Where were you when the lights went out? Today is the 10th anniversary of the Giants-Jets preseason game when the lights went out on the Giants for years to come. It may have very well been one of the worst days for me as a Giants fan, period. Right there with Flipper Anderson and a few other spectacularly low bunge jumps.
Of course I refer to the fateful kickoff return of Jason Sehorn in the 1998 Giants-Jets preseason game.
After the game was over the lockerroom was a morgue. Every single player on the team knew the season had just ended before it started. And every fan knew it too. Torn ACL and MCL. Nightmare.
Sehorn was a freak. He had a Pro Bowl year in 1997 in everything but name, and would certainly have been IN MANY if not for the injury. In 1997, Sehorn started all 16 games. He had six interceptions, plus 86 total tackles and 20 passes defensed. He was twice named NFC Defensive Player of the Week and December’s NFC Defensive Player of the Month as he helped lead the Giants to the NFC East championship.
With Strahan and Armstead entering their primes RIGHT ALONG SIDE OF SEHORN, this defense had the makings of total domination. Everyone remembers the special INT of McNabb that Sehorn had in the 2000 playoffs. He might have had 5 (OR MORE, trust me) of those types of special impact plays in his career if he never lost the step he lost on that fateful day in August. The havoc this player wreaked in 1997 was something special. Of all the players Wellington Mara has watched in practice, Sehorn was his favorite. Remarkable statement for a man who saw football pretty much from the beginnings of the (pro) game.
“When he was in his prime,” Mara said, “he was as good as I ever saw playing his position. I used to watch him in practice, so athletic and it came so easily to him, and yet he applied himself 100 percent. It was great to watch.”
Oh the plays he made! He’d be a shutdown corner with Strahan shutting down the other side of the field… like a vise. Or Sehorn would simply take on the opposing offense’s best passing threat and simply shut him down. Sparks was solid on the other side, and of course the middle had Hammer and Armstead. Chad Bratzke used those players to catapult himself to a great contract with the Colts. And then there were the Sehorn corner blitzes. Opposing offenses simply gave up on Sehorn’s side of the field the way they did vs Deion Sanders, so then John Fox would send Sehorn in on CB blitzes and the QB would never see it! Corner blitzes cannot be executed by ordinary corners. You need that special blend of speed and agility to get there quickly AND not miss. Sehorn also had ~20 lbs. on Sanders and could play the run MUCH BETTER THAN SANDERS EVER DID. 4.3 speed, the total package.
“Jason was shutting people down,” says Johnnie Lynn, coach of the Giants’ defensive backs. “He had such confidence that year. He was competitive on every down, and he never wanted to leave the field. He was what you dream about for all your corners: the big size, the big arms, the ability to run and to hit. You knew, as his reputation grew, he’d become a Pro Bowl player year after year.”
“When he is healthy, he is the best corner in the NFL ,” Giants strong safety Sam Garnes had said.
Sanders stayed healthy and is going to Canton in 2 years. Sehorn’s shooting star was ephemeral. Sehorn was part of the mistake of Fassel agreeing (at Sehorn’s urging, I believe… Sehorn’s meteoric rise in football began with special teams returns for TDs when he changed sports) to put him on Special Teams, something we know is a gross error for your starters… especially your stars. “My worst nightmare,” said (then) Giants coach Jim Fassel.
It is a lot easier recounting this day 10 years ago with a Super Bowl in our pocket this past season. Strahan will tell you that if his friend Sehorn (it was Strahan that was trying to fix Sehorn up with Angie Harmon) did not go down that day he would probably have a few more. (Super Bowl XXXV is a slightly different game if Sehorn is playing on two legs instead of one.) All I know is that the 1997 season is right up there with the 1981, 1986 and 2007 seasons as one of the best ever. Maybe this group of young guys like Phillips/Ross/Webster/Kiwanuka/Umenyiora/Tuck can help us to become a truly dominant defense like 1986 or 1997. I think all we need is a fast Linebacker and it could be there.