EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Tony Bennett might have left his heart in San Francisco, but Joe Judge did not leave his in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Judge spent his formative NFL seasons in that community about 30 miles south of Boston as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots. His eight-year stint there as a special teams assistant and later coordinator and wide receivers coach was his first job in the league. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is a mentor, confidant and friend of Judge's.
Now the Giants' second-year head coach, Judge will return to the Patriots' headquarters for the first time since his departure 18 months ago for a pair of joint practices with his former team. Nostalgic, he is not.
"I'm sure it'll be a little bit different coaching against a lot of those players for the first time, but to be honest with you, I'm a New York Giant," Judge said today. "I'm focused on getting our team developed and ready for the season. This is a great opportunity to work against a good opponent, very well-coached, and to go up there and make sure that we hit some specific situations and focuses that both teams need in the regular season. This is really just a great opportunity for us to go up there and work against a quality opponent.
"This isn't some kind of trip down memory lane. I wouldn't bring the team up there for any kind of personal reasons, just the team we're going to play anyway in the preseason (Sunday in MetLife Stadium). We know we can get quality work in with them and it should be a week to help our team progress like last week did (when the Giants practiced with the Cleveland Browns), and we benefitted."
Judge joined Belichick's staff in 2012 as New England's assistant special teams coach. After three years in that role, he was promoted to special teams coordinator, a position he held for five seasons. In 2019, he was given the additional responsibility of coaching the team's receivers.
When Judge was on the Patriots' staff, they won Super Bowls XLIX, LI and LIII. New England also captured the AFC East championship in every one of Judge's eight seasons, played in the AFC Championship Game in each of his first seven seasons and advanced to four Super Bowls.
Despite that impressive ledger, Judge has no intention of regaling his players with stories from his Patriots past.
"To be honest with you and to be completely transparent, I don't try to get too much into places I've been before," Judge said. "I draw things from every experience I've had, whether it's working for Jackie Sherrill or Sylvester Croom, playing for (high school coach) Jim Algeo, working for Nick Saban (at Alabama), working for Bill Belichick. Every coach I've ever had the opportunity to work under, I draw from those experiences and I learn, and I try to put them into my own personality and my own philosophy and belief structure.
"Obviously, there's a great deal of football that I learned in New England, a great deal of success and memories that I've had, but that's things for later down the line to sit back and reflect on. That's not something right now that's very important to me and to be honest with you, we don't have time to do that."
Check out the best photos from the Giants' preseason contest against the Cleveland Browns.
The Giants, of course, have a consequential history with the Patriots, having defeated them in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. The teams last practiced together in 2001, when the Giants bussed from their camp in Albany, N.Y. to the Patriots' summer home at Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I. The defending NFC champion Giants were coached by Jim Fassel, who wanted to push his team out of its comfortable routine. Then, as now, the team stayed in a hotel in Providence, R.I.
"It's like the Civil War," Fassel said. "We march at night and fight during the day."
The opposing general was Belichick, whose team was 5-11 in his debut season the previous year. Six months after the joint practices, Belichick's Patriots were the surprise winners of Super Bowl XXXVI. His teams have since played in eight more Super Bowls, winning five. His nine appearances and six victories are both records for a head coach.
"I have a great deal of respect for everything that coach Belichick has done up there," Judge said. "I have a great deal of respect for the players who are still there who played for me, I have a great deal of respect for the staff members I worked alongside, but right now my priority and my loyalty is fully with the New York Giants, with our staff, our players, this organization, and I can't make that more clear to every player, coach and fan."
This could be the first of many practice ventures between the teams.
"We have discussed as an organization continuing these as an annual event," Judge said. "This is a team that we play in the preseason anyway, so to continue working with a team that you have an established relationship with is very important."
Just don't ask him to reflect on the past.
"The only thing that's important to me is the New York Giants," Judge said. "That's what it's about right here. This week, going up is helping the Giants get better and that's what our focus is."