Giants play different roles to unite divided locker room

Team leaders turn N.Y. into class of NFC

Super Bowl Xxxv

Ravens vs. Giants

January 17, 2001|By Neil Best | Neil Best,NEWSDAY

Please sign my yearbook, Michael.

"It's too good and too nice to be around this group of guys, and I don't think anybody wants to see it end."

DE Michael Strahan, NY Giants, No. 92.

Thanks. No, that's all right, keep the pen, big guy.

With Graduation Day less than two weeks away, when New York faces the Ravens in the Super Bowl, the Giants are starting to reflect on how much they've grown, learned and bonded, a mood their star defensive end captured Monday. Led by gentlemanly professor Jim Fassel, a locker room once infamous for its griping and internal rifts has made choir practice seem like a den of vipers by comparison.

"I'm trying to figure out why it was so bad here," said offensive tackle Lomas Brown, a transfer from Detroit by way of Arizona and Cleveland. "I haven't seen anything that resembles that. This has been an awesome situation."

There are 58 members of the Class of 2000-01, including the practice squad. Each plays an important role in Mr. Wellington Mara's Day School for the Large and Aggressive. Here's a look at some of them.

Student Council president: Jessie Armstead.

Veteran stars respect him for his drive, playmaking ability and willingness to tell it like it is.

Young, low-round draft picks respect him because the former eighth-round choice makes it a point to befriend fringe players.

Most likely to succeed: Tiki Barber. Barber already has been compared to another Giant who was an all-purpose threat and turned his charm, good looks and New York connections into a long career in television: Frank Gifford.

The preacher: Mike Barrow.

The linebacker, a reformed womanizer, now is the most vocally religious player on the team, and his booming voice carries his message to every corner of the locker room.

Most attractive: Jason Sehorn.

Teammates' reactions to Jason Sehorn for much of his career have ranged from jealousy to wariness. Sehorn plays and talks with an emotional detachment that is unusual for a football player, and others in the locker room haven't known quite what to make of him.

His dapper appearance and extreme popularity didn't help. But there has been a noticeable change in his image among teammates this year, and it began with his decision to attend the off-season conditioning program.

The chauffeur: Joe Jurevicius. Jurevicius is a promising wide receiver, but until Feb. 1, his biggest claim to fame will remain his role as quarterback Kerry Collins' frequent ride to practice.

Jurevicius has been helping his former Penn State teammate while Collins serves out a one-year license suspension that resulted from driving under the influence of alcohol in 1998.

Most improved: Collins.

He shocked and offended some veterans 15 months ago when he said the offense lacked camaraderie. Most of those players are gone now and Collins is the unquestioned leader of the unit. His strong right arm is only part of the reason. Rule No. 1: No unnecessary talking or fooling around in Collins' huddle.

The hometown hero: Sam Garnes.

Giants co-owners Mara and Bob Tisch are from Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively, but there isn't much five-boroughs flavor on the team beyond that. Enter safety Sam Garnes, proud native of the Bronx, and until he arrived in 1997, a lifelong fan of the ... Jets.

Valedictorean: Armstead. He is the man who stands in the middle of the swirling mass of players just before kickoff and delivers the final message to the troops, a job he inherited from retired fullback Charles Way. On Jan. 28, he will deliver his biggest speech yet.

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