Hampton's injury, the Giants had rushed 144 times and Hampton had 124. Tillman? The grand total of four. It had the makings of another 1992.

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