Carl Banks stepped atop a temporary stage in the first floor showroom of the world's most famous jewelry store and said, "Welcome to the greatest night of all nights."
Banks is certainly qualified to speak on the subject. He was a star linebacker on the Giants teams that won Super Bowls XXI and XXV. And with Howard Cross, a tight end on the second of those title teams, Banks was the co-master of ceremonies as the 2011 Giants gathered at the Tiffany and Co. flagship store in Manhattan to receive their 14-karat white gold rings, three months after defeating New England in Super Bowl XLVI.
And whether the players and coaches were members of the Super Bowl XLII team and receiving their second ring or were slipping on their first piece of championship jewelry, it was indeed a great night.
"It's something you don't even dream about, having two rings" said offensive lineman David Diehl, who wore both of his on his left hand. "This is an unbelievable experience, to walk up to the podium, shake hands with Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin and have them hand you a box with your Super Bowl ring. It's something you can't ever imagine."
"It felt great," said quarterback Eli Manning, the MVP of each of the two recent Super Bowl triumphs. "Tonight, being around the whole team from last year, all the coaches and players, walking up on the stage and getting the box – then how quickly can you run off the stage and open up the box and get that ring and get it on your finger. It's an exciting moment. It's a fun night to be here and re-live our accomplishment from last year."
The vast majority of the 2011 team attended the ceremony, including those players who were on injured reserve or the practice squad. Several players who have either joined other teams or were not retained by the Giants were there, including defensive lineman Dave Tollefson (Oakland), wide receiver Devin Thomas (Chicago), linebacker Jonathan Goff (Washington) and tackle Kareem McKenzie, safeties Deon Grant and Derrick Martin and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard.
"A lot of these guys are great friends of mine,'' Tollefson said. "It's really kind of like an old frat party, going back to college and hanging out with your boys. It doesn't feel weird at all. I think my wife, she's like, 'It's going to be weird for you.' I'm just excited to see everybody.''
"You always want to be able to go ahead and enjoy it with all the guys and be able to celebrate and get that coveted ring,'' said McKenzie, a 20-game starter at right tackle last season who is now a free agent. "It's always something that, you're really anxious at first but when you get down to it, I'm just excited.''
Coughlin, the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, was clearly moved by having his latest title team together one last time.
"I was thinking as we came together tonight what a great experience it was for all of us to gather under this circumstance, knowing full well that time moves on in our business," Coughlin said. "I was reflecting on some of the players that have moved on that came back tonight to be with us for the ceremony. I think that is the best statement I can make about the way in which these players have embraced each other, the way they felt down the stretch – signified by those that were able to come back tonight and share again the emotion of winning the world championship, despite all odds."
Running back Brandon Jacobs and wide receiver Mario Manningham, both now San Francisco 49ers, and cornerback Aaron Ross, a Jacksonville Jaguar, were unable to attend the ceremony. Jacobs was represented by his wife, Kim.
The players, coaches, Giants staff and guests arrived to a blue carpet welcome outside Tiffany on Fifth Avenue. Once inside, they were served hors d'oeuvres, listened to music and watched the 2011 season highlight tape on a wall above the showroom floor. After Banks and Cross made their initial remarks, Giants president and chief executive officer John Mara stepped to the microphone.
"I just want to say thank you," Mara said. "Thank you to all of our players, our coaches, our staff who are here tonight. Thank you on behalf of the Mara and Tisch families for making us world champions for the second time in five years."
Mara's grandfather, Tim Mara, founded the franchise 87 years ago. His late father, Wellington, is one of the most beloved figures in the history of professional sports. The Giants have been an integral part of John Mara's life, literally, since the day he was born in 1954. It's safe to say the 2011 season was among the very best of times in that long and emotional association.
"I just want you to know how much this means to my family," Mara told the players and coaches. "We have been here with this team since the beginning in 1925, through great seasons and a number of not-so-great seasons. This is not just a business to us, this is personal. Much of my childhood and early adult years were spent suffering with some pretty poor teams. There were years when the team was ridiculed and scorned by the media and by our fans.
"So to get to this point today, where we're the world champions again, and to have an organization that is universally respected and, to my thinking, is second to none, is very special indeed. So thank you Jerry Reese, Tom Coughlin and all the players, coaches and staff for making this dream of ours a reality."
At a news conference after the ceremony, Mara said this title was particularly special because the Giants looked like anything but a championship team when they were 7-7. "But we never lost again," Mara said.
He concluded his speech by reminding his players of the virtues that enabled them to win their final six games, including four in the postseason.
"Most players never get an opportunity to wear a ring like this and call themselves world champions," Mara said. "It's something they can only dream about. So cherish the ring, enjoy it, and remember what it took to earn it – hard work, dedication, belief in the team concept, belief in yourself, belief in your teammates. You now know what it takes to be a world champion. Congratulations men."
Steve Tisch, the team's chairman and executive vice president, followed Mara to the podium.
"I like this better than breakfast at Tiffany," said Tisch, whose late and much-loved father, Bob, purchased 50 percent of the Giants in 1991.
"Jerry Reese, Tom Coughlin – two extraordinary human beings," Tisch continued. "It is very difficult to preach teamwork if the two people in charge of the team don't practice it. Tom, Jerry, you are both committed to selflessness and a team-first approach and an undying responsibility to your players and this amazing organization.
"As many of you know, Coach Coughlin's theme this season was 'Finish.' Part of his winning foundation is resiliency as well as toughness. The men who comprise the 2011 Giants … exemplify what Coach Coughlin preaches. They are resilient. They are the most resilient after rebounding when they were 7-7 to win the Super Bowl. And they are tough, as they proved once again by going on the road to Green Bay, then to San Francisco and then to Indianapolis to defeat a great New England Patriots team. They finished the 2011 season in the grandest form possible, by adding the New York Giants' fourth Lombardi Trophy to our display case."
The ring was designed by Tiffany & Co. with input from ownership, Reese, Coughlin and players – notably captains Manning, Justin Tuck and Zak DeOssie - as was the ring presented to members of the organization following the Giants' triumph in Super Bowl XLII four years ago.
The 2011 ring includes four Vince Lombardi trophies, commemorating the four Giants' Super Bowl wins, each set with a marquis diamond representing the football and 37 blue sapphires channel set on the outer bezel. The text around the bezel reads "2011 WORLD CHAMPIONS NEW YORK GIANTS." The total carat weight is 1.36 in diamonds and 1.11 in sapphires.
Coughlin, who insisted that "World Champions" appear on the ring, is particularly happy that the word "Finish" is engraved inside the ring.
"It means everything to me," Coughlin said. "That one word and the stories that went with it that you're very much aware of … The word 'finish' in there really captures a lot of emotion for me and a lot of the focus we took from day one in camp after what was obviously not a very pleasant offseason (because of the lockout)."
After Mara and Tisch spoke, the coaches, players and then members of the football staff received their rings in the iconic Tiffany blue box and bag. Col. Greg Gadson, who has been such an inspirational figure to the Giants since 2007, was presented with his second ring.
Everyone then remained in the first floor showroom for more than an hour, eating, sharing stories and laughter and – most of all – admiring their new and very special piece of jewelry.
"This," Diehl said, "is something you'll remember for the rest of your life."[
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