It is important to remember just how profound the despair was, before. It is essential to consider how all the joy of a season had been drained from the Giants, how all the optimism of last year had dissolved in a slovenly pile of injuries and sloppy play and general failure.
Incompetence had led to inconsequence.
And when that happens, a franchise buckles and bleeds.
The Giants were buckled, figuratively and literally, when Tommy DeVito trotted onto the field to replace Tyrod Taylor on the grim afternoon of Oct. 29 at MetLife Stadium, and they were bleeding when he did the same in relief of Daniel Jones a week later inside the sterile milieu of Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium.
And look at them now. Look at him now.
“It’s his job,” Giants coach Brian Daboll said after Monday’s scintillating 24-22 win over Green Bay.
“Calm. Cool. Poised. Collected,” said Saquon Barkley.
“Let’s go win the game,” The Man himself told his teammates in the huddle with 93 seconds left Monday night, trailing by one. “It’s on us, on the offense.”
In truth, it was on him, and he not only accepted that burden, he relished it. And then delivered. In so many ways this seems like a Frank Merriwell once-in-a-lifetime story. And yet in some ways it feels remarkably familiar, especially if you remember almost a dozen years back, on the other side of the Hudson River.
In some ways it is unfair to compare what DeVito has done to what Jeremy Lin did during the peak of his phenomena in the winter of 2012, and we’ll get to that later. But in some ways, some impossible-to-dispute ways, it’s as if we’re merely seeing an old movie remade, the names and the sports changed to protect the innocent, a retelling of “Rudy” starring Tanner Buchanan instead of Sean Astin.
“It felt like we were hovering because that’s how loud and energetic this was, and it was a magical moment. I’ve never experienced something like that before or after.”
That’s Jeremy Lin, speaking in the terrific short documentary available on MAX, “38 at the Garden,” recalling the moment when Linsanity reached its irrefutable apex: the evening of Feb. 10, 2012, inside Madison Square Garden. The Knicks were playing the Lakers, Kobe Bryant’s annual trip to New York City.
The Lin phenomenon was only six days old, but it was already something.
That night it became Something.
That night, he dropped 38 points on 13-for-23 shooting, added seven assists. Prior to the game, Mamba had said, “I don’t even know what he’s done.” Lin gave him an up-close demonstration. And the Garden shook from its foundation across the final seven minutes straight of the Knicks’ 92-85 win.
MetLife Stadium was occupied by too many Packers fans, abandoned by too many Giants fans who opted against a late Monday night commitment, so the thunder might not have equaled what happened at the Garden back in 2012. But the ones who stayed tried to carry the night. And just as Knicks fans helped deliver Lin, so would Giants fans help supply DeVito with maximum mojo, one critical completion after another on the final drive.
“It’s just basketball,” Lin said before the increasingly swollen media brigade in 2012. “You try do it the same way as you did in college or high school or on the playground. You try to keep it simple.”
“It’s just football,” Tommy DeVito said late Monday night. “You try to go score on every drive.”
This is the latest parallel. There are so many others. Let’s start where this column started: The Giants forced to send their third-string quarterback in against the Jets, allowing him one forever moment — a touchdown run that gave the Giants a lead — but then vapor-locked him in Bubble Wrap, kept him that way the rest of the game, kept it on him when they needed to summon him the following week in Vegas.
And … well, the times he was allowed to throw those first few weeks, you thought you understood why. He’d played plenty in college at big-shot schools Syracuse and Illinois. He’d been a high school star just up the road at Don Bosco Prep. He threw two TD passes against Dallas in his first start, but by then the Cowboys were mostly playing their walk-ons in a 49-17 bludgeoning. He looked overmatched.
He looked, in truth, the way Jeremy Lin looked his first nine games as a Knick in 2011-12: 3.6 points per game, 40 percent shooting, only one attempt from 3. He was so timid that when he played at all, Mike D’Antoni didn’t just use the Bubble Wrap, he practically asked him to play in a Hazmat suit.
Lin was so sure he was about to be released that one morning in Miami, weeks before his emergence, he attended the Heat’s pregame chapel service. At one point, the congregants were asked if they had any special intentions. One hand was raised.
“What do you want to pray for?” the chaplain asked.
“Not to get cut again,” Jeremy Lin said.
It all started for Lin on a Saturday night, Feb. 4, 25 points against the Nets at the Garden. Beforehand, a friend had advised: “No holding back. Be Jeremy Lin tonight.” In “38 at the Garden” Lin said, “Getting into the shower afterward I didn’t know if it was water from the shower or tears in my eyes but I was like: ‘They can’t cut me now. They can’t cut me now. ‘They can’t cut me now.’ ”
Lin had come to the Garden from his brother’s apartment, where he was staying on the couch; DeVito came to practice the week before his first start in Washington from his parents’ house in Cedar Grove, where he sleeps on his childhood bed. He threw three TDs that day. Since being overmatched against Dallas, he’s 3-0 and has thrown five TDs, zero picks, completed 72 percent of his passes, has a rating of 119.8.
One last similarity: In the same way Jeremy Lin’s swagger multiplied every time he played in the winter of 2012, so has Tommy DeVito’s in the fall of 2023.
“He loves the game of football,” Daboll said. “I think when you deal with the guy, I don’t think he makes it bigger than it is, either.”
There would be worse things for Tommy DeVito than to take this quirky symmetry the distance, you know. Lin played nine years in the NBA, won a championship with Toronto in his last year, earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $65 million. At 35 years old, he is still playing alongside his brother, Joseph, for the New Taipei Kings in the Taiwan pro league. He’s averaging 21 points a game for the 7-0, first-place Kings.
In its entirety, what we know as Linsanity lasted only 19 days, from the moment he checked into the game against the Nets until the Heat of LeBron/Wade/Bosch made it their mission to bully him into a 1-for-11, eight-turnover nightmare in Miami. He had some fine games after that, then got hurt, and had some terrific games with the Rockets, with the Lakers, with the Hornets and the Nets, the Hawks and the Raptors.
Fine. But not a phenom.
DeVito has an entire football life before him. At worst, he can probably bank on being a 10- to 12-year backup in the NFL now. Josh McCown earned $52.3 million that way — and the price for competent quarterbacking will never go down.
At best? Well, put it this way. Brian Daboll fielded his first few questions Tuesday drawing him into a different comparison, this one concerning an out-of-nowhere quarterback he used to coach, a fellow by the name of Brady.
“We’re four games in,” he replied. “But I do appreciate the question.”
The rest of us can simply appreciate DeVito’s football homage to Lin, which as of Wednesday will celebrate its 23rd day, already four days longer than Linsanity lasted. At some point, he’ll earn his own name for it; his preference would probably be, simply, “veteran NFL quarterback.”
For now, we’ll enjoy. It’s been a long time. How long? Remember the night Jeremy Lin magically dropped out of the sky against the Nets? That was the night before the Giants won their last Super Bowl.
That’s how long.