Giants’ Wives Call the Plays!

You knew there was something different about these 2001 New

York Giants back in training camp, when head coach Jim Fassel, his job on the

line after two consecutive sub-par seasons, invited his men to a screening of

the film Gladiator and everyone- everyone -went. There were no absentees,

no latecomers, no linebackers caught playing hooky at Scores. It was as if an

entire junior high school had happily agreed to show up to a Saturday morning

assembly.

You could attribute the perfect attendance that day to the

iron hand of Mr. Fassel, who would later make the Namath Jr . guarantee that his then 7-4 team would go to the playoffs. Or

you could credit the Giant attendance to the old Big Blue tradition-a

conservative, businesslike style embodied by the team’s octogenarian owner,

Wellington Mara, that frowns upon me-first flashiness in favor of lemming-like

cohesion. 

But if you really knew these Giants, you’d know

that the real reason they all showed up at Gladiator

that day was because, almost to a man, they were already whipped.

That’s right-forget the Super Bowl hype. Forget the stats.

Here’s the locker-room secret you didn’t know: The 2001 New York Giants are a

team of big, tough men molded by even tougher women-wives and girlfriends more

influential, more in-your-face than any coach, player agent or referee.

Just consider some of the Giant stars:

· Michael Strahan, a devastating defensive lineman on the

field, collects antiques and gold watches

along with his wife of five years, Jean. Did you hear how they met? Mr. Strahan

saw her working in a skin-care store

and, after a month of visits and several

hundred dollars’ worth of purchases , he finally worked up the courage to

ask her out.

· Tiki Barber,

the feisty running back, has been known to attend classical music concerts, Broadway musicals and chi-chi Manhattan parties with his wife Ginny, a big-shot

publicist for the Italian clothing designer Ermenegildo Zegna.

· Glenn Parker,

the bald-headed offensive lineman who looks like he should be grappling with

the Rock, has been known to spend nights at his New Jersey home cooking pasta sauces and sampling wine . According to Mr. Parker’s

wife, Casey, the veteran lineman also possesses interests in architecture and …

interior decorating .

· Jason Sehorn,

the team’s star cornerback, resident pretty boy and spokesperson for Sprint and

Charles Schwab, is most famous for the woman he’s engaged to, the beautiful Law & Order star Angie Harmon. Mr.

Sehorn may be known for slamming wide receivers to the turf, but when he

proposed to Ms. Harmon, he did it on national television on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno-on his knees .

· Ron Dixon, the

speedy rookie wide receiver, infamously overslept an early morning practice

because he said he was-get this- up all

night talking to his girlfriend .

Those are just a few examples. Unlike their competition in

Tampa on Jan. 28-the roguish, trouble-loving Baltimore Ravens, led by Ray

Lewis, a lineman who plea-bargained his way out of a murder-accessory

charge-the Giants are Team Stepford, a collection of sensitive, thoroughly

domesticated warriors with a mean streak that lasts only for three hours on

Sundays.

“Once [Tiki's] in uniform, he’s a different man,” says Ginny

Barber. She recalled her shock when she heard her husband’s mouth during a game

in which he wore a microphone for TV. “I never heard him so pumped up and

aggressive, cursing and swearing,” she said. “He’s not like that when he comes

home. That pretty much stays on the field.”

“My wife makes sure that if there’s something wrong with me,

I get it fixed,” said Giants tight end Howard Cross on a recent afternoon in

the team’s locker room before the team departed for Tampa Bay. “She’s always

asking, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ‘Is there anything aching?’ She makes sure it

gets checked out. She’ll even mention stuff to the trainers: ‘Did you check out

his shoulder?’ ‘Is there something wrong with his hand?’”

The Giants have wisely embraced and encouraged this minor

phenomenon. The history of professional football is nothing if not the history

of testosterone-addled men and the women who try to put up with them. There was

Vince Lombardi, whose maniacal quest for perfection drove his spouse to alcohol

and depression. There was the former Philadelphia Eagles safety Wes Hopkins,

whose marriage collapsed one blustery afternoon in Veterans Stadium when his

wife discovered a second Mrs. Hopkins in the stands. And then there were

certain tomcatting members of the early-90′s Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys

who actually stockpiled an entire mansion

called, of all things, “The White House”

with their mistresses.

But these New Age, wine-tasting, ring-wearing Giants are

different. Backed by a close-knit sorority of wives and girlfriends who advise

and support each other-and know when to lay down the law-they have largely

managed to steer clear of embarrassing off-field incidents and matured into

legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

“It’s a real family atmosphere here,” said Shelley Barrow,

the wife of Giants lineman Michael Barrow, who signed with the team last year

as a free agent after playing for the Carolina Panthers. “A lot of the wives

have been here for a long time.”

And the Giants, Ms. Barrow said, recognize the player’s

girlfriends and fiancées. “With other teams, if she’s not your wife, they don’t

include you,” she said.

Ms. Barrow said she noticed the female-friendly atmosphere

the moment her husband signed with the team. “Right when I got here, Roxanne

Stone called me up and said, ‘Hi, I’m Roxanne Stone and we do this and we do

that….’”

Indeed, Ms. Stone, wife of defensive lineman Ron Stone,

invites players’ wives over to watch the games when the Giants are on the road.

On Thursday mornings, some wives (including Ms. Barrow) gather for a Bible

study group with the wife of the team’s resident chaplain, Cyndy McGovern.

“More than anything, I’m impressed with the character of

these women,” said Ms. McGovern. “The ones I’ve known have been of noble

character and not afraid of responsibility …. Their lives change so frequently,

and they do all the moving, handle all the work. They don’t sit around and

watch soap operas and eat. They’re highly motivated people.”

Some of this off-the-field camaraderie, it should be noted,

is the byproduct of social engineering by Coach Fassel and the Giants

management. Following a miserable 1999 campaign, Mr. Fassel decided his team

needed a cleaning and attitude adjustment. He told general manager Ernie

Accorsi, “No matter who we sign, I want them to be good people first.”

It was a somewhat risky strategy for professional football,

where clubs often ignore criminal records and other indiscretions if the player

is talented enough.

But Mr. Fassel was determined. He booted cornerback

Phillippi Sparks and Conrad Hamilton, both of whom had fought with linebacker

Jesse Armstead during an ugly playoff loss to the Vikings in 1997. He also

tossed Tito Wooten, the safety whose girlfriend accused him of assault and then

committed suicide in their garage. While he did retain lineman Christian Peter,

who was twice accused of sexual assault as a collegian in Nebraska, Mr. Fassel

also brought in players like tackle Lomas Brown, center Dusty Zeigler and

cornerback Dave Thomas, all team guys, all law-abiding citizens, and perhaps

not coincidentally, all married men.

Another new recruit was Glenn Parker, a 10-year veteran of

the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills. Though Mr. Parker has pancaked

many linebackers in his day, he was also known as a team guy with a homey streak.

“People would be surprised,” Casey Parker said from the

couple’s New Jersey home. “If you came over to my house, Glenn’s cooking

dinner. He’ll be cooking some kind of sauce. He loves cooking sauces. He’s into

wine. He’s into architecture. I mean, he’s a better interior decorator than I

am.”

Ms. Parker then unleashed a devastating hit of her own upon

her husband: “He doesn’t even like to watch sports.”

Now 34, Mr. Parker is starting to contemplate life after

football. But unlike some of his colleagues, Mr. Parker will not be opening an

eponymous sports bar or calling games for a backwoods Fox affiliate. Mr.

Parker, the team’s resident oenophile, has already worked two internships at

the Robert Mondavi vineyard and is weighing offers in the wine industry. Ms.

Parker, meanwhile, wants to go back to school and get her master’s degree.

But this year, the Parkers have focused on football. This

season, in fact, the wives of the offensive linemen gathered for their very own

tailgate party outside Giants stadium, Ms. Parker said. “We got the Giants to

give us a burn barrel and a Port-a-Potty,” said Ms. Parker. “They said, ‘If you

keep on winning, we’ll do whatever you want.’”

But the Giants wives and girlfriends do more than just lead

the cheers.

“We watch the film together,” said Ms. Barrow. “After the

game, [Michael will] ask me, ‘What did you see?’ He brings home tapes of the

last five games of the opposing team, cut up with no sound, just the offense.

He’ll ask, ‘Is it going to be run or is it going to be pass?’ and we’ll watch

the tight end, because that’s usually who he has to defend against. During the

game I know what he’s supposed to do, and afterwards I’ll tell him what I

thought he could have done better.”

“I’ll call out the plays to him to test him,” said Lissa

Cherry, the wife of third-string quarterback Mike Cherry and a microbiologist

at Merck Pharmaceuticals. “Ever since we’ve moved up here, that’s what I do

when I get home on Tuesdays. He’ll usually spend the afternoons watching the

tape, and then when I get home I test him on the plays.”

“He expects me to

watch him,” said Holly Campbell, the wife of Giants tight end Dan Campbell.

“Then I have to give him a full rundown about how he blocked, and then I give

him my opinion. He wants to know if I think he looked good. If he’s blocking on

the line, he wants to know if he was being pushed around or if he looked

dominant.”

Of course, being the spouse or close companion of a

professional athlete-especially a professional football player-is not always

fun. There’s the constant threat of injury and the chance that, at any given

moment, a player and his family can be shuttled from a metropolis like New York

to a hinterland like Green Bay. Some Giant couples have opted to live apart for

the length of the season. Lindsay Rosenthal, the wife of guard Mike Rosenthal,

is the assistant woman’s volleyball coach at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

Next year, Ms. Rosenthal is planning to move to New Jersey

to pursue a law degree, but she felt the long-distance sacrifice was necessary.

“The job security is so bad,” Ms. Rosenthal said. “Obviously we would never do

this if he didn’t have the job he does, but I couldn’t stay home. I could do

that if I wanted, but I would get too restless-and we also know that money

isn’t going to last forever. So one of us has to be preparing for life after

football. Right now, he’s making the money. But later on, maybe it will be me.”

While most were receptive, not all of the Giants were

anxious to talk about the ladies in their lives. Some appeared to actually be

in fear of them. Asked about his wife, offensive lineman Luke Petitgout passed.

“I probably shouldn’t say anything,” he said. “Yeah, I don’t want to say

anything. No matter what I say, it won’t be right.”

Mr. Dixon, the late-night phone addict, did not want to talk

about his gabby girlfriend. But he did pay respects to his mom.

“My mother, she plays a role,” Mr. Dixon said. As for a

wife, Mr. Dixon said any future spouse of his would have to be “really

supportive.”

“She couldn’t be a real nagging wife,” Mr. Dixon said. “You

look at the type of profession that we’re in. You have to be focused. I

definitely wouldn’t want a nagging wife.”

Ahhh, rookies.

Perhaps when these Giants return from the Super Bowl, Mr. Dixon will be taken

to the woodshed by Lomas Brown, the wise veteran lineman, who will give the

first-year receiver some valuable lessons about life, football and women.

“This game takes you through emotional highs and lows,” Mr.

Brown said, Yoda-like, in the locker room that afternoon. “You’re up real high

when you’re winning, but when you’re losing-man, that’s one of the worst

feelings in the world. I think [wives and girlfriends] have to be willing to

adjust to the mood swings. You still might have some of that adrenaline burning.”

But during the off season, Mr. Brown emphasized, the

football player’s woman gets her revenge.

“Man, they got so much stuff lined up for you to do in the

off season, they just save it all up,” he said. “During the season, you belong

to the New York Giants. But during the off season, they think you belong to

them. And I guess they’re right, too.”