Sunday’s NFC Championship Game could turn out to be an all-time classic. The New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams have both had tremendous seasons, and both teams have explosive offenses that are capable of putting up a lot of points. Earlier this season, the Saints beat the Rams in a 45-35 shootout.
New York Giants fans will have another reason to look forward to Sunday’s matchup. The reason is that Giants fans will see familiar faces on the sidelines and on the field.
Let’s start with the coaching staffs. Rams head coach Sean McVay has never worked for the Giants, but his grandfather, John McVay, was the Giants head coach from 1976 to 1978. The elder McVay is best-known among Giants fans for being the losing head coach in the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” game in 1978. The younger McVay, who was born in 1986, has enjoyed plenty of success as a head coach. In two seasons, he is 24-8 in the regular season and 1-1 in the postseason.
McVay is not the only Rams coach who has a family member who roamed the Giants sideline. Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel‘s father, Jim, was the Giants’ head coach from 1997 to 2003. Jim Fassel led the Giants to three playoff appearances in seven seasons, including a trip to the Super Bowl in 2000. He won the NFL Coach of the Year award in his first season in 1997. Ultimately, he was undone by a series of special teams blunders.
Ironically enough, his son, John, is known is considered to be one of the best special teams coaches in the league. The younger Fassel has been with the Rams since 2012 and has remained on the staff despite several coaching changes.
Last weekend, the Rams defeated the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett was the Giants backup quarterback from 2000 to 2003. He did not get a lot of playing time because starter Kerry Collins was very durable. Even though he did not get a lot of snaps, Garrett was a valuable player because he was a professional who stayed ready and helped the team prepare for games. As a coach, Garrett has been able to use the knowledge he gained as a player for the Cowboys and Giants. Garrett is now one of the NFL’s longest-tenured head coaches.
The Rams (and their previous playoff opponents) have a lot of connections to the Giants. So do the Saints. The Saints-Giants connections begin with Saints head coach Sean Payton. Payton was hired by Jim Fassel in 1999. He began his Giants career as the quarterbacks coach, and he was promoted to offensive coordinator after just one season. Under Payton’s watch, the Giants offense drastically improved. The Giants scored 328 points in 2000, which was the most points they had scored in ten seasons.
Unfortunately, the relationship between Fassel and Payton deteriorated after Fassel took the play-calling duties away from Payton in 2002. The next season, Payton was hired away by Bill Parcells to run the Cowboys’ offense.
One of Payton’s current position coaches, tight ends coach Dan Campbell, played for the Giants. Campbell played for Fassel and Payton from 1999 to 2002 and had five receiving touchdowns with the Giants. In 2003, he followed Payton to Dallas. Campbell played for the Cowboys for three years and eventually retired in 2008.
Of course, the coaches are not the only NFC Title Game participants who have connections to the Giants. Earlier in the season, the Saints acquired cornerback Eli Apple from the Giants in exchange for a fourth-round pick. Apple has benefited from the change of scenery, and he has become a valuable starter for the suddenly-excellent Saints secondary. Despite all of his success in New Orleans, Apple is still one of the Giants’ biggest draft busts in recent memory. This one more falls on Ben McAdoo‘s coaching staff than it does on Jerry Reese and the front office because Apple clearly had potential. Apple was somewhat better under Pat Shurmur‘s staff in New York this year, but it was clear that Apple’s relationship with the team was broken beyond repair.
The NFC Title Game also serves as a cruel tease for Giants fans because at least one star player on each team could have or should have been drafted by the Giants. In 2014, the Giants took Odell Beckham Jr. with the 12th overall pick in the NFL Draft. With the next pick, the Rams selected defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Beckham has made three Pro Bowls in his first five seasons with the Giants, but he has caused problems in the locker room and has missed more than a season’s worth of games with various injuries. Donald, on the other hand, has been a dominant force. He has been named First-Team All-Pro four times, has made the Pro Bowl in each of his five seasons, and is considered to be the best interior defensive lineman in the league. Donald is clearly a better player than Beckham is.
One year later, in 2015, the Giants had the ninth overall pick in the draft. They took left tackle Ereck Flowers. He was cut by the Giants in the middle of the 2018 season. One pick later, the Rams selected All-Pro running back Todd Gurley. If the Giants had taken Gurley, they could have taken a much-needed franchise quarterback instead of Saquon Barkley in the 2018 NFL Draft. Ouch.
The next year, in 2016, the Giants selected Sterling Shepard in the second round of the NFL Draft. On the surface, this pick looks like a good one because Shepard has been far more productive than all of the wide receivers (Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell) who were drafted ahead of him. Unfortunately for Shepard, the next wide receiver taken was the Saints’ Michael Thomas, who was named first-team All-Pro in 2018. Thomas led the league with 125 catches this season and had a monster game last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Finally, the Giants have struggled in recent years at the Superdome, which is where Sunday’s game will be played. The Giants have lost five straight games at the Superdome and have not won there since 1993. The Giants have allowed an average of 44.2 points per game in those five games. In fact, the Kansas Jayhawks basketball team has more wins in the Superdome (2) than the Giants do (0) since the turn of the century.
So there you have it. Giants fans have a lot to look forward to… and a lot to feel angry about when it comes to this matchup. Despite all of that, Giants fans, if they can, should forget all of their worries and enjoy what will be a great day of football on Sunday.
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