EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It couldn’t get much worse for Bart Scott.
The New York Jets linebacker was home watching the Super Bowl as two of his least favorite teams duked it out on the TV screen for the Lombardi Trophy. On one side was the AFC East-rival New England Patriots. And on the other, the Giants, who were the toast of the town in which the Jets also play.
“If my team’s not in the Super Bowl, I wish they would cancel it,” Scott said. “Find out a way every other team was cheating and nobody wins that year. I’m bitter like that.”
But, he found himself pulling for the Giants as they rolled to their second Super Bowl title in five years.
“I’m happy for them,” Scott said. “You can best believe that I was rooting for them for the Super Bowl, and not the other team. I can guarantee that one.”
Funny thing is, the Jets (No. 17 in the AP Pro32) helped launch the Giants (No. 3) into that spot the last time these teams played. Their matchup Saturday night at MetLife Stadium — a Jets home game — marks the teams’ first meeting since the Giants won 29-14 on Christmas Eve, sparked by Victor Cruz’s remarkable 99-yard touchdown catch. While that win sent the Giants on their Super Bowl run, the Jets missed the playoffs for the first time in Rex Ryan’s three seasons.
“There are a lot of things you’d like to erase in your memory, but that unfortunately will stay in there,” Ryan said of the loss to the Giants. “As most coaches, you remember almost all the losses. But that one stung, no question about it.”
So much so, that Scott has never looked at a replay of the Cruz catch, when the receiver grabbed a short pass from Eli Manning and zipped down the right sideline for the 13th 99-yard touchdown play in NFL history.
The Jets were on the verge of taking control of the game, pinning the Giants at their 1 on third-and-10. Instead, Cruz gave his team a 10-7 lead and changed the seasons for both franchises.
The Giants never lost again. The Jets were sent spiraling into disappointment.
“Why would I want to watch it?” Scott said. “Would you?”
Only if you were rooting for the Giants that day, of course.
This time, far less is on the line, with it being just the preseason and starters on both sides expected to play only the first half, if that. The game marks the home debut for the Jets’ Tim Tebow, whose every move has been dissected since the team acquired him in March.
“I feel good about my role on the team,” Tebow said. “Every day, coming out here, trying to get better, learn my teammates, be a great teammate, give great effort, have a great attitude. I try to be someone that’s a leader out there on the field, so every day I’m getting more comfortable.”
The NFL’s most popular backup quarterback has worked a bit running the wildcat-style offense that the Jets (0-1) envision being a big part of their offense. They didn’t use it in their preseason-opening loss at Cincinnati and they’ll likely hold back against the Giants (0-1) since it’s still just the second game.
“I don’t think he cares,” Ryan said when asked if Giants coach Tom Coughlin might be preparing for the wildcat. “He’s the world champion. He probably doesn’t really care.”
While many players on both sides downplayed this game as being not much more than another preseason game, they acknowledged that there’s a little extra buzz whenever it’s Jets-Giants.
“Every time you play the Jets, they’re our hometown rivals and we share the stadium, so it’s always going to be an electric game,” Cruz said. “All the fans are going to make it electric. If we don’t feel so on the field, the fans are going to make you feel like it’s a big-time game. It’s definitely going to have some jitters and some anxiety, like it’s a season opener or something like that, but it’s going to be a good test for us.”
Players on both teams said that they actually, for the most part, like each other and even hang out together socially in the offseason and host events. So, the bitterness that exists perhaps among fans doesn’t necessarily trickle down to the players.
“Unless it’s like a Super Bowl game, it’s really not that big of a deal,” Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. “I think definitely the NFC East is our biggest rival. You know, the Jets, anytime we play them, it’s good because we’re in the same city and same town. A lot of those guys we know and I respect them a lot, but as far as rivalry goes, it’s definitely teams in the NFC East.”
That’s not to say, though, that some players don’t want to win — preseason or not.
“When you have bragging rights in your own city, especially in New York City, that’s a pretty big deal,” said Giants punter Steve Weatherford, who played two seasons with the Jets. “Although getting a win in our division is worth one-and-a-half, beating the Jets is pretty sweet.”
While the Jets have made all the headlines this offseason with Tebow, Mark Sanchez, the wildcat and some skirmishes between players, the biggest buzz in Giants camp came at the end when players complained that their beds were giving them stiff backs.
Injuries have been a common story line, though, with wide receivers Santonio Holmes (rib) and Jeremy Kerley (hamstring), nose tackle Sione Pouha (back) and safety Eric Smith (knee) out for the Jets.
Left tackle Will Beatty (back) is not expected to play for the Giants, who have a few injuries at defensive tackle with Shaun Rogers lost for the season earlier this week with a blood clot in his leg and second-year pro Marvin Austin out with a back issue. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (broken foot) was been taken off the physically unable to perform list, but won’t play.
Along with bragging rights for the winner of the game comes the MetLife Snoopy trophy, which Ryan proudly posed with a year ago when the Jets beat the Giants. This time around, Ryan isn’t so fired up — not after what happened at the end of last season.
“I’d rather have that other trophy that they won,” Ryan said. “We’ll trade the Snoopy for it.”