Giants show unity as Ross, others battle sickness

Updated: January 29, 2008, 2:05 AM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- To show the Giants are together as a team, middle linebacker Antonio Pierce requested as many players as possible dress up in black for their plane flight to Super Bowl XLII.

But not all Giants were in the right colors, with some players turning green as a flu ripped through the team. Cornerback Aaron Ross caught something over the weekend and got sick on the plane, causing a one-hour delay upon departure from Newark-Liberty International Airport on Monday, until the mess was cleaned up.

On Friday, fullback Madison Hedgecock, safety Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Manny Wright missed practice because of the flu and high temperatures.

"It's not a sign," defensive end Michael Strahan said, making sure Giants fans don't take Ross' sickness and others as omen.

"You know what, Green Bay, everyone got sick after that," Strahan said. "I'm still, you can tell by my voice, I'm still not right since that. The flu bug, by Sunday, if you have it, it's gone because we need you. A lot of times when you are sick you play better because you concentrate."

As a further sign of team unity, players scrambled for as much Airborne and other medication as they could find to keep the rest of the squad healthy.

"Guys are taking medicine and doing everything they can do," Pierce said. "We're still talking about Monday. We've got six days left for the game. If those guys have to be out there, I think they'd be out there. If we had a game to play, they'd be able to play."

Coughlin is hopeful the worst in over for the flu, but he has his medical people working overtime.

"We had three guys miss practice at home with high temperatures and we had some guys who are not quite as sick," Coughlin said. "They were people who maybe had a day's worth of it."

Coughlin said his medical staff distributed as much preventive medicine as possible in advance.

"Hopefully, the guys are rested enough that this will not be an issue," Coughlin said. He added that some of the most recent flu victims weren't as drained as Hedgecock, Wright and Johnson.

From Coughlin to Strahan and every player who appeared at the media session, the order of the day was dress blacks.

"It's just a sign of unity,'" Pierce said. "Everybody for the most part had black on. We had a couple of guys who couldn't get to the cleaners on time. It was a sign of team unity."

Pierce, Strahan, Plaxico Burress and even public relations vice president Pat Hanlon heeded Pierce's call and wore stylish black coats, black pants, black shirts and black ties. Pierce estimated about 38 players dressed completely in black, making an awesome look coming off the plane upon their arrival.

Others had to do some last minute scrambling. Punter Jeff Feagles didn't have enough time to find a black shirt, so he wore a white shirt with his black coat. Eli Manning did the same, but his tie and sports coat was black.

As a team, the Giants were in great spirits as they head into Super Bowl hype week. Coughlin kept the team in New York an extra day in order to maintain normalcy in the practice schedule. The team practiced Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday was a day off.

The Giants arrived in Phoenix after 5 p.m, giving them a chance to get settled into their resort hotel rooms and get ready for Tuesday's media day. Practice resumes on Wednesday and Thursday with close to two-hour sessions. Friday's practice will be shorter and more of a tune-up.

"We'll be running them as we have for the last six weeks," Coughlin said. "We'll work in shells. We'll be more concerned with speed and execution, playing with the hands and the feet. Our schedule will remain the same."

Overall, the Giants -- particularly the healthy Giants -- were a loose and confident group. Strahan, who held out of training camp and almost retired, discussed how he was going to enjoy every minute of this Super Bowl week.

Strahan's last trip to the Super Bowl was forgettable. The Ravens beat the Giants, and Strahan could only remember a couple of plays. He didn't suffer a concussion. He just got caught up with the excitement so much that he said he woke up the Monday after the Super Bowl, barely remembering he played.

"The game was a blur," Strahan said. "When you lose, what do you remember? You learn to slow the game down. I'm here now seven, eight years later and to be honest with you, I couldn't care less about 2000. It's over and it's a completely different team, totally different attitude and a totally different approach."

A reporter asked Strahan how he would have felt if the Giants went to the Super Bowl and he had retired.

"If I would have stayed retired, we wouldn't be here," Strahan joked.

The strongest statement came from Pierce. One of the theme questions being asked in Super Bowl XLII is whether the Giants are standing in the way of the Patriots fourth Super Bowl and the chance for a perfect season.

"They are standing in our way," Pierce said. "We're not here to hand over the Lombardi Trophy to them. We're not Roger Goodell."

Senior writer John Clayton covers the NFL for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer