There’s never a bad time to catch up with Steve Spagnuolo, who remains revered around the Giants for his work as the defensive coordinator who helped slay Tom Brady and the unbeaten Patriots in the massive Super Bowl XLII upset after the 2007 season.
“Spags,’’ as he’s known by almost everyone in the NFL community, spoke this week at the Big Daddy Celebrity Golf Classic at Oheka Castle and admitted the time between then — that titanic victory for the Giants — and now has passed quickly.
Spagnuolo has not eased off the accelerator since his glory days with the Giants. In February, he won his third Super Bowl ring, his second running the defense for the high-flying Chiefs, with a pulsating 38-35 comeback victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Ariz.
Congenial, gracious and insightful, Spagnuolo hit on a few different topics before he went out and hit a few golf balls into the humid Long Island air. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
How was the recent Chiefs ring ceremony in Kansas City?
Steve Spagnuolo: Guys who had prior Super Bowl rings, they bring them with them. Some guys have two or three. I didn’t bring mine, but I will tell you this, they just get bigger and bigger and bigger. I tell you what — I’m never giving it back and I’m proud we won it – [but] it’s so big, it’s almost like, “OK, where do I wear this?” without looking like a billboard. I put it in a safe deposit box in Philly, but there was no way I was gonna wear it here. It’s huge. It’s beautiful.
What do you remember about the time Michael Strahan wanted a “10-table ring’’ after beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, a ring so big it could be seen from 10 tables away?
Spags: That one was wearable. I tell you what’s cool about the one we got [recently]: It’s pretty big and round, you can take the top of it off and [a replica of] Arrowhead Stadium is inside. That’s pretty cool. I took it off two days ago, and now I’m saying to myself I’ve got to put this back on and make sure it doesn’t fall off. What happens if the top of that falls off? It’s wonderful.
What are your feelings about the two conference championship rings you won [with the Eagles and later with the Chiefs] before losing in the Super Bowl those years?
Spags: To me, those are just as cherished as the other three.
Can you speak to the challenges awaiting the Chiefs and any team trying for back-to-back titles?
Spags: I thought we were well on our way to doing it [in 2008 with the Giants], and the mishap with Plaxico [Burress] hurt us, right? In 2019, we win in Kansas City and we make it back to the Super Bowl, and we play Tampa Bay. COVID hit right after we won it, and we were all separated without the chance to continue to keep celebrating, [so] it was a little bit easier to come back that next year. Our guys didn’t have the big blown-up heads from all the things that you get. It was just kind of a normal year, and we made it back.
This year now, I think our guys are really enjoying it, which I think you should. You got to enjoy it. We had the White House, we had the ring ceremony and now our guys get to go to the ESPYs. I remember when Michael [Strahan] and Antonio [Pierce] went to the ESPYs after 2007, I thought that was fun for those guys.
Patrick [Mahomes], Travis Kelce, Nick Bolton, those guys at the end of our OTAs made it a point to talk to the other guys, Patrick especially, about, “Once this ring ceremony is done, this thing is over.” They’re pretty solid mentally, and coach [Andy] Reid does a great job with coaching those guys up.
The Chiefs are on the road this season to play the Jets. What about facing Aaron Rodgers at MetLife Stadium?
Spags: Just what we need with all the AFC quarterbacks we’ve got to see. I looked at all the NFC teams we’re facing and … you can’t find the quarterback; there’s just not that many any more. These guys now, I know our guy [Mahomes] gives as much of a headache as anybody, which is great.
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Did you ever envision Michael Strahan becoming such an omnipresent media sensation?
Spags: He’s a rock star, let’s face it. He’s a mega-rock star. Now, listen, he was a mega-rock star in my mind before he ever became everyone else’s on TV because I love the man. He’s always had the personality, he’s always had the drive. You see it in some people. I saw it around him with our players. It’s funny … [he’s] Michael the rock star, football player and TV celebrity, and when he’s with us and with the guys he’s just the regular Michael, and that’s what I love. He’ll be Michael, the normal guy we love, like a son to [wife] Maria and I.
He does such a great job at all of it. I ask him all the time: “Mike, do you have to prep for this, do you have to do that?” A lot of it, he preps a little bit, but I think a lot of it is natural. He’s just out there and kind of winging it.
Let me tell you who’s going to give him a run for his money, though: Travis Kelce. He said, “I got to fly to Hawaii, I got to do this and that.” And I said, “Trav…” He goes, “I know.” It gets to be a lot. I said when you get a chance, you ought to visit with Michael Strahan about what he had to do and go through all that. I said MIchael retired right after our [Super Bowl win]. Travis realizes that. It’s hard to say no, though.
What impression did wide receiver Kadarius Toney make on you with the Chiefs after the Giants traded him away?
Spags: When he got here, I think he was still injured, right? He didn’t practice a lot — and he’s a really quiet guy — so I didn’t get to know him. But he made a big play [in the Super Bowl] when he returned that punt; it was huge. He didn’t practice a lot in OTAs [this past spring]. He did a little bit at the end, and you did notice him.
He’s got talent, and I think in our offense, it’s pretty good for him because the one thing, a guy like that will eventually get himself open, even if he doesn’t have it initially. And the thing about Patrick is he extends [plays]. Let’s face it, he makes O-linemen look a lot better because he extends it and he’ll find you. He’s just unique that way. I think Patrick likes him. I really do. They haven’t had a lot of time together, [but] Andy’s done a great job with bringing guys in like that from other teams, finding a little bit of talent.
Asked and answered
Here are two questions that have come up recently that we will attempt to answer as accurately as possible:
The Giants for years used to go away to a college campus for training camp. Now they hold their summer camp at their team facility next to MetLife Stadium. Is there a significant difference?
A very significant difference. Since 1970, the Giants have held camp at C.W. Post, Monmouth, Fairfield and Pace, and from 1988-1995 at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J., meaning they were away from their practice facility at Giants Stadium — but not too far away. Still, it was a back-to-school feel.
In 1996, the Giants made the move to upstate New York, setting up camp for the first time at the University at Albany. They liked it so much, they spent their summers there for 15 consecutive years (and again in 2012), their longest stay in one place for camp in franchise history. It had a classic, old-school training camp vibe. Players stayed in dorm rooms and ate in a college cafeteria. Fans filled a grass hill to watch practices and strolled around near the fields, waiting for autographs after every session.
Eventually, the Giants followed the growing trend and built a modern practice facility that allowed them to move their summer camp to their home base. Something was lost in that move.
The Giants made the playoffs in 2022, so they are not on the list of potential teams to be featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ series this summer. The docuseries has been around since 2001, and the Giants have never been on it. What gives?
Giants co-owner John Mara has absolutely no desire to see his team on “Hard Knocks,’’ and if he can help it, the Giants will never appear on the show. Tom Coughlin was the head coach for 12 years, and there was no way Coughlin was going to allow such invasive access and open the door for possible distractions unless he was forced to do so. Teams with a new head coach are not eligible to be on, and the Giants cycled through four new head coaches in a span of seven years, saving them from “Hard Knocks.’’
There also were years when the Giants were perceived to be really bad, making them an unattractive choice for the show.
Still, the NFL office has great respect for Mara and co-owner Steve Tisch, and will try not to force “Hard Knocks’’ down the throats of the Giants, which has allowed the club to navigate away from it for more than two decades.