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This Old Rivalry Gets a Very New Setting

Usually, the players have to be at their sincere best when responding to questions about how much a given year's Jets-Giants preseason game means to them.

That's not the case this year.

It's isn't that the basic nature of the rivalry between the teams has changed. But so much else has:

■ The place in the summer schedule — from the traditional third week to the preseason opener.

■ The TV — ESPN will air tonight's game, the first time Jets-Giants has been in national primetime since the '98 preseason.

■ The venue — This will be the very first game of football at New Meadowlands Stadium, with the Jets serving as the pigskin palace's first home team.

■ The halftime — Six Jets greats will be inducted into the franchise's new Ring of Honor during halftime ceremonies.

"I'm excited to see how the fans react," said QB Mark Sanchez, ready to start his second season as the Jets' starter of the present, under the watchful eyes of Joe Namath, one of the six being enshrined tonight. Sanchez and the first offense, as well as the first defense, will probably play through the first quarter into one series in the second period.

"And I'm excited to see how the locker room is on a game day," Sanchez continued. "Get everything scattered out so I can go through my game day routine and test it out in these first couple preseason games. Get out on the field and see that stadium. It looks great with nobody in it. I think it will look even better with people in it. It will be a big-time rivalry game going, us against the Giants."

That's about as strong a statement as any Jet or Giant has made about this game since Namath and the '69 Jets went to the Yale Bowl seven months after their Super Bowl triumph and tended to some unfinished business between the teams and the leagues with a 37-14 preseason pounding.

Other Jets also were feeling frisky about this game, and it wasn't just because the "Hard Knocks" cameras were lurking nearby.

"I think the guys are going to be very excited, somewhat to the point of a regular-season game," said running back Shonn Greene. "It's a new stadium, there's new players, stuff like that. I think the guys are going to be pumped and hyped about it. And it's a beautiful stadium, from inside to outside, it's state-of-the-art."

"I think Jets-Giants is always a huge game, know what I mean?" said DL Mike DeVito, who grew up in a family of Jets fans even though he ended up in high school and college in Patriots country. "Who's the head of the roost? It's always very exciting for us. It's always an intense and amped-up game."

It will be fellow safety Brodney Pool's first game for his new team and he's ready.

"I think the stadium's going to be awesome," he said. "I've been waiting. I'm tired of hitting these guys. I'm ready to get out there and hit the Giants."

Ditto for rookie fullback John Conner, who's been throwing his weight around the first two weeks of camp at SUNY Cortland.

"It'll be my first NFL game," said "The Terminator." "I'm going to go into it prepared to have fun and play my best."

It's an interesting switch that head coach Rex Ryan seems to be the voice of calm as he prepares his team for the second preseason opener of his Jets head-coaching career.

"We play in the same stadium — that's always a little extra," Ryan said. "It is a new stadium, the first time being there, so that will be kind of neat for our players, neat for the fans to try and find out where they're sitting. It's not going to be amped up, not like the regular season, that's for sure. I did find out that we did win the game last year against the Giants — somebody told me that. We're going to prepare just like we did at that time. In other words, we don't prepare for it, we just line up and play."

For the hardcore fans, and in case Rex forgot the score again after being reminded of it, the Jets did win last year's game, 27-25, with the big late play coming on Erik Ainge's 70-yard TD strike to Aundrae Allison. That was their third straight win in this preseason series and extended the Green & White's run of summer success over Big B to 12 wins in their last 14 meetings.

But the score on the four monster videoboards will be forgotten as the Jets and Giants settle into the most important part of this exercise, which is analyzing what the video tells them about their own players as they head toward the games that count and the goal that both teams want.

Yet this season there's just a little bit extra added to the equation.

"We can't wait for the regular season," safety Jim Leonhard said, "but the preseason is a great time to make sure everything is locked down and it's going to be exciting. It's the first game in the new stadium. It's a great facility. The organization has given the players everything that we could ask for and it's our turn to give back."

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