Giants to kick off against Panthers, Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Giants and the Jets are equal business partners, 50-50 tenants in a new building, and yet in terms of ethos and approach, the two franchises have less in common than Ann Coulter and Al Gore.

As soon as the Jets were done eating mid-practice cheeseburgers and rushing out of the trainer's room and into makeup for their weekly reality show, the Giants were listening in silence to a Jersey-born fan who served as commanding general of the United States forces in Iraq.

In full camouflage before the huddled Giants on Thursday, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno related their teamwork to that of the soldiers who captured Saddam Hussein.

Sure, it's a worldwide stretch to compare the capture of a murderous dictator to the need to contain Steve Smith. But as far as life lessons go, it sure beats lunch with Darrelle Revis' agents at the Roscoe Diner, or Rex Ryan starring in the role of Lenny Bruce.

"You won't ever be seeing us on 'Hard Knocks,'" Giants co-owner John Mara said. "It's just not our style.

"I do find it amusing that the media just flocks to the Jets' headquarters to get the latest quotes. In actuality, it's the perfect scenario for us. We always seem to perform our best when we're under the radar and let our play do the talking. I don't think I could've scripted it any better."

When the Giants open the 2010 season and New Meadowlands Stadium on Sunday, they won't be facing only the Carolina Panthers, an antagonist with a history of humiliating them in the regular season and playoffs. The Giants will also be competing against an invisible opponent, an adversary fixing to seize the marketplace and to do it with as much commotion as possible.

Jets coach Rex Ryan will be the elephant in the room.

No, the Jets aren't on the regular-season schedule, and no, Giants coach Tom Coughlin and QB Eli Manning aren't interested in stealing away the HBO parts granted Ryan and Mark Sanchez.

But truth is, the Giants have been blasted into obscurity by the blustering Jets, so used to playing the Mets to the Giants' Yankees before Ryan and his outsized personality barged through the saloon door.

So after the Jets reached the AFC title game, and after the Giants finished an 8-8 season punctuated by two gutless performances, Coughlin and Manning need to make themselves relevant again. They need to reclaim their field, their superiority, their long-standing rank as the lead team in a two-team town.

"It was embarrassing go out there and get handled like that the last two weeks of the season," said Giants GM Jerry Reese, whose team was outscored 85-16 by the Panthers and Vikings.

Those defeats inspired Mara to deliver a rare public rebuke of his Giants, to make like Ryan in a team meeting, minus a four-letter word or three. The 55-year-old co-owner said he was "probably as disappointed as I've ever been in my life at this team," declared that the 8-8 season felt like a 2-14 season, and warned, "I'm not pleased with anybody right now."

Mara took last season personally for a reason: His grandfather purchased the Giants for $500 in 1925. Football is his business, but it's also his blood.

That blood boiled after the Giants defaced their doomed stadium and their doomed season. If Mara didn't mean to put Coughlin and Reese on immediate notice, didn't mean to make 2010 a win-or-else proposition for the men who had won him an epic Super Bowl, his words sure left that impression.

"My style isn't to be bombastic," Mara said, "but I was angry and I think our fans were angry, too. I think they needed to hear from me that I wasn't content with the season, but a lot of that was directed at the players.

"When you lose two games like that, I don't know how you can't be embarrassed. But we're moving ahead now. I like the makeup of this team."

Manning has grown into the Giants' undisputed leader; he was voted a captain for the fourth consecutive year. Upon finishing practice Thursday, the quarterback went straight to the workout room, dropped down on his back, kicked his feet in the air, and held a large weight in his outstretched hands as he repeatedly lifted his torso off the mat.

Eli is never going to win any body beautiful contest, and that's just fine. His extreme value to the Giants revolves around his ability to stay on the field, the NFL's most important skill.

Now Reese wants Manning to expand his game and take the entire team by the throat.

"We'll have a talk this week," the GM said, "and my thing is, 'Not only are you the leader of the offense, you should walk on the defensive end, too.' Eli usually stays on his side of the ball during the game, but I expect him to go to the other side of the ball and say, 'It's OK guys, just get us the ball back and we'll get it done.'"

Can the Giants win it all this year? Probably not. But they should be good enough to contend for the division title, make the playoffs, and take their chances in the tournament.

They should be good enough to knock their neighbors back onto the lower-rent side of the fence.

"We need to re-establish ourselves as a power in the NFC," Mara said. "If we do that, it won't matter to us how many games the Jets win."

Or how much profanity Rex Ryan uses when they lose.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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