Editor's note: Michael Silver will not have a Live Trippin' session on Tuesday, Nov. 25. Live Trippin' will return on Dec. 2.
GLENDALE, Ariz. – There are pranks designed to embarrass your teammates, like making them show up at the Super Bowl with purple-painted shoes. Then there are truly disgusting acts of intra-team treachery, such as putting a charred pig's head in a lineman's locker.
But a practical joke that makes a prop out of the starting quarterback's wife?
Now that's really cold.
"When someone plays a prank on me, I take it well," New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning said Sunday after the team's 37-29 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium, the site of his Super Bowl MVP effort last February. "When those guys got the wife involved, she did not take it as well."
As Abby Manning found out the hard way back in October, the men who make up the NFL's most dominant blocking unit are as relentless in their pursuit of laughs as they are in pushing around defenses. For all of the time they spend protecting their quarterback on game day, the Giants' linemen weren't above amusing themselves by abusing his better half.
"It was family day at the facility, where guys have their wives and kids come out to visit, and we got ahold of Eli's phone and sent a couple of texts," Giants guard Rich Seubert explained. "We said, 'Please come. It would really mean a lot to me.' So she showed up, which was a total surprise to Eli. She had some stuff to do and didn't really want to be there, so needless to say she wasn't thrilled."
The Cardinals' defenders weren't especially thrilled to be out there against Seubert and his fellow linemen by the latter stages of Sunday's game, which is a typical state of affairs for Giants opponents. Getting manhandled consistently will do that to you, as Arizona learned that New York's line is as proficient when it comes to pass protection as it is when clearing holes for its talented trio of runners.
With the league's top rushing unit missing bruising halfback Brandon Jacobs because of a knee injury, the Giants happily allowed Manning (26 of 33 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns) to drop back and do his thing. He was sacked just once – only the 13th the line has allowed in 11 games – and on most pass plays would've had enough time to send Abby legitimate texts professing his desire to see her.
Meanwhile, halfback Derrick Ward had 33 of his 69 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, as New York's merry pranksters asserted their physical superiority with three consecutive scoring drives.
"As the game goes on, we try to take it over and wear down opponents," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said after the team improved to 10-1. "Every team starts out hooting and hollering and flying around, but you can see as the game goes on they're not jumping in front of each other to make a play. We feel like there isn't a defense out there we can't move the ball on, and it's definitely fun when we can see that they're frustrated."
Having fun is something of a mission statement for the Giants' grunt workers, who have a knack for lending levity to even the most mundane aspects of their jobs.
"We add sound effects to film sessions," right tackle Kareem McKenzie says. "If someone got a guy real good, we'll yell out, 'Booooooom!' Or if someone goes down for no reason, we might say, 'This is Sniper Lee. Do I have the shot? I have the shot.' To us, it's comedy."
Enter a conversation with any member of the Giants' line – from left to right, tackle David Diehl, Seubert, O'Hara, guard Chris Snee and McKenzie – and expect one or more of the others to chime in as though they were included. On Sunday, as Seubert began to answer a question about Diehl, two other linemen yelled out, "You mean 'Triple Ds'?"
A reference to Diehl's initials, perhaps?
"You gotta see him with his shirt off!" the linemen yelled.
McKenzie, says Seubert, "thinks he's an intellectual. He acts like he reads books, but he's really just one of those guys who carries a book around to make you think that he's reading it."
Referencing McKenzie's DUI arrest earlier this month in Little Falls Township, N.J., O'Hara says, "Let's just say he won't be driving us anywhere anytime soon."
Snee is the son-in-law of Giants coach Tom Coughlin, which makes him an obvious target. "That's too easy, though," O'Hara says. "It's getting old. We get on him for his attitude, too. We call him 'The Angry Troll.' "
O'Hara gets lit up for being media friendly, while Diehl has a penchant for being overly chatty on the sidelines. ("He'll tell you about what the corner was doing on the backside of the play," O'Hara says, "or how the guy in the front row eating a hot dog spilled ketchup on his shirt.")
Seubert, known as the unit's resident complainer, also seems to be its most frequent prank victim, which may be coincidental.
"[Backup lineman] Grey Ruegamer put a dead seagull in the back of my truck," Seubert says. "It was the size of a turkey, and it took about eight weeks before the smell got so bad that I discovered it."
Similarly, after the linemen held a "pig roast" following a blowout victory over the Seahawks in early October, an unknown prankster placed the animal's head inside a bag and stashed it in Seubert's locker. "I found it about a week later, when I was going through my locker looking for my shoes," Seubert says. "It was pretty disgusting."
Seubert, who missed almost two seasons after suffering a severe leg injury in 2003, is the only one of the five who hasn't been in the starting lineup for the past four seasons. Such continuity on the line is rare in this era of free agency, and it's a major reason the Giants played so well during their '07 Super Bowl run and the first 11 games of '08.
While the linemen seem to have improved collectively with each passing year, they're highly resistant to any suggestion of their superiority.
"We've been together for quite a long time now, and it's funny – I think we're all getting sick and tired of all the praise," O'Hara says. "If you look back at the numbers, we've been doing this since 2004. Look back at Tiki Barber's rushing stats. We might be playing at a higher level overall, but we're not doing a whole lot different."
If the linemen are predisposed to humility, they can thank their quarterback for his vigilance in not letting them take themselves too seriously. This was obvious when, before boarding their flight to Phoenix for Super Bowl XLII, Manning's protectors discovered that all of their shoes had been painted purple.
There seems to be something of a foot fetish at play in the Giants' locker room. Manning recently found a pair of boots in his locker taped tightly together "with Fruit Loops stuck underneath the tape." The Giants' backup quarterback, David Carr, returned from a postgame shower earlier this month to discover that one of his shoes had been replaced – though none of the linemen would claim responsibility. "Just look for the [other] man with one red shoe," McKenzie says. "Obviously, he did it."
Conversely, Manning may have been responsible for the practical joke that led to some unscheduled drive-blocking one night at the team's Albany, N.Y., training camp this past summer.
"Someone tried to lock us in a meeting room," Diehl recalls. "They taped us in, with strings tied to each door, and sofas and other stuff lined up to block us in. We basically broke our way out, but it took a couple of minutes."
The linemen usually manage to share some lighthearted moments during games, but their collective commitment to their craft – and to one another – is no joke.
"They're fun to be around, obviously, but they work extremely hard," Manning says. "They take their job seriously, but they know how to relax a little bit, and they have a great ability to turn the switch on when it's time to get down to business."
Clearly, these are five men who understand how to straddle the thin line between work and play, to the detriment of opponents and their quarterback's spouse alike.
"We spend so much time together, and you've got to do stuff to break up the monotony," Diehl says. "We play jokes on each other, but that's what brothers do, and we also work extremely hard and prepare very seriously. When things are tough – when things are on the line – everyone else can look at us and know we're going to do whatever it takes to sell out and come through for this team."
I'M HOT CAUSE I'M FLY …
• Start spreading the news? All that New York/New York Super Bowl talk sounded a bit silly to me until Sunday, when the Jets took apart the previously undefeated Titans in Nashville and cruised to a 34-13 victory. They've now won five in a row since that embarrassing defeat to the Raiders on Oct. 19, and while I still believe the Titans and Steelers are the AFC's strongest teams, New York has officially entered the conversation. There are several reasons that explain the remarkable resurgence of Eric Mangini's team: The trade for nose tackle Kris Jenkins was arguably the most significant move of anyone's offseason and certainly getting Brett Favre, who was terrific on Sunday, has paid huge dividends. As skeptical as I was of the Favre trade at the time, I can now see the transaction worked out for just about everyone: the Jets and Favre, obviously; Chad Pennington, who got to resuscitate his career in Miami; the Dolphins, who gained leadership and cool proficiency at the quarterback position; and, in my opinion, the Packers. I expect Aaron Rodgers will have a long, successful run in Green Bay, and the Pack (5-5 going into Monday night's game in New Orleans) still has a legitimate chance to win the NFC North and do some damage in the playoffs. Interestingly, the Jets' plan of attack against the Titans' defense – spread them out and get rid of the ball quickly to receivers running short, high-percentage routes, ultimately setting up the run – was similar to the Packers' strategy in a 19-16 loss to the Titans three weeks ago.
• In September 2000, then-49ers receiver Terrell Owens infuriated the Dallas Cowboys and their very sensitive fans by celebrating a pair of touchdown catches on the team's iconic star logo at midfield of Texas Stadium. After the game, 49ers owner John York got in Owens' face and told him he had embarrassed the organization, and their relationship was permanently strained. I'm not saying that eight-year-old tiff was T.O.'s sole motivating force in facing his old team in the same stadium on Sunday – the man hadn't cracked 100 receiving yards in a game since last November – but I guarantee the opportunity to tweak his ex-boss brought him pleasure. "The demise of Terrell Owens was greatly exaggerated," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said after T.O.'s seven-catch, 213-yard performance in a 35-22 victory over San Francisco. The same may be true of Dallas (7-4), which should have a similarly easy time with the Seahawks on Thursday. Anyone have a Sharpie handy?
• The Colts and Patriots may not make it past the first round of the playoffs – or might not even reach the postseason at all. But each 7-4 team deserves credit for avoiding the type of pronounced collapse that has afflicted other fallen favorites (Jaguars, Chargers, cough cough), something which seemed very possible back in the season's first month. On Sunday the Pats scored a 20-point victory over a Dolphins team that defeated them by 25 back in late September, improving to 17-1 in games following a defeat since 2003. That stat speaks to two qualities: great coaching and a whole lot of heart. The Colts know all about both of those things, as they showed in coolly navigating the final minutes of a 23-20 road victory over the Chargers. It's good to see a team that embraces fourth down as an opportunity to close out as opponent, rather than approaching it as a stressful situation that could lead to unwanted second-guessing. Coach Tony Dungy, quarterback Peyton Manning and kicker Adam Vinatieri could not be cooler than they were in Sunday night's pivotal moments, and that will give Indy a distinct advantage down the stretch.
… YOU AIN'T CAUSE YOU'RE NOT
• OK, so let's say you're Andy Reid, and your franchise quarterback is struggling mightily against a strong Ravens defense, and you decide to make the tough call and bench Donovan McNabb at halftime in favor of second-year passer Kevin Kolb. Wouldn't you, you know, tell McNabb yourself what you were about to do? Not Reid – he let quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur have that honor. That's leadership? If Reid is starting to seem like a dude who's lost, that perception was bolstered during his news conference after Philly's 36-7 defeat, when he basically seemed to be telling Jeffrey Lurie the owner might want to start making plans to replace him. "You get beat up like we did today, that's a head coaching problem right there, and a direct reflection of the job that I'm doing, or that I did today," Reid said. "It's unacceptable. I need to make sure that I get this changed and get an answer." Uh, yeah you do. So who should play quarterback? Given that the Eagles (5-5-1) still technically have a chance to sneak into the playoffs – and based on what I saw Sunday of Kolb, who looked utterly lost – McNabb is the much better call. McNabb has bounced back from bad games before, and I think he'd do it this time as well. Then again, if Reid is looking for a spark, I personally think No. 3 quarterback A.J. Feeley could provide it.
• Wow, the AFC West is atrocious. I mean, really, really, really, really bad. Stinky Linky. Let's see, a week removed from their valiant victory at Atlanta, the Denver Broncos returned to Invesco Field and lost to the Raiders by 21 points, letting JaMarcus (Scattershot) Russell complete all but one of his 11 passes. Given yet another opening by a first-place team that clearly isn't comfortable with its standing, the Chargers lost to the Colts to fall to 4-7 – and, amazingly still is not out of contention for a division title, though it's hard to imagine San Diego rising up to defeat anybody right now. But my personal favorites on Sunday were the Kansas City Chiefs. For the most part, Herm Edwards' team had done a commendable job of not quitting, despite having lost 18 of its past 19 heading into Sunday's game against Buffalo. But the Chiefs were crushed, 54-31, at Arrowhead Stadium by a Bills team that came in with a four-game losing streak, and all semblance of dignity vanished. Fifty-four points! That's the most K.C. has ever given up, and when you allow Trent Edwards to run 15 yards for a touchdown, that means your effort is suspect. I know that I, for one, can't wait to watch Kansas City's next three games, all against division opponents. What better way to spend three hours on a Sunday afternoon?
• Hi, we're the Jacksonville Jaguars, and even though we're 4-6 we still have a mathematical chance to get on a roll and get back to the playoffs. Now we're about to field the opening kickoff against the 5-5 Minnesota Vikings at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, and we're looking to set a tone against a team whose star running back, Adrian Peterson, is beginning the game on the bench for having been late to a meeting. So here we go: First play from scrimmage, quarterback David Garrard in the shotgun formation – and center Brad Meester snaps the ball as though Garrard was under center. The Vikes' Napoleon Harris picks it up and runs 27 yards for a touchdown. Now it's 7-0, and here's the kickoff to rookie Brian Witherspoon … FUMBLE, Minnesota ball. Three plays later it's 14-0, and three turnovers later it's a 30-12 final – and time to start looking toward 2009. What a miserable effort by a team that has no business being this lousy.
TWO THINGS I CAN'T COMPREHEND
1. How, upon discovering that I packed the wrong power adapter for my MacBook, I could call up Nicole, the awesome concierge at the Mondrian Scottsdale, and convince her with my pathetically strained voice (lots of yelling at No. 6 Cal's women's basketball victory over No. 2 Rutgers Friday, at the following day's Big Game thrashing of Stanford and during the full-throated, 10-hour celebration tour that ensued) to drive to the Apple Store on East Camelback and purchase a compatible adapter for a guest who hadn't even checked in yet. And if Nicole and her co-workers hadn't been so clutch? Well, let's just say that writing a 4,000-word column on a BlackBerry might have been a little dicey.
2. The disturbing trend among television analysts of referring to the Eagles' shrewd defensive coordinator as "Jimmy Johnson." Guys, guys, guys: Johnson is 67 years old, and until recently he was known as "Jim." And you want to give him a playground nickname now? Look at the man: If he's suddenly "Jimmy," then a certain Arizona senator is "Johnny." Is the idea behind this switch to create as much confusion as possible? If so, it's working. First of all, we already have a more famous NFL coach named Jimmy Johnson, who now spends his Sundays on Fox's pregame show. You know, the two-time Super Bowl winner whose hair last moved when Michael Irvin was a struggling second-year receiver. Then there is Jimmy Johnson, a Hall of Fame cornerback who starred for the 49ers from 1961-76. Oh, and the best NASCAR driver right now and current Sports Illustrated cover subject? Jimmie Johnson. Trying to turn the Eagles' Johnson into yet another member of the club is flat-out insane. But, apparently, you people can't help yourselves.
OVER-THE-TOP, EPHEDRINE-LACED DIATRIBE BEFORE DAWN
Norv Turner, why did you rush to call that timeout on fourth-and-2 from the Indianapolis 29-yard-line with 1:35 remaining in Sunday night's game? As a result, Nate Kaeding's 47-yard tying field goal left Manning with about 30 extra seconds to launch a game-winning drive, and shockingly the NFL's best active quarterback took advantage and pulled out the victory. Calling the timeout immediately after Philip Rivers' completion to tight end Brandon Manumaleuna was the wrong move for several reasons: Had Kaeding missed the field goal, the Chargers could've preserved their options just as effectively (and essentially saved the same amount of time) by calling all three of their timeouts on Indy's ensuing possession. And had the decision been to go for the first down and play for the victory – which, given San Diego's desperate state, might not have been an unsound one – a timeout as the play clock wound down would've still left the Chargers plenty of time to score a touchdown. It was a bad move, any way you look at it. One of Turner's positive qualities, theoretically, is that he's an old pro who shouldn't be prone to panicking in such situations, but he clearly blew this one.
Conversely, his Indy counterpart, Dungy, stayed calm before the Colts' fourth-and-inches snap from the San Diego 48, instructing Manning to bleed the clock before running the gutsy play-action, 14-yard pass to Marvin Harrison that set up Vinatieri's game-winning 51-yarder. When Turner guided the Chargers past Indy in a divisional-round playoff game at the RCA Dome last January, I tried to stop bashing his head coaching credentials and start giving him the benefit of the doubt. But gaffes like Sunday's – and San Diego's miserable season in general – make me wonder again about his management skills, and I know I'm not the only one.
TEXT/IM/EMAIL/VOICEMAIL OF THE WEEK
"Rm rayqwj rkwo u j ;31iq e3(e lk6wc) is b"
– Text Saturday afternoon from Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz expressing his excitement about the impending return of The Axe. (I'm guessing that a text-entry issue made Duritz's words unintelligible. Then again, a few hours later as we blazed through Berkeley's bars, it all started sounding like that.)