By Paul Schwartz
The Empire State Building will illuminate its world-famous tower lights in Giants blue Saturday night, leading into the first home game of the 2022 regular season Sunday. The Giants are 1-0 for the first time in six years as they take the field at MetLife Stadium for a 1 p.m. kickoff, and that means about three hours later we will all know if the brightness shining at the start of Brian Daboll’s head-coaching career will continue to glow or has been dimmed.
There is no doubt Daboll’s bold decision in Week 1 to go for the 2-point conversion and the win, rather than play for overtime, won over Giants fans and fostered a belief in his players that their boss has their back. Upsetting the Titans, 21-20, in Nashville — especially the way it unfolded — was a scenario beyond anyone’s imagination, as far as crafting a Daboll storybook debut.
A renewed sense of hope is sure to permeate Daboll’s first game in front of loyalists who have grown weary of wondering what their favorite team will do this week to embarrass the franchise. The last time the Giants played a home game that mattered, they became meme-generated laughingstocks in a desultory 2021 season-ending loss to Washington, lowlighted by two consecutive quarterback kneel-downs, an unfortunate coda to the Joe Judge coaching tenure.
That was then. The vibe heading into the Week 2 game against the Panthers is far more jump-up than kneel-down. One game does not wipe away the past five years of sorry football, but there is no doubt Daboll is off to a flying start. The reaction should be rousing, right?
“That’s a great question,’’ said Saquon Barkley, who did more than anyone to make sure the Giants won their opener. “I can’t really tell, I guess I’ll probably know that answer a little better on Sunday when I get out there and see everyone that comes out.
“One thing that I can say about the Giants’ fans: Win, loss, or draw they’re going to show up, you’re going to hear them. Whether it’s ‘boos’ or whether it’s ‘hoorays’ or whatever you want to call it. They’ve been great fans, they’ve been showing out since I’ve been here. Hopefully this year we can go out there and give them something to be proud about.’’
Daboll arrives as a conquering hero, based on his unblemished record one week into his Giants coaching tenure. He dutifully honed in on his first home game by playing to the crowd — “I love our fan base’’ — as he anticipated a packed house.
“They’re pretty smart fans up here, so the more we can get in there, the better it’ll be,’’ Daboll said.
Wink Martindale, Daboll’s hand-picked defensive coordinator, implored Giants fans to make life miserable for the Panthers when they have the ball.
“If you want to be part of changing this culture here with the Giants, be loud and have that place rocking where people don’t want to come to our stadium,’’ he said.
There is nothing wrong with any of that, other than the need to say it. When the Giants were contending for postseason berths and forging winning records, there was no requirement to cajole the fans to show up and to believe. Times have changed. Home can be where the heart is, and home can also be where the hostility is.
This is the first of three consecutive home games for the Giants. The Panthers are 0-1. Next, on “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 26, it will be the Cowboys, a team that lost its opener and quarterback, Dak Prescott. The Bears, who will come in on Oct. 2, are no one’s pick to have a big year. There is an opportunity for a winning record after four games for the first time since 2011. The caveat is that success one week often has nothing to do with what happens the next week, especially with a program in its nascent stages.
“A win just basically boosts your confidence,’’ receiver Kadarius Toney said. “It just lets you know that the hard work that you are putting in is working. It means a lot around here because we’ve come a long way from having hard times. This year, I just feel like we are overcoming our adversity, we are learning how to deal with it in different ways.’’