EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If New York Giants fans were trying to send a message to the team by walking out in droves during an embarrassing loss to Buffalo Sunday, co-owner Wellington Mara wants them to know he heard them clearly.
A disappointed Mara held court in the locker room after the Giants (4-8) all but saw their playoff hopes ended with a 24-7 loss to the Bills.
It was their fourth straight loss and their fifth in six home games during a season when many fans expected to see coach Jim Fassel take the team to the Super Bowl for the second time in four seasons.
"The crowd is our customers," said the 87-year-old Mara, who has always tried to avoid the spotlight. "When they leave, it's the same as someone calling up or writing and saying you're not doing what it is I want you to do.
"I'm very dissatisfied," Mara said. "The message comes across loud and clear. All it tells me is that we need to improve the product. And how we go about that is something we will discuss."
Mara said that fans leaving a stadium speaks just as loudly to him as those fans who burned their tickets in the parking lot or the guy who flew a plane over the stadium late in the 1978 season with the banner "15 Yrs of lousy football; we've had enough."
Coach John McVay was fired after that season.
Mara refused to discuss Fassel's future, saying that would be evaluated after the season. Fassel has a year left on a contract; he is to earn $2.7 million next season.
Mara acknowledged he is as disappointed as his fans. He had high hopes after seeing the Giants ride a high-powered offense to the playoffs last year, only to lose in the first round due to injuries on defense.
"I had a great feeling after the 49ers' loss," Mara said of the 39-38 playoff loss. "But that's a lot of months ago and the feeling has disappeared. I felt we could score on anyone, but I do realize every year is a new year, just like every game is a new game."
Turnovers, penalties, injuries on the offensive line and late heartbreaking losses to Dallas and Philadelphia have turned the season into a nightmare.
"It's not tough to watch, just disappointing," Mara said. "What's tough is playing, or coaching them. The owners have an easy time."
Fassel could not explain why his team messed up in almost every phase of Sunday's game. The offense gained 222 yards, was 4-for-14 on third down conversions and had the ball less than 21 minutes, a season low.
Buffalo, which had not scored an offensive touchdown on the road since September, got three in gaining 403 yards.
"I have never seen it and never in my seven years here have we ever played football the way we are playing right now," Fassel said. "Honestly, I am at a loss for words."
Fassel's job could be next, although defensive end Michael Strahan said he wants his coach back next year, noting Fassel has taken the team to the playoffs three times and the Super Bowl in his previous six seasons.
Strahan said there are other coaches who are considered geniuses who have accomplished as much.
"Some consider him like he can't cut it," Strahan said. "That's ridiculous. I'm behind him, I don't want to see anything happen. I hope he'll be here to get us back on track and win games."
If the fans have a voice, that might not happen.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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