The New York Giants have not had a winning season since 1972. In the ensuing eight years, they have won 33, tied one and lost 84.
In the eyes of impatient New York fans, the Giants are always rebuilding and always losing. The losing continued in the team's opener Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, who sacked hapless quarterback Phil Simms six times. The Giants dropped six passes, one in the end zone.
The Giants are one of those teams that always seems to find a way to lose.
Even General Manager George Young admits that the Giants are not a good team, but there are a number of teams they feel they can beat and their next opponent, the Washington Redskins, is one of them.
The Giants lack a high-powered offense, blazing running backs and big linemen, among other things. Their best players are punter Dave Jennings, Simms and linebackers Brad Van Pelt and rookie Lawrence Taylor. It's wait and see who develops after that, but Young, who doesn't fear for his job, said he is patient.
"We're in a system and you can't speed up the rebuilding process," he said yesterday. "In the past, people have tried to speed it up and it became unsped.
"We're just going to have to wait for some of our young players to become good players. Most of the time, patience pays off, even though the world wants you to be impatient. I don't like to think we're a long way off, but we have a very young team that has to play together for a while."
There are only four players on the Giant roster who were acquired through trades: kicker Joe Danelo, safety Bill Currier and running backs Doug Kotar and Bo Matthews. The other 41 were either Giant draft choices or free agents.
"I don't do as well as Bobby Beathard (the Redskin general manager) does in trades," Young said. "I'm much more conservative."
The one thing the Giants are seeking: stability. They floundered last year because of injuries. Free safety Beasley Reece, the strong safety last year, said things were so tough then that he met a few players for the first time in the huddle during games.
"Instead of concentrating on my job, I was spending much of the time making introductions and telling the new guys what to do," he said.
Injuries still plague the Giants, but at least everyone knows everybody else by his first name now.
Two rookies are starting: Taylor, a 6-foot-3, 242-pounder from North Carolina, and middle guard Bill Neill, a fifth-round draft choice from Pittsburgh.
Taylor, the second player picked in last year's draft, played impressively against the Eagles, but because he is so fast and aggressive, he has a tendency to take himself out of some plays.
"Our public was a little down on us when we picked Lawrence, but that all changed when they saw him," Young said.
"Some of our players questioned his big salary at first, too, but that all stopped once they got on the field with him. Lawrence Taylor is all he's supposed to be."
The Giants play a 34 defense with Taylor and Van Pelt as the outside linebackers and Harry Carson and Brian Kelley inside.
With their best defensive lineman, Gary Jeter, sidelined at least another three weeks after minor knee surgery, the defense rests with the linebackers, by far the team's strongest position.
Because the secondary was thin, the Giants didn't use a nickel defense (five defensive backs) against the Eagles, often going to a four-three alignment up front on passing situations.
Offensively, it's still Simms' show. He was 20 of 37 for 241 yards and didn't have any interceptions against the Eagles. The sacks and the dropped passes did him in.
Center Jim Clack was the glue that held the offensive line together, but when he retired during training camp, the Giants were left with Ernie Hughes, a converted guard they signed as a free agent after he was cut by San Francisco. The new center has a long way to go. "We'll give him time," Young said.
Giant fans, envisioning a repeat of past seasons' dismal performances, didn't wait long to voice their displeasure with this season's opener.
The Giants were staying nearly even with the Eagles, trailing by only four points with 1:50 left in the half and the ball on their own four-yard line. They moved to the 20 with 51 seconds left, and then Coach Ray Perkins, knowing his team would receive the kickoff to start the second half, decided to kill the clock and go in at halftime down by four points.
But halfback Billy Taylor fumbled. The Eagles recovered and kicked a 47-yard field goal. The boos started and, after taking the kickoff with time for only one play, the Giants merely fell on the ball. The jeers really increased.
"Sometimes the fans just don't understand things," Young said. "I can understand them being impatient, but we can't afford to get that way.
"I wish we'd win some games, but we've only played one and we didn't do too bad in that one, and there's 15 more to go. We have to prove we're better than a last-place team before we can expect anybody to believe it and we just haven't done it yet. We're working hard and doing as many sound things as possible, but we're still waiting for the results."