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Giants coaches build one another up

PHOENIX (BP)–New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has been given much of the credit an upstart defense that lifted the Giants to an improbable Super Bowl berth.

But Spagnuolo also has a personal game plan rooted in Jesus Christ.

“I think my faith is everything,” said Spagnuolo, a regular in the Giants coaches’ Bible study. “It’s the foundation of what I am.” From his faith grows “a belief that God has a hand in all of this,” the coach said during the media-intensive week prior to Sunday’s face-off with the New England Patriots.

Giants chaplain George McGovern said this year’s coaching staff, from a faith standpoint, is one of the most committed he’s been around in the decade-plus he’s been with the Giants.

Reflecting McGovern’s assessment, Giants strength and conditioning coach Jerry Palmieri noted, “In whatever we do, we are to glorify God, and this is just the platform He has given us.

“You can be affected by things and be distracted by this week,” Palmieri said, “or you can get into the Word and pray — and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Palmieri said he has been buoyed by fellow strength coach Markus Paul, who worked with the Patriots during their last Super Bowl run in 2005, noting: “We get together and pray every morning and thank God for this opportunity.”

Looking toward Sunday’s game, Palmieri reflected, “I’ve been in the league for 13 years and I know how things can change during the years, so I’m grateful that God has given me this chance.” Even so: “Glory to God is more important than any other agenda. The most important thing is that we give God the glory regardless of the outcome.”

Secondary coach Dave Merritt said his life was heading in a dismal direction until he found the Lord in 1995 shortly before retiring from his pro career.

“I was very selfish as a player, I played for me only,” Merritt acknowledged. “I’ve learned as a Christian coach, I need to humble myself and give back to others.”

Merritt said he was mentored as a new Christian by former NFL star Cris Carter on what it takes to be a Christian man in the often-violent NFL and how he could lead others toward a solid footing in faith.

At his first stop after retirement, “I went from a good player’s salary to a very small coach’s salary in college,” Merritt recounted. “I asked the Lord why He would do that; He said me, ‘You need to give back to others like was given to you.'”

Now when Merritt sees a troubled player on the team or elsewhere in the league, he can easily flash back to what the Lord rescued him from.

“There was this movie I used to watch every day, ‘Scarface,’ and that was me. In my truck, I had a 12-gauge shotgun, a Smith & Wesson gun and a semiautomatic Glock.

“I had a big dog and a big gun and bullets. Why did I need God?”

After finding a Christian wife and getting together with other Christian coaches on the Giants, he started to see his life and his purpose in a new light.

“Two is better than one,” Merritt added, explaining, “A lot of Christian coaches can build each other up. We are learning to be true men of God and helping encourage one another to make better choices.”

While Giants Christian players say the coaches’ faith has filtered down through the players, the team’s top leadership has long set such a tone. Former Giants’ owner Wellington Mara, who died in 2005, always made it a practice to tell others on his team the importance of faith in his life and his family.

Mara, when once asked how he wanted to remembered, said he hoped to be a person whose “abiding ambitions were to pass on to his family the true richness of the inheritance he received from his father … the knowledge and love and fear of God.”

    About the Author

  • Art Stricklin