Jerry Reese is my kind of guy. He's a religious man, a devout Christian. He works hard. He believes in success; winning is the only option. And the last thing he's interested in doing is living in his office, pretending his life is defined by 60 minutes on Sundays.
Sorry, folks! Reese, the 45-year-old general manager of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, isn't about to lie to the public. "Nah, that's not me at all," he says, hours after the Giants opened the 2008 season with a 16-7 victory over the Redskins. "I put in my 10 to 12 hours, work my tail off and then take my butt home. Not only do I do it, but I insist that everyone who works for me does the same. Balance is what life is all about. Without it, what do you have?"
For years we've heard the only answer is a Super Bowl title. Guys named Parcells, Belichick and Cowher would have you believe that the omission of all things unrelated to football is the key to locker room after-parties, champagne showers and lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
Now Reese comes along, with his serene perspective, and wins it all in his first season as GM. He drafts like a genius: Seven of his 2007 picks played key roles against the Patriots. He's got a wide receiver with the practice habits of Allen Iverson in Plaxico Burress—and has boosted him up to five years, $35 million, in recognition of his game-breaking talent. Reese is confident that his own résumé—he was a player and an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee at Martin and later a scout and director of player personnel for the Giants—combined with his faith in Jesus Christ will help him make the right decisions. And if not? "This is the National Football League," Reese says with a laugh. "It's all about 'What have you done for me lately?'" (And to think, the man doesn't even listen to Janet Jackson.)
Reese is allowing himself to enjoy being an overnight success after 14 years in the organization, and he appreciates his status as only the third black GM in NFL history. "I'm proud of who I am," says Reese, a native of Tiptonville, Tenn., who's married and a father of two. "I'm proud that I'm black and in this position. There are a lot of people, people who have nothing to do with football, who suffered a lot for me to be in this position. So I take it as a badge of honor that I'm a representative of the African-American community. And I'm grateful that the Giants support my feeling this way."
It's good that he's proud, but the truth is, practically no one else cares. Make no mistake, people, Reese was not a Rooney Rule hire. Says Giants co-owner John Mara: "I had a chance over the years to watch him in a draft room, the manner in which he ran our draft meetings, and he just showed a lot of leadership, a lot of intelligence. Plus, I liked the way he treated people. He treats all the scouts with respect. But when it came time to make a decision, he was very decisive. We expected big things from him. Obviously, he delivered."
The Giants' voracious fans spent 2007 wondering aloud why Reese drafted Aaron Ross and Kevin Boss, why the team looked so inept for most of the first 15 weeks, why Tom Coughlin was still on the sideline. How quickly things have changed. Now Reese is credited, not questioned, and all you hear about is his worthiness as a successor to Ernie Accorsi and the late George Young, the two men who ran the franchise for the previous 27 years. Now Reese is seen as an astute football mind, capable of leading the Giants for the next decade, if not more. In fact, it's starting to sound like he has tenure, an unusual concept for a pro sports executive of any hue.
Not that Reese is about to get carried away. "We're Super Bowl champions," he says. "We love it. But there are a lot of questions, and this is a new season, and we haven't provided any answers yet. We know teams are gonna come after us. We intend to be very prepared—always know there will be naysayers and be ready to perform. We do that, and it won't matter what anyone says. Keep the faith."