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Finding Locker Room Harmony


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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—Eli Manning quietly stole receiver Hakeem Nicks's cell phone, punched a few keys and when Nicks came back to his locker, the phone's operational language had been switched to Japanese.


"I had to get somebody's help," Nicks said. Pausing Wednesday, Manning's best receiver thought back to that long—annoying—day a year ago and said, "Steve Smith. I think me and Steve figured it out—because Eli did it to him before."


Manning has taken Victor Cruz's towel, hanging fresh and fluffy outside the shower, soaked it in water and hung it back in its spot. He's taken Travis Beckum's towel and sprayed it with liquid soap. Last week, he slyly stuck a wad of gum on a football, told Devin Thomas to go out for a pass, and didn't change his expression when Thomas came up with gum on his hand.


"Stupid. He got me. Eli being Eli," Thomas said, shaking his head. But then, with a laugh, Thomas said there's a genius in this leadership-by-pranking: you can only prank—and be pranked—if you trust. If you trust, you don't point fingers. If you don't point fingers, it's easier to stay positive—especially after an unexpected and ugly loss, like last Sunday's against the Seahawks.


"I was on a very dramatic finger-pointing team. It split up offense, defense and special teams and you could feel that negativity in the air," Thomas said, referring to some dicey years with the Washington Redskins. "This place is different. I'll tell you this: a quarterback would not be putting gum on a football in Washington."


The Red Sox collapse? The news out of Boston is of a clubhouse wracked by divisions. The Jets' jettisoning of opinionated Derrick Mason? The Jets brass's spin notwithstanding, even Mason's former teammates wondered if there was a message to the locker room wrapped in the move.


Locker room harmony can't be underrated, Giants end Dave Tollefson said. Teams that play well are tight-knit, he said, and loose too.


"I jumped offsides a couple times in the Eagles game and no one said anything to me. Coach Coughlin constantly says we're all in this together. Our D-line coach constantly says, 'If the grenade blows up, we all die,'" said Tollefson.


But it runs deeper than coaching cliches: "It's the social interaction that happens in here. The locker room is a unique place," Tollefson said. "It's kind of like the He-Man Woman Haters Club from the Little Rascals. The growth starts here."


The Giants locker room in the Timex Performance Center is a fairly barren place, split down the middle by big blue bins of laundry. There's no pool table, like the Steelers have, or a cornhole game like the Chiefs. The players' lounge is just couches and some computers, so the Giants largely just "shoot the breeze," Tollefson said. "Or get on each other."


In one corner, long snapper Zak DeOssie has posted up the High Motor White Guy Hall of Fame. (Current honorees: assistant special teams coach Larry Izzo, departed receiver Brandon Stokley and rookie linebacker Mark Herzlich.) In another, by Prince Amukamara's locker, there sits a Halloween costume that the rookie refused to wear. That's the same spot where running back Brandon Jacobs picked him up Wednesday, threw him in one of those laundry bins and wheeled him to a "swim" in the ice tubs.


"Probably 15 or 20 guys saw," Amukamara said, his head down. "No help. Nobody came to help."


To be fair, the Giants as an organization are not immune to backbiting. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was all sorts of very public bickering. Defensive end Michael Strahan, then the league's most dominating defensive player, bristled at getting the same signing bonus as a past-his-prime cornerback Jason Sehorn and said he was tired of the better defense "carrying" the often floundering offense.


But where then-coach Jim Fassel would term such things family "squabbles," Coughlin doesn't believe the best families have squabbles, Tollefson said. At least, not the serious kind.


Two or three walk-throughs ago, an initially unknown culprit taped an alternative name over where the "Manning" usually rests on the Giants quarterback's jersey. The name is inappropriate to print, but Manning wore it through most of the session until quarterback David Carr says, Coughlin finally walked over and said, "Who did this?"


"He wasn't really mad, though," Carr said. Maybe because the culprit was probably his real-life son-in-law, Chris Snee. Out with a concussion, the right guard wasn't available for confirmation Wednesday, but Carr said "he's been trying to recruit (new center) David Baas. They're a good bet."


Manning, of course, is ultimately more pranker than prank-ee. A player who requested anonymity said that last year, he tried to sneak a bloody piece of deer meat into Manning's locker. But before Manning came back, he stuck it in a lineman's cubby. "I chickened out," the player said. "You never know about messing with Eli; he's sneaky."


Manning's shtick in camp this year was to go around miming like he had a toothache, asking various rookies to open their mouths so he could look at, say, their wisdom teeth.


"Then he'd throw those black rubber pellets from the field into their mouths," tackle Stacey Andrews said. "I can't believe how many of them fell for it."


When Carr's shoes went missing at a preseason game against the Patriots, he was sure it was Manning (it was actually Beckum, who admitted Wednesday he's so unaccomplished a prankster, "I forgot I stole them") and after Nicks confidently said, "He doesn't mess with me anymore," he said, "I don't know. Maybe you shouldn't write that."


That's a third-year player. As the team's first-round pick, Amukamara catches some sort of ribbing, or sits on the end of some sort of prank, nearly every day, so much so that punter Steve Weatherford groaned, "Prince just gets killed." Amukamara proudly said he hasn't yet been subject to a Manning special, though.


"Eli knows better than that," he said.


Good luck with that.














hahahh "High Motor White Guy Hall of Fame"

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But it runs deeper than coaching cliches: "It's the social interaction that happens in here. The locker room is a unique place," Tollefson said. "It's kind of like the He-Man Woman Haters Club from the Little Rascals. The growth starts here."

What a great comparison for a place that has guys running around naked.



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