The same scene was repeated numerous times as players exchanged hugs and handshakes and peppered each other with common but heartfelt queries like "how ya doin?" and "what have you been up to?" Players began arriving at the Timex Performance Center immediately after 10 a.m., when they were first permitted in the facility. With the 4½-month labor dispute finally ended, and training camp scheduled to begin on Friday, the Giants began to gather, catch up with teammates, coaches and team staffers, and work out.
"It's definitely fun seeing everybody," running back Brandon Jacobs said. "It's good to see a lot of these guys, because these are the guys you battle with. I can't wait until we get a chance to get back on the field. That's what everybody wants to see."
Approximately 30 Giants players were at team headquarters today to renew acquaintances, check out equipment and work out. The players are permitted in the facility on a voluntary basis until Friday, when training camp will begin with physicals, a team meeting and conditioning. The first practice is Saturday.
But many players didn't want to wait that long before rejoining their teammates.
"I'm very excited to be back," said Hakeem Nicks, the Giants' leading receiver in 2010. "It's been a long wait, and I'm ready to play some football. I think I reached a point where my body was like, 'Alright, you healed up, you healed all the way up, you had enough time, let's get back to work.'"
"I didn't think the lockout would last this long, but as soon as they were going to call me back, I wanted to be the first guy here," said cornerback Terrell Thomas, who strode through the doors at 10:04. "I've seen guys at events and talk to them every now and then. Everybody would text each other just to see how everybody was doing. But we're a family. It's cool to be away, but we miss each other. We enjoy being around each other. We enjoy the meetings and OTAs and minicamp and just that camaraderie being around each other."
Another early arrival was wide receiver/return specialist Domenik Hixon. After missing all of last season after suffering a knee injury in a June minicamp practice, Hixon was able to join in the locker room banter for the first time in 13 months. And he enjoyed every minute of it.
"Probably one of the biggest things I missed was the camaraderie with your friends on the team and teammates and having stories to tell and different things like that," said Hixon, who drove to New Jersey yesterday from his home in Columbus, Ohio. "That was tough sitting out missing the whole year. I wanted to be one of the first ones here. This is what I've been waiting for, so why not? As soon as they're open, I wanted to be here."
All the players have been working out on their own or with personal trainers. Those interviewed insisted they are in top condition. But several conceded it's not the same as getting into shape under the watchful eyes of the coaches in the offseason conditioning program – which of course, was canceled this year because of the lockout.
"It's definitely tougher when you're not in the team competitive environment going like that," defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "When you've got all the defensive linemen with you working out, you feed off that competitive nature and you push each other. When you don't have those guys and it's just you and a trainer or you and a couple other trainers, it's definitely different than what you're used to."
"I've been training like the season was going to start on time," Thomas said. "I started when the offseason started. The hardest part was just how to really train your body because you didn't know when they were going to end the lockout and you had to be ready to go – because we'd practice that next week. But I've just been training hard the whole time and just trying to stay in shape and hopefully I peaked at the right time and am ready to go.
"I worked out of a training facility. We did a lot of different things to push ourselves and peak at the right time. The hardest part is not having the football aspect of it – you're not out there practicing. My main concern is that my hamstring might not be strong enough because you get that through OTAs and minicamp of really running and the deep balls and pursuit drills. Not having that is kind of hard to train yourself just running and cutting out there. So we'll see how that goes."
Tackle William Beatty, who became engaged during the lockout, said the hardest part of training alone was not having a structured schedule to follow.
"I didn't even set an alarm," Beatty said. "You wake up when you want to wake up. You go to bed when you want to go to bed. It's like close your blinds, you don't even know if the sun's up or not. So I mean it's a complete 180 from being here, where you know what's going on because you came back into the building. It's that security, that rigid schedule that you kind of get used to.
"When we first had to break, I didn't go work out right away. My body was feeling sore, it was feeling stiff. Then I thought, 'You've got to move around, you've got to do something.' I was just used to moving around so much. Lying in bed, waking up late, having nothing to do – it was cool at first. But then I realized it wasn't working for me. I had to do something. I had early morning trainings just so I got up and did something. Then moving around trying to figure out things to do, that's the hardest part when you have so many hours in a day and you can do whatever you want. But there's really nothing you want to do but come back, see the guys, and you can't do that."
Training camp will begin on the day it would have had there been no lockout. But camp is usually preceded by the conditioning program, 10 OTAs and a minicamp. This year the players will sit in a meeting or two and then they'll be on the field. In 18 days, the Giants will open their preseason schedule at Carolina. It goes without saying that it will be interesting to see how the team comes together.
"The coaches have their work cut out for them," Canty said. "But I think for a football player it typically takes us three weeks to get ready to play a football game. When you come into training camp you have that first eight days where you're banging, you're going at it and the coaches back off a little bit, let your body recover. Then you start to prep for your first preseason game. Usually by the third preseason game, that's the dress rehearsal. So three weeks it takes a football player to be ready to play in a game situation with extended minutes. So I think that won't be an issue."
"It's going to be crazy, especially with the free agency." Thomas said. "I was just talking to the coaches, and we're pretty much not going to have our final rosters maybe until the second week of the preseason, because free agency doesn't start right now (teams may begin signing veteran free agents on Friday). And obviously, these guys are not going to be rushing to make a decision and the team has to make cuts and bring in new guys. So it's going to be different, but everybody has to go through it and I'm pretty sure that our front office and coach are going to do a great job of bringing guys in, getting them ready for Week 1."