TUCSON, Arizona – Joe Judge wore a University of Arizona hat and sweatshirt to practice Friday, a tip of the hat for the school that hosted the Giants on a one-of-a-kind trip between street games this week. It was the end of a long process that began back in June when Jim Phelan, Giants’ vice president of team operations, called the Arizona staff to bring up the subject of the Tucson layover between the Miami and Los Angeles games.
Other cities were considered, but the Giants – led by Joe Judge, who had the idea in the first place – eventually settled in Tucson. Judge’s main motivator: He wanted the Giants to stay in a warm climate derived from the Dolphins game in Miami, rather than flying back to New Jersey in an increasingly cold winter.
The Wildcats were happy to host them.
“We thought it would be a win for both sides,” said Brian DeSpain, Arizona director of football operations.
There aren’t many obvious links between the two programs, though Judge and Arizona’s coach Jedd Fisch both worked for Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots, albeit at different times. Giants rookie running back Gary Brightwell also played in Arizona from 2017-20, as did Assistant Special Teams coach Tom Quinn, who graduated in 1991.
The first discussions mainly revolved around logistics. The Giants needed a facility, practice field and locker room that could house their squad of more than 70 players, including the 53-man squad, the 17-man training team, and two injured reserve players who traveled with them. One was linebacker Blake Martinez, who is from Tucson. The other is cornerback Darnay Holmes, who is returning to Los Angeles this weekend for the Chargers game. The Giants also have a significant number of coaching and operating staff. And many members of the Front Office (including General Manager Dave Gettleman) made the trip.
Arizona has a state-of-the-art $ 72 million facility built in 2013 to complement their stadium and a $ 16.5 million indoor practice facility built a few years ago.
“They wanted a locker room, they wanted a weight room, and they wanted a meeting room,” DeSpain said. “Based on our setup here, we were able to accommodate all of that without affecting the tasks of our players and our staff.”
DeSpain stayed on the line throughout the fall while the Giants worked out the details of the Tucson operation. There were discussions about where each trainer would work, workout plans, weight room plans, and the Giants nutritionist worked with the university to make sure everything was set up regarding meals. DeSpain and his staff also worked with the university’s police force to secure escorts to their hotel.
Most of the University of Arizona coaching staff were unable to recruit, so the Giants were able to take over the entire facility with little trouble. The Giants set up their own servers and worked with the university’s IT department to set up all of their “movie hookups and meeting rooms,” said DeSpain Logistics Done. “
There were still some staff on site, including younger Trainers (GAs) and support staff, and this gave them the opportunity to interact with the judge and his trainers in the building.
“We work very well together to share copiers, snack rooms and coffee makers,” said Judge.
The DeSpain and Arizona coaching staff urged their players to watch them practice as well. The Giants trained on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – and at the end of the week a legion of fans were waiting for them, asking for photos and autographs. The judge also had a few young children watch them practice every day.
“Every time you can learn how the highest level works, what they look like, how they run their business, we try to educate (Arizona players) about it,” said DeSpain. “How NFL boys look, how they take care of their bodies, how they approach meetings, how they approach training, how they approach recovery in the training room. I think it was a great way to bring home all of the things we educate her about all year round. “
The Giants stayed at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in the beautiful Catalina Foothills, about a 20-minute drive from campus. Each player and coach had their own room, which was especially important when two members of the organization – QB coach Jerry Schuplinski and security guard Wes Martin – tested positive for COVID-19 in Arizona.
Both Schuplinski and Martin have been quarantined in their room for the entire week and will not travel to Los Angeles with the team unless they test negative twice within 24 hours. So the Giants are working on getting both transports back to New Jersey (either by private plane or car) rather than joining them in California.
Both were still in virtual meetings, and Schuplinski was watching the training via Zoom this week, with a Giants employee standing on a ladder and holding up an iPad so Schuplinski could see what was happening.
The rest of the team could spend time working together at the team resort when they weren’t practicing on the facility. Some players played on the golf course attached to the resort, although Richter admitted that for a few days he didn’t even know there was a golf course there because his room didn’t overlook it.
Martinez took some of his teammates out for dinner several times, including a popular Mexican restaurant in the area and a pizzeria owned by a family member right on campus. When the players took the bus to the restaurant called No Anchovies, a handful of players got off their shuttle and went to the wrong restaurant next door, a place called Illegal Pete’s. The bartender sent her in the right direction. On Wednesday, some of the Giants defensive players went to a University of Arizona basketball game at the McKale Center, including Logan Ryan, Xavier McKinney, Adoree ‘Jackson and others.
Brightwell said his teammates bombarded him with questions about where to eat and most importantly, where to get your hair cut. He recommended his old barber named Glen.
“This is like my second home so just being back and smelling the air that comes out of that cold air is good,” said Brightwell.
Many players were confused when told they would be spending a week in Tucson between the Dolphins and Chargers game – although it grew for some of them.
“At first I was a little upset when I saw we were getting out of here on schedule, but being out here now is a good refresher and a change of pace,” said defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who played in Tucson a couple of times when he was was in the Pac-12 at USC. “I thought it was weird that we had to leave the house and stay in a hotel all week, that sort of thing. But it was actually good; It is refreshing to break through this everyday life. “
Said to Safety Logan Ryan, “I think it was good to get away, rethinking our thoughts a little.”
At the end of practice on Friday, Judge Brightwell and Quinn had the scrum break down. The team flew from Tucson to Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon, at the end of a week-long short vacation that took months to complete.
“It was really a good situation,” said DeSpain. “Really started with Coach Fisch, we got the instruction to be really hospitable and try to make it work for you. They were incredibly respectful and cooperative and it worked out very well for both sides. “
The judge said Arizona was “very hospitable”.
“A lot of places don’t maintain that,” said Richter. “They couldn’t have been more welcoming.”
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Zack Rosenblatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.