Shutdown Corner

The Shutdown Corner Interview: Steve Lucatuorto, producer of ‘America’s Game — the 2011 New York Giants’

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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(AP)

For the second time in a five-season span, the New York Giants won a Super Bowl despite an indifferent regular season that had them as nobody's pick to take the Lombardi Trophy. On Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on the NFL Network, NFL Films will debut the newest installment of the "America's Game" series, covering the Giants' unlikely but ultimately successful trip back to the big game. We were recently able to speak with Steve Lucatuorto, who produced this year's show. Steve has been with NFL Films for 13 years and has won four Emmy Awards for his work there: the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals editions of "Hard Knocks," "Inside the NFL," and "Special Edition Sound FX: Bengals at Jets." Steve also produced "Walter Payton: A Football Life" in 2011.

Shutdown Corner: Working up close with the Jets as you have, you must have seen that the Giants and Jets seem so different in their approach to things. The Jets seem more brash, and the Giants appear to be far more old-school. Were those perceived differences easy to see when talking to both teams?

Steve Lucatuorto: They seem to be -- the Giants definitely have that old-school feeling through their entire operation. When you're in the facility, when you talk to the players and coaches, they're very buttoned up, and they do things the old-fashioned way. It trickles down from the Mara family -- that's the way they like things, and that's the way they want the players and coaches to conduct themselves. I don't think they concern themselves with the Jets too much -- they just go about their business and do things their own way, and that's how it is.

The Jets have toned things down in the last two or three years -- Rex Ryan wasn't coming out and guaranteeing another Super Bowl. I think the media has made the Tebow thing into a story; I don't know if that was their plan or not -- I can't comment on that. But it's the perception that I feel.

SC: This is the Giants' second Super Bowl win in the last five seasons, and it seems as if this team can't win the big one until they've gone through this process where they appear to be out of it and everybody wants to fire Tom Coughlin. For the 2011 season, you had an interesting part in the show about Coughlin's reaction to the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and that was really compelling.

SL: Yeah. Where he locked himself in the [office] and didn't have the lights on? I had heard that before -- it was one of the things I read when I was doing research, and that was one of the things I wanted to ask him. I didn't prompt him, but with Coughlin, he'll usually give you a straightforward answer. It's usually, "Oh, it was hard or difficult." But for him to have that reaction and be that honest and forthcoming was very interesting.

SC: Coughlin had said before that prior to the 2007 season, a light went on in his head, and he realized that he had to temper his need for discipline with the players' need to know that he cared about them. You have worked with him before -- how is he different now? I talked with him after the Super Bowl, and he seems to be able to add the human touch now in ways that may have seemed incomprehensible 10 years ago.

SL: I agree completely . You can sense it when you talk to him and when you talk to the players -- Eli, Tuck and Cruz. He really has found that comfort zone -- that place he always wanted to be as a coach, and I think that came out in the show as well. He said that he'd never told a team he coached that he loved them. It's something that you'd never expect to hear out of Tom Coughlin's mouth. But he's in a really good place as a coach, and he's done it for so many years. I don't know if "wiser" is the right word, but he really seems to be at peace with his approach.

He's found that happy medium between being a strict disciplinarian and a comforting presence for his players. He's got a great track record as a coach -- he wins wherever he goes -- and the new players who come in [get it]. [Safety] Antrel Rolle was one of the big critics of Coughlin when he first came in, but he bought into the Coughlin Way. Once they get to know him, they understand that he just wants to win. They understand that he's not being tough because he doesn't like them; he's being tough because he wants the best for his players.

SC: It's been an uphill battle for Eli Manning at times -- he has really struggled in spots through his career. He came out and insisted that he was elite before the 2011 season, and then went out and proved it at a level he never had before. People talk about "leaders," and it's such a nebulous term, but are things different in his dynamic with the team? Michael Strahan made fun of him in the 2007 "America's Game," but it seems that Eli has that team in hand now.

SL: Yeah. I asked him about that and he sort of deferred in the way that he does. He doesn't really like the spotlight. But I asked other players about it, and I said, "Why is Eli so respected as a leader in that locker room?" They all said that it's the way he conducts himself. He has no ego. He's a starting quarterback in one of the biggest NFL markets, and a guy that should have a huge ego and a chip on his shoulder -- "I'm better than everybody else" -- doesn't. Everyone else sort of feeds off of that. He doesn't brag or raise his voice, and I think what you saw in the show is that when he does speak, they do listen. When he addressed the team before the Super Bowl and said, "Hey -- we're going out there to win this game. We're not messing around. We're prepared, and we're going to win." That set the tone for the whole week leading up the Super Bowl. That egoless attitude is the way their locker room is. That's the way they're expected to act.

SC: When the Giants started their game-winning drive in Super Bowl XLVI, they were heading my way where I was sitting in the media area, it was right before his ridiculous pass to Mario Manningham, and I turned to Will Carroll of SI.com and said, "Oh, [bleep] -- they're gonna do it again." And then, they did it again. What is it about Eli that allows him to make these plays under the harshest of spotlights when other players simply can't?

SL: I think it has something to do with that whole ego thing. He doesn't worry about the ramifications, and he said that in the show -- You can't worry about what they're going to write about you. You don't think about failure in that moment. He said that you think about your past successes in those situations. You don't worry about failing, or what if you don't score a touchdown. You don't go out to be the hero. You've been trained for this, and you've done this hundreds of times as a player. Just go out and do what you studied and prepared to do. That's a good mindset to have when the pressure's on, I think. The bigger the moments, the better he plays.

SC: Victor Cruz came out of nowhere in 2011 to have a historic season for the Giants. What was that process like for him? He was completely off the map, and then, he just blew up.

SL: He said that it wasn't that things clicked all at once -- I think he was just overwhelmed by the success that he had the summer before [in the preseason of 2011] and living up to those expectations. He had a hard time with that at first, and because he was so inconsistent early on ... one of the things that didn't make the show, but was talked about, was how it bothered him when they brought in Brandon Stokely to get another body in that slot. He knew that he was running out of time. He even said in the show that you don't get these chances every day. He realized that he was going to get buried on that depth chart for the whole season, and this was it.

SC: And that 99-yard touchdown against the Jets on December 24 -- was it that game or the Eagles game on September 25 where Eli said that he knew Cruz was the guy?

SL: He scored a couple touchdowns in the Eagles game, and he just took off from there. Every week, he seemed to have a big play for them.

SC: With Justin Tuck, and I have joked about this before -- he is basically two ridiculous Eli Manning throws away from owning two Super Bowl MVP awards. How underrated is he? He seems to unleash hell when the team most needs him to.

SL: He is very underrated. I think the problem with Justin is that he plays so hard and gives so much effort, he's always banged up. If you look at his stats by season, he's had two or three years where he's been healthier than in some others, and he's put up some big numbers. I don't think it's a coincidence that -- he may not put up the biggest numbers, but he has a relentless approach and he really took over for Michael Strahan as defensive captain after Strahan left. That speaks volumes, but he seems to get forgotten because the Giants have so many good pass-rushers on their team. But make no mistake -- he's the leader of that defense.

SC: Beating the Patriots late in another Super Bowl -- the guys who had been there for the previous win obviously didn't want it to take over their thoughts, but was there a feeling of "here we go again" when Eli was running that last drive and things started to go the same way?

SL: Yeah, there definitely was. Everyone who was there the first time -- not so much Coughlin, because he was more focused on the moment and you don't think about it as much. But Tuck and Eli for sure -- as it was unfolding, and even when they played the Patriots in the regular season [a 24-20 win on Nov. 6] -- I didn't even have to ask them about that. They said that it felt very familiar and eerily similar, especially the entire playoff run leading up to the Super Bowl, and the Super Bowl itself.

The final drive -- it really was like deja vu all over again.

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