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Monardo: Schiano makes right call (Sept. 19)

Joseph Monardo | Wednesday, September 19, 2012

After what was a remarkably entertaining game between the Giants and the Buccaneers, New York coach Tom Coughlin mounted a high horse at midfield and gave an enthusiastic wag of his finger (and an explicit telling-off) to Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano.

Schiano’s crime? Playing to win the game.

With Eli Manning under center in the victory formation at the end of Sunday’s game, the Tampa Bay front line exploded off the ball, trying to create a fumble in one last-ditch effort to salvage the decision. New York’s big uglies were caught off guard and the defensive pressure caused Manning to fall backward, although he managed to hold onto the ball. It was a legitimate effort, but to no avail – the Giants held on for the 41-34 home win.

But the real action was just beginning: handshake-gate 2.0. A red-faced Coughlin ferociously berated his rookie counterpart for … What was it again? Oh yeah, playing to win the game.

In the post-game press conference, Coughlin exasperatedly described his frustration by saying what basically amounted to, “you just don’t do that in the NFL.”

You just don’t do that in the NFL? You don’t play hard until the final whistle? Maybe Coughlin is right, but if he is, it is a shame.

Every player on every team in the league should play every play as if it was the game’s last – unless it actually is the game’s last play, according to Coughlin.

But the Giants coach wasn’t alone. Quarterback Eli Manning described his heroic efforts to take a knee “in a friendly way” before being unceremoniously tossed on his rear. Really, Eli? A friendly way? The Buccaneers never asked the Giants for the honor of a genuflected salute. It is doubtful that Ronde Barber would waltz over to Eli after the game, saying “Gee, thanks for taking a knee, Eli!”

Numerous other Giants players echoed their coach’s sentiment, painting the Buccaneers’ effort as a dirty play and a cheap shot. Coughlin and his G-men claim to be defending the integrity of the league and championing player safety, but in fact are rationalizing their own failure to play to the whistle.

A cheap shot is a blow to the head, a spearing with the helmet or a stomp after the whistle. What Schiano instructed his players to do, on the other hand, is something that the NFL should hope to see more of. The offensive line accepts defensive pressure for dozens of plays every game and the final play should not be any different. It becomes a dangerous play if the offensive linemen stand up expecting a high five from their opponent, but not otherwise.

Further, the kneel-down is the worst play in all of sports. An understandable reward for the winning offense, the victory formation is a source of frustration for fans and defenders alike. To say that the defense should not do everything it legally and ethically can to avoid conceding the game is ridiculous.

Even if the kneel-down was the sacred ritual Coughlin tried to make it out to be, he is hardly the one to condemn anything as inappropriate behavior. These are the same Giants who just one year ago commanded their players to fake injuries to slow play down. Is that what the NFL does, Tom Coughlin? How about verbally undressing a professional kicker on the field after a game, in full view of cameras, reporters and fans, as Coughlin did to punter Matt Dodge following a loss to the Eagles in Dec. 2010? Is that the way to do it?

Coughlin is widely respected by his players and around the league, and he has repeatedly turned his team into a surprise Super Bowl contender in recent years. But Coughlin deserves no respect for complaining very publicly and demonstratively about a hustle play.

Schiano, meanwhile, stands by his decision. This is the same coach who signed paralyzed former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand to an NFL contract at the season’s start. That probably is not how it is done in the NFL, either, but convention didn’t stop the former Rutgers coach. He is doing things the way he knows how, and as long as that method involves compassion, persistence and preaching clean play until the final whistle, Schiano should continue to ignore the mindless conventions of the NFL.

During that midfield encounter Sunday, while getting an earful from Coughlin, Schiano extended his arm to shake the furious Coughlin’s hand. With Coughlin unleashing his unreasonable anger, the losing coach thought to offer the simple courtesy of a handshake.

And that, Tom Coughlin, is how it should be done in the NFL.  

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.