EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Joe Morris kept repeating the same question Tuesday morning as he watched the Giants practice.
"Why am I here?" Morris asked.
It was a secret the Giants were determined to keep. Morris had been invited to the practice with three other greats from the franchise's past – fellow running backs Ottis Anderson and Rodney Hampton and defensive end Leonard Marshall. But the reason behind the request wasn't revealed until after the workout, when team president John Mara announced to the team that the four former players will be inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor. They will be joined by Jimmy Patton and Kyle Rote, whose families were notified of the accolade earlier by Mara, and senior vice president of medical services Ronnie Barnes, who is on the field administering to players in his 47th season with the organization.
"It means a lot," said Anderson, echoing the comments of the other honorees. "You see the names that are already up there? This proves that we're Giants forever. It's just a great feeling and an honor to be part of such a history of great athletes and men who have done the community well, served the community well, and represent the Giants the way you love for them to be represented."
After the practice, coach Brian Daboll brought the players together and instructed everyone to take a knee as the honored foursome and Mara approached the group. Daboll called them "all-time great Giants" and "unbelievable players" before adding, "if we can emulate these guys, we'll be doing okay."
Mara then stepped into the center of the team huddle.
"These four guys right here were not only great players for us, each one of them has a Super Bowl ring," Mara said. "They were great representatives of this franchise off the field. And I'm telling each of them today for the first time that they're going to be inducted into our Ring of Honor on September 26 (when the Giants host Dallas in a Monday night game)"
After the players applauded, Mara continued.
"There are three other individuals who are going to be inducted on September 26," he said. "Sadly, two of them are no longer with us – Jimmy Patton and Kyle Rote, both of whom played in the 1950s and 1960s. But there is one individual that is very much still with us. In fact, he's been with us for more than 40 years. He has cared for I don't know how many thousands of players, coaches and staff and family members during that period of time. And I can't think of any individual who is more deserving to be in that Ring of Honor than Ronnie Barnes."
Representatives of the Giants' storied past visited practice and learned they will receive the franchise's highest honor.
Once again, the players erupted as Barnes, a confidant, friend, mentor and source of strength and medical knowledge for generations of Giants players, stepped forward.
"This is a tremendous honor," Barnes said. "I'm humbled. But the players make this game, and the only reason I'm here is for the players. We've had a lot of great players come through here and talk to the team over the last several days, and guess what? All those guys were smart, tough and dependable. And if you work hard, I hope your name will be up there one day. And the other thing that they all did is they all had a routine, and they all trusted the process. So, let's do that. Alright? Let's win."
Morris played for the Giants from 1982-89 and was a star on the 1986 team that won Super Bowl XXI. He is third in Giants history with 5,296 rushing yards and 1,318 carries, fourth with 48 rushing touchdowns and second with 19 100-yard games. He holds the single-season franchise record with 21 touchdowns in 1985 (four more than anyone else has had in a season).
"I am stunned," Morris said after the on-field announcement. "I wanted to be a Giant great, but it's an honor you don't get until somebody else decides it's your turn to do it. I'm humbled. I enjoyed my time here. And it was hard work. It's starting to set in for the first time. I had no idea, so, I'm completely lost right now. This is a wonderful honor to have, and I'm thankful for it. And I'm going to celebrate it. And I'm going to remember this for the rest of my life."
Daboll asked each of the honorees to address the team. Morris was first. For several years, he has been the NFL representative who ensures before games that players on both teams are complying with the league's uniform regulations.
"My job is to make sure you wear the right stuff," Morris said. "I am not a jerk. But if someone comes to you from the sidelines and taps you on the shoulder and says, 'Fix it,' you fix it."
Next up was Anderson, who joined the Giants in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 8, 1986. He scored a touchdown in Super Bowl XXI and was the MVP of Super Bowl XXV, when he rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown. He frequently does community and charity work for the organization.
"The only message I give to you guys is remember these jerseys you got on," Anderson said. "They represent a history of athletes that dedicated everything to be a part of the Giant family. It means a lot to us to see you guys out here and trying to become a part of that family. But that goes with a lot of responsibility. And you guys have to understand that you don't just represent you, you represent your family, your immediate family, the Giant family, NFL. So, when you make decisions, think about them before you make it because they're not going to say, '(Saquon) Barkley from Penn State,' they're going to say, 'Barkley New York Giants, running back.' That's what they're going to say. Or 'Daniel Jones, New York Giant.' They're not going to say all that other stuff. When you go out there in the world doing what you do, just try to be smart about it because again, you represent all of us."
Hampton played his entire career with the Giants from 1990-97. He is second in Giants history with 6,897 rushing yards and 1,824 carries.
"I just want to tell what I tell the after-school program kids, believe in yourself, work smart and be disciplined," Hampton said. "If you do that, everything will take care of itself. Get out to a fast start, if you do that, you'll be okay. Good luck this season."
Marshall played for the Giants from 1983-92 and is third in franchise history with 79.5 sacks. Like Anderson, he urged the players to be good citizens.
"When I joined this football team, I had no idea of the support and the family that I was walking into," Marshall said. "I was the big, bad wolf at LSU. I got here and the biggest, baddest wolves in the game were right here. They were grown men playing a game for money, but they loved it and they played it with all their heart. I got a chance to be a part of something special. I played with two Hall of Fame linebackers in Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson and the rest of these guys standing behind me. And I tell you right now today: We are as tight as we were as players today in real life. Remember this moment, what you're going through, the process and what it takes to do it.
"Ronnie Barnes touched on something special. (Hall of Fame coach) Bill Parcells always talked about process. Coach Daboll is always going to talk about process. (General manager) Joe Schoen is always going to talk about process. You don't win by not winning. You win because you lost, and you recovered; and you remembered what it felt like. So, whenever you take an 'L.' let that 'L' become a 'W'. And remember what Ottis said: You're representing the New York Giants.' It takes a minute to destroy what it takes a lifetime to build. Think of that and use your conscience when you make some of the decision you make because you guys are all young. A couple of you can be my children you're so young. So, I say this to you will all due integrity: Trust in process."
Barnes has been with the Giants organization since 1976 and became the team's head athletic trainer since 1980. He was promoted to the position of Vice President of Medical Services in 2003 and to Senior Vice President in 2011.
Patton played for the Giants from 1955-66. He was a five-time first-team All-Pro (1958-62), a second-team All-Pro in 1963, and a five-time Pro Bowler (1958-62). His 52 interceptions are second in Giants history.
Rote was the first overall selection in the 1951 NFL Draft and played for the Giants through the 1961 season. He was a running back for two years before switching to wide receiver because of a knee injury. Rote was selected to four Pro Bowls (1953-56) and was a two-time second-team All-Pro (1956 and 1960).
*Pro Football Hal of Famer Bill Cowher watched practice and spoke to Daboll. Cowher coached the Pittsburgh Steelers for 15 years and led them to victory against Seattle in Super Bowl XL. He has been an analyst on The NFL Today on CBS since 2007.
Once again, the New York Giants are bringing back their classic blue uniforms from the '80s and '90s this Sunday as part of two Legacy Games presented by Quest.