EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - What a long, strange trip the Giants have had this weekend. They were supposed to fly to Minneapolis, but instead spent a night in Kansas City and are now ensconced in a hotel in downtown Detroit. Their game against the Minnesota Vikings, which was scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday in the Metrodome, will be played at 7:20 p.m. Monday in Ford Field.
By the time the ball is kicked off Monday night, the Giants will have held meetings, run plays in hotel ballrooms and entertained themselves listening to the rookies sing (kudos to you, Mitch Petrus). Through it all, they dealt admirably with one of the most bizarre road trips in NFL history and that, team president John Mara said, "includes the head coach," which is notable because Tom Coughlin thrives in routine and not with a fluid, unpredictable itinerary that includes flights to a pair of cities he never expected to see this year, much less this weekend.
"All of us are in this, I guess, and it's like re-creating a bad Christmas movie, that's what we've been feeling like," defensive end and captain Justin Tuck said.
The odyssey was caused by a snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow Friday and yesterday on Minneapolis. The Giants' charter was unable to land there and was diverted to Kansas City, where they spent the night. The original revised plan was to depart early for Minnesota and play the 1 p.m. game as scheduled. Then the NFL announced the venue would remain the same, but the game was moved to Monday night. Early this morning, the Giants got word that the roof at Mall of America Field had collapsed, forcing the league and teams to look for another site.
After a series of phone conversations – and hours spent sitting around the hotel in Kansas City – Ford Field, home of the Lions, was named the alternate site and the Giants quickly boarded their plane for the flight here. They arrived at the hotel at approximately 4 p.m. – and still had more than 27 hours to kill before kickoff.
But no one complained.
"I think they've handled it very well," Coughlin said. "I think that the guys realized right away that it was out of our hands and really fully out of our control. We fully expected to get into Minnesota – that didn't work, we diverted to Kansas City, tried to resume our meetings last night and just as soon as we did – about a half hour into the meetings – we got word that the game was probably moved to Monday night, so we quickly knew that we had another full day. We tried to prepare our team for that, then early this morning I got the phone call about the collapsed roof and at that point in time there were a series of phone calls back and forth between the owners and the commissioner and that type of thing, so we actually spent most of the morning waiting.
"I had scheduled a couple of meetings, which I thought were going to be informational meetings, but I really didn't have any, so we kind of waited it out and then the decision was made and Continental could fly us, which was another question mark, even today, because it's storming here in Detroit. So Continental thought we had a window and we took it. We are here, it is snowy, et cetera, et cetera, but we're here. I think that having finalized exactly what the schedule is and when we will play and the fact that we're in Detroit and that type of thing, I think that as our meetings begin here this evening shortly, I think our players will zoom back into the mental part of it. It's back into the hands of something that we can do something about. We're here, the game is scheduled for 7:20. We got an unexpected – we were going to leave very early in the morning this morning. That changed with the news last night, so we backed that off a little bit. Actually we've been doing a lot of waiting around for information."
"You just kind of talk through it and get with the coach and figure out what our schedule is, and doing whatever we have to do to get ready," quarterback Eli Manning said. "You toss that around with the players and make sure that the guys do everything they need to do to stay focused and that we're doing everything correctly to get our minds right. We understand that this is an important game and it's going to come down to who treats it with a business-like mentality and stays prepared."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made the decision to play the game in Ford Field. This is the Giants most logistically-challenged trip in memory. In 2003, their flight to New Orleans was diverted to Mobile, Ala. because of fog. The Giants raided burger and barbeque joints and bussed to Louisiana.
"This one has had more challenges than I can ever remember, because we were stranded in the airport yesterday not knowing where to go or what to do and then we made the call to get everyone out of the airport and into a hotel," Mara said. "We were staying the night and really didn't have any further instructions. Our original plan was to fly into Minnesota this morning and play the game as scheduled, and we were told at some point last night that with the snow on the roof of the dome that it wasn't going to be available until Monday night. Obviously, things have changed quite a bit over the last 24 hours."
It is believed that this will be just the third time in the last 25 years that weather or natural disasters have forced the NFL to hastily move a regular season game to a neutral site. That does not count New Orleans' 2005 season, when the Saints played home games in Baton Rouge and San Antonio because the Superdome was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.
In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake that caused a 10-day disruption in the World Series also forced the San Francisco 49ers to move their Oct. 22 home game against New England to Stanford Stadium. The 49ers won, 37-20, and went on to win the Super Bowl that season. On Oct. 27, 2003, the Miami Dolphins defeated the Chargers, 26-10, in a game played in Tempe, Arizona because of wildfires in the San Diego area.
Mara participated in all the conference calls with the NFL office.
"We got the message at about five o'clock this morning saying that the dome had collapsed and there was no way to get it repaired in time to play at the dome," Mara said. "Then we looked at the option of playing at the University of Minnesota but at some point this morning that was ruled out because of the amount of snow that they had there and because the stadium had pretty much been shut down since their last home game. They didn't feel that they could get it back and running to play a game there tomorrow night. There were a lot of other issues like the snow on the field there, the college hash marks not the pro hash marks, and they didn't have instant replay capability. They didn't have TV equipment out there. There were a lot of other issues to worry about, and then the league considered a number of other stadiums around the country that had a dome. Detroit seemed to be the most logical, I think primarily because it was fairly close by and Fox already had their TV equipment out there to broadcast the Lions game. The commissioner ultimately made the decision to play the game in Detroit, and we were fine with that."
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans shortly before the Giants were to play the Saints there, the league moved the game to Giants Stadium and designated the Saints as the home team. Mara suggested putting this game in New Meadowlands Stadium, with the Vikings as the home team.
"That didn't get very far," Mara said. "The one idea that we weren't crazy about was playing at the University of Minnesota because of the weather and it being minus-11 tomorrow night would've created a lot of issues for us. We don't have our cold weather equipment out here with us. Plus from a safety standpoint, I thought that was unnecessary. Fortunately, that became academic when they told the league they would not have the stadium ready to play tomorrow night."
The larger question is will the Giants be ready. They will have had enough meeting time to review the game plan and prepare for virtually every situation that might arise in the game. But because they left New Jersey early yesterday, the Giants have not been on the field since Friday, a period of more than 72 hours by the time they kick off tomorrow.
"I don't think it will (be a problem)," Coughlin said. "Most of the guys will go to the stadium tomorrow and go on the field and do some vigorous exercises – running, et cetera – and then come in and shower and dress for the game, so I think that part of it will be done. It's obviously not the way you want it to be, but you do what you have to do. We have to be focused now on the fact that we've had some issues here with weather and we've had some problems as a result of it, but the time awaiting us is very close to that intent."
"I think hopefully we can get (the rust) out of our system tonight and tomorrow," Tuck said. "A lot of guys have been getting kind of tired, so right now we're trying to get off our feet and get mentally back into this football game. There have been a lot of ups and downs and a lot of uncertainty under it and now I guess things are set in stone. At least we know when and where we're playing, and the rest of it we'll have to handle on the football field."
Another issue for the Giants is because the game will be played on Monday night, they will have a short work week for next week's home game against Philadelphia, which could decide the NFC East title.
"As soon as it ends up being a Monday night game, you click with your staff into a Monday night game preparation in terms of using your time, for example tomorrow morning, to be organized for the next opponent," Coughlin said. "We will do that, it wasn't expected, we didn't travel with that information. We didn't travel with a lot of clothes, to be honest with you. We've got most of our players and coaches here with a couple of days worth of clothes, but we will kick into a preparation mode in the morning tomorrow and then, of course, shut it off in the afternoon for the game."
"Obviously, we would have liked to have a full week, but what are you going to do?" Mara said. "It could not have been avoided. Right now this game is the most important game so you can't worry about the Eagles just yet. You never like to play on a short week, but you have to and this is one of the occasions where it really just couldn't have been avoided."
The players weren't thinking about the Eagles when they were stranded in Kansas City. Their time was spent resting, preparing themselves as well as they could for the game and entertaining themselves.
The preparation continues tonight and tomorrow with more meetings and an exercise that is popularly called The Chair Drill.
"We do this for any night game or four o'clock game," Manning said. "We have 15-20 plays we run through as an offense. We huddle up, break the huddle, change personnel, and we have other players as the defense out there who change looks and we just walk-through different things and talk about it. This will probably be the most important one since it's been awhile since we have done anything football related. Usually we have a full walk through and meetings on Saturday before the game but since we tried to leave early, we didn't do that this week. We were going to do it Saturday afternoon in Minnesota but that got cancelled. We were going to do it today in Minnesota, that got cancelled. We were going to try to do a little bit in Detroit but we got in pretty late here. A lot of scheduling has been moved around and cancelled on us, so we'll have meetings tonight but it'll be good tomorrow morning to get a little in. We'll go over plays and walking around and have an opportunity to get re-focused exactly on what Minnesota does and what we need to do for the game."
Manning, as a captain and team leader, was in charge of preparation that was both serious and light.
"Earlier today, when we were sitting around trying to figure out where we were going to play, we had a meeting and I made the rookies do a little singing," Manning said.
The star of the show was Petrus, the rookie guard from Arkansas.
"Mitch, he did a lot freestyling and stuff," Justin Tuck said. "He did a lot of country, mostly freestyling."
"That lightened the mood a little bit with all the players being around each other and just kind of hanging out and having a little fun and taking advantage of this opportunity to do a little team bonding," Manning said. "This is different, but I thought we've kept good spirits and good focus."
Now, after what's happened this weekend, they need to go out and play a good game.
NFL Network will re-air the New York Giants vs. Minnesota Vikings game in Detroit at midnight ET nationally in its entirety following the live game on Monday night.
The live broadcast of the game is on Fox affiliates in the local New York and Minnesota markets. It will also be live on DirecTV's Sunday Ticket.
NFL Network will also have a special edition of NFL Total Access Monday at 6:00 PM ET with the latest news on the Vikings' Brett Favre and both Monday Night games.