Giants' Attack Puts on Show

It's ok to say it. Really, it is. Go on. Go ahead. It's only eight words, eight words you've been dying to say forever, eight words that finally, amazingly, astoundingly, apply to your football team. Go on. Go ahead. Try it:

The Giants are a fun team to watch.

Say it again: The Giants are a fun team to watch.

Feels good, doesn't it? Liberating. Exhilarating. Best of all, true. Wonderfully true.

The Giants of Jim Fassel always kept you interested, mostly kept you captivated, often kept you frustrated. They have been relentlessly competitive, reliably efficient. They have been splendid, damn near perfect, in December. They almost always give you a reason to stay involved until the very end of a season.

But they've never been terribly fun to watch.

In truth, they've mostly been an awfully grim team to watch, reliant on a big-play defense to bail it out time after time, handcuffed by an offense that, to be kind, has been chronically unimaginative or, to be blunt, woefully predictable.

They've won games, sure, 56 percent of them under Fassel, in fact. But before this year, how many of them stayed with you beyond Monday morning? Shouldn't that count for something? "The English Patient" won a Best Picture Oscar one year; how many lines from that movie have you memorized as compared to, say, "Scarface?"

"You look at where we are among the league leaders on offense," Fassel was saying the other day, "and the thing you're thinking is, 'Whoa. That's some territory this team hasn't seen for a while.' "

It's all true. The Giants were sixth in the NFL in total offense this year (364.1 yards per game), and sixth in passing (246.9), which means the offense, believe it or not, carried the defense, which still was a respectable ninth in the league (allowing 309.3 yards on average) but wasn't the all-providing enabler it's been in the past.

Here's a little something for you to nibble on between now and Sunday afternoon's kickoff in San Francisco: Since their founding in 1925, the Giants have had two seasons in which a quarterback threw for as many as 3,400 yards, a running back rushed for as many as 1,300 yards, and a receiver caught passes for as many as 1,000 yards.

One of those teams is this year's: Kerry Collins (4,073 yards), Tiki Barber (1,387) and Amani Toomer (1,343).

The other is the sainted collection of '86 Giants, the team that makes fans of a certain age misty with nostalgia in the same way the '56 Giants used to make their fathers and grandfathers yearn for the good old days. Phil Simms threw for 3,487 yards in 1986, Joe Morris ran for 1,516, and Mark Bavaro had 1,001 yards receiving.

The Giants won their first Super Bowl that season. Not coincidentally, fans of that team can recite chapter and verse from every moment, in the same way fans of "The Godfather" movies can deliver all of Clemenza's and Frankie Pentangeli's lines, verbatim.

"We have gotten into a rhythm that, when it's working, really works well," says Collins, whose arm is the basis for everything that follows. "We have so many weapons. . . . And we make each other better, it seems."

What's most gratifying for them, and most satisfying for the fans, is they've gotten better, more productive - and more easy on the eyes - the deeper they've gotten in the season. The blightful messes of Seattle, Phoenix and Houston seem as if they happened to a different team.

Since Fassel took control of the offense before the Nov. 3 Jacksonville game, the Giants are averaging 25.7 points. More telling was the four-game stretch that opened December in which they averaged a staggering 31. Even last weekend's old-school 10-7 squeaker with Philadelphia featured 462 yards in total offense.

"When we're clicking," Toomer said, "we can be hard to defend."

But easy to behold. Whoever would have believed, could have believed, the Giants would play the 49ers in a playoff game and it would be the Giants who would bring the higher-flying offense into that matchup? But it's true. Just to assure yourself how much it's true, go ahead and say it again. Go on.

The Giants are a fun team to watch.
Jan. 1,03