Tone-deaf Leonard Williams needs to understand there's a sound worse than Giants fans booing

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Leonard Williams Giants blue jersey on sidelines helmet up and face visible
Leonard Williams Giants blue jersey on sidelines helmet up and face visible

It was late November of 2003, after a terrible, 24-7 loss at home to the Buffalo Bills when the late Wellington Mara did something he never liked to do: Speak his mind publicly about the state of his team. He was spurred by the sight of fans streaming towards the exits, embarrassed by a mostly empty stadium late in the game.

“The message,” he said that day, “comes across loud and clear.”

That’s a message and a lesson for Giants defensive end Leonard Williams. There’s something much worse than being booed.

That’s what Williams and the Giants are about to experience with 11 games – and five home games – left in what’s shaping up as another lost season: The sounds of apathy and silence. The booing that bothered Williams so much during the Giants’ humiliating, 38-11 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday was at least a sign that the fans still care.

The lack of noise can be deafening when they don’t.

And it’s hard to imagine Giants fans will care much longer, with the team at 1-5 after four straight seasons of double-digit losses, after six such seasons in the last seven years, and after one playoff berth in the last decade.

Some will, sure, because being a Giants fan is in their blood and it’s hard to shake even a bad habit. But as this season continues to spiral, the sight of a half-empty stadium will become too familiar, as will the sight of fans leaving early to beat the traffic. With the sounds of cheers long gone, even the boos will be replaced by eerie echoes in the fourth quarters.

That’s just sad. And very, very bad.

Williams should probably know better than anyone about that, since he’s been one of New York sports’ biggest losers since the Jets made him the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft. He’s played in 101 career games with the Jets and the Giants, with a record of 34-67. And that’s actually inflated by the fact that the Jets went 10-6 in his rookie season. Since then, Williams is 24-61 (.282).

So he’s heard plenty of boos. Yet for some reason, they really got to him on Sunday in the second half of a game where the Giants were virtual no-shows. They put up a fight for all of 15 minutes. The game was over when they were trailing 28-3 at the half.

Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (54) knocks the ball out of New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones' (8) hand resulting in a fumble, recovered by the Giants, in the first half. The Giants fall to the Rams, 38-11, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in East Rutherford. Nyg Vs Lar
Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (54) knocks the ball out of New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones' (8) hand resulting in a fumble, recovered by the Giants, in the first half. The Giants fall to the Rams, 38-11, at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in East Rutherford. Nyg Vs Lar

The boos were well-deserved and well-earned. Yet Williams was moved to wave at the fans, as if he was shooing them towards the exits. It wasn’t quite as offensive as, say, mocking the fans with a thumbs-down gesture, but it was close.

Later, he could’ve dismissed it as just an emotional mistake, when he got too caught up in the moment and did something he regretted. But when he was asked about it in the postgame press conference he stared straight ahead for a few seconds as if he was thinking about his answer.

He should’ve thought about it a little more.

“They do bother me, honestly,” Williams said of the boos. “Obviously, we’re in our own home stadium. I don’t want to be hearing boos from my own fans. I understand that they have a right to be upset as well because they’re coming to see us put good football on the field. But at the same time, I don’t know, I don’t like that.

“I don’t think anyone deserves to be put down no matter who you are. I’m not going to go to a salesman and tell him that he’s not a good person or boo this person because he’s not doing his job or something.”

That, of course, is an absurd analogy. But aside from that, Williams should know that taking on fans never ends well. They are the reason he just signed a three-year, $63 million contract with $45 million guaranteed to play a game. They are the ones supporting his sport and his lavish lifestyle by paying hundreds for tickets, thousands for personal seat licenses, and who knows how much for souvenirs, TV packages, and beer.

The fans are what matter most, and no one knows that better than Giants co-owner John Mara, because he learned that lesson from his father. You know what happened after Wellington Mara got that “loud and clear” message from the fans in 2003? Jim Fassel got the message, too, and two weeks and two losses later he was fired.

John Mara
John Mara

A similar message was delivered late in the 1999 season after an ugly, 34-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the Giants’ home finale. His team was 7-8 – the kind of record this current team can only dream about – but Wellington Mara was so “concerned to look up in the stands early in the fourth quarter and see them half empty” that the next day he delivered a locker room address to the team – his first in 25 years.

His message, he said that day, was “shape up or ship out.” And it literally took a Super Bowl run the next season to (barely) save Fassel’s job.

John Mara doesn’t seem likely to deliver a locker room speech. He also hasn’t spoken publicly since Aug. 17, when he did backbends to avoid putting anyone on the “hot seat,” and his history suggests he’s not likely to speak publicly again until this miserable season ends.

But his history also suggests that he hears the message loud and clear from the Giants’ disgruntled fan base. He heard the boos when he introduced Eli Manning when the Giants retired his number at halftime on Sept. 26 – just three games into the season. He heard them again on Sunday and watched as thousands streamed towards the exits almost as soon as the halftime ceremony honoring the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI team was over.

And he’s not going to enjoy a November and December with a half-full stadium, with far-too-many fans of opposing teams. He surely misses the cheers, but unlike Williams he knows that when the fans are booing that at least means the Giants are relevant. At least it means the fans think the team still is worth their effort.

Once the fans bail, once they don’t even feel like booing anymore, that’s when the situation becomes intolerable and untenable. That’s when the ground-shaking changes will come.

And that’s when Williams will regret shooing the fans towards the exits instead of doing something to lure them back.