Before the 2007 season, Tom Coughlin had T-shirts distributed to every player on the Giants' roster. On the back of the shirts was written a message: "Talk is Cheap, Play the Game."
It is a mantra the Giants have lived by ever since.
Some of those shirts are still hanging in the lockers today. That is fitting, because this week, perhaps more than any other, the Giants will truly live by those words.
On Saturday, the 7-7 Giants will face the 8-6 Jets in MetLife Stadium in a game that is critical to the postseason hopes of each team.
Although some players aren't shy about expressing their opinions, the Giants follow Coughlin's lead and are a team that generally refrains from boasting of their accomplishments or motivating their opponents with inflammatory statements.
"I just say, regardless of the talk, it will be decided at one o'clock Saturday afternoon," Coughlin said at his news conference this morning. "Regardless of what is said. Talk is cheap, play the game. That is the way I've always believed."
When told some of his players like to trash talk, Coughlin said, "Even though you may feel that way, that's not the way we choose to operate."
A vast majority of the players follow the coach's directive.
"I agree with Coach Coughlin," quarterback Eli Manning said. "It's not what's said before the game. Everything will be decided, in this case, on Saturday. That's the mindset around here. It's going to come down to how we perform on the playing field."
"That bravado and all that stuff, that doesn't really mean a whole lot to me," defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "Show me on Saturday."
Brandon Jacobs was asked a general question about teams that do a lot of trash-talking, the timing of which was not coincidental.
"I think they are trying to fulfill something or put something in people that just may not be there," Jacobs said. "Sometimes I talk and say things because maybe this won't happen, but I am going to make myself believe it."
The Giants are as excited for this game as they have been for any this season. How could they not be? A victory Saturday would put them in position to clinch the NFC East title on New Year's Day against the Dallas Cowboys, whom they trail by a game.
"It doesn't get more important than this for the Jets or for the Giants," Coughlin said.
Reporters tried to get Coughlin to say this game takes on added importance because of the opponent. The Jets and Giants meet only once every four regular seasons (though they face each other every summer in the preseason). But Coughlin kept insisting it's the stakes that make this such a compelling matchup and not the fact that they share a stadium with the other team. The Giants will be the visiting team on Saturday.
"I think it is the nature of the game," Coughlin said. "I think it has to do with what is at stake for both teams. It is the underlying motivational drive for what I see. The all-important thing about this game is the opportunity to move on and stay alive. I don't know how it gets any better."
Another reporter quickly tried a different tact, asking Coughlin whether "bragging rights" mean anything. Again, the coach refused to bite.
"Just try to win the game, that is what is important to me," Coughlin said. "Us winning the game, and it will be one of those knock-down, drag-out games without a doubt. Our focus is completely on preparing our team."
Both teams come into the game with performances they'd prefer to forget. The Giants lost at home to Washington, their fifth loss in six games. The Jets went to Philadelphia and were routed by the Eagles, 45-19. If the playoffs were to begin today, the Giants would be excluded from the NFC field, while the Jets would own the sixth and final AFC berth.
But a lot can change in the last two weeks, which is why this game is so compelling, no matter what is being said or who's saying it.
"It is a huge game for us," wide receiver Victor Cruz said, "given all the circumstances how we have to win this game and win the next one to get in. It is important for us to come out strong and fast and we will be ready to play."
"Whether you call it playoff atmosphere or not, it's a big game," Manning said. "Everybody knows it. Everybody knows what we're playing for. You just have to go with the mindset that we have to play our game. We have to be relaxed. We have to come in there and just play our best football."
Which is really more important than talking a good game.
*Five players did not practice today: defensive end Osi Umenyiora (ankle/knee), tight end Jake Ballard (knee), wide receiver Mario Manningham (knee), running back D.J. Ware (knee) and linebacker Mark Herzlich (ankle).
Herzlich, who has missed the last three games, has begun running on a treadmill, but is not ready to return.
Ballard sprained his knee against the Redskins, and Tom Coughlin said Monday it is unlikely the team's fourth-leading receiver will face the Jets.
But the other two tight ends on the roster did practice, albeit on a limited basis: Bear Pascoe (ribs) and Travis Beckum (chest).
Center David Baas, who has missed three games with a knee injury, worked on a limited basis for the second day in a row. At his news conference, Coughlin declined to reveal whether Baas will move right back into the lineup or if Kevin Boothe will remain at center with Mitch Petrus at left guard.
Also limited were running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), safety Derrick Martin (back) and wide receiver Devin Thomas (neck).
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