Somehow, Jets-Giants sneaked up on us.
That had something to do on the Green & White side with head coach Rex Ryan putting an end to a little thing known as his four-month-long quarterback competition.
But amid the questions asked around the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center locker room about Mark Sanchez winning the starting gig over Kellen Clemens, reporters were able to fit in a few of the annual queries on how the Jets players feel about taking on their stadium brethren for Weeb Ewbank's eternal braggin' rights.
As Sanchez, who'll go the first half tonight, tweeted to his followers (and may he never lose his gung-ho approach): "Excited to lead this team. Big week...the battle for NYC."
As WR David Clowney said: "It doesn't mean anything. It's another game. We just have to go out and play."
"There's not as much trash-talking, but there's an intensity to the game," said guard Brandon Moore, who's played in the last seven games in the summer series. "Coming off the buses you can feel the intensity."
LB Vernon Gholston, who played in his first Jets-Giants game a year ago, agrees with Moore about the yap factor.
"Nobody really trash-talked last year," said Gholston, who will be getting an important start for himself and the Jets defense in this game. "Even when you see a lot of the guys out in the off-season and you start talking, it's more about how you're doing. Ohio State-Michigan's a little different. Me and David Harris, we're still talking trash about that."
The beauty of Jets-Giants is that for the 23rd time in the last 25 years, this game is the next-to-last on the Jets' preseason schedule, making it automatically a key game for the players on both sides: The starters will be getting their most action of the preseason, players fighting for starting jobs will be at their competitive height, bubble men fighting for roster spots will get their chances in the second half.
Almost by accident (or was it by design when Leon Hess and Wellington Mara began playing in the third preseason week back in the Eighties?), the rivalry benefits.
Kicker Jay Feely knows the matchup from both sides — he nailed all five field goals he tried for the Giants in their 2005 summer squeaker over the Jets by 15-14. And the colors of the teams mean nothing to him.
"This game is just about getting ready for the season, getting better every week," kicker Jay Feely said. "At this point of my career, and probably for most veterans, that's the focus."
Some Jets noted the oddness of 2007, when they were the visiting team at their home stadium not just once but twice, in the preseason and then in the regular season. The Jets are the visitors again tonight, but that is particularly to Feely's liking.
"I've always been the kind of guy who likes to go on the road, to places where they're yelling at you — I think that's fun," he said. "An element of camaraderie exists on the road that doesn't exist at home. Teammates kind of band together."
So perhaps even that will help the Jets as a team tonight, even as the individual players go about their business of trying to win roster spots and hold starting positions.
Wide receiver is a particularly captivating position for the green team and their fans. Jerricho Cotchery and Chansi Stuckey are listed as the starters in two-wide sets, but Ryan said Clowney "is definitely going to play more with the ones" in this game. Brad Smith and Wallace Wright continue to duel with the rest of a young group of receivers.
At linebacker, with Calvin Pace gearing down just a little bit because he'll sit out the first four games of the regular season on NFL suspension, the ball is in Gholston's court as well as Marques Murrell and undrafted rookie Jamaal Westerman, of whom the coach said, "We're letting these guys battle because it's going to be an opportunity for somebody, even in the sub package."
There may be backup jobs to win at corner, at tight end and on both lines. And there is certainly a job to be won at punter as late Friday the Jets announced that Ken Parrish has been waived and Glenn Pakulak has been signed to compete with Reggie Hodges for a position that Ryan is pressing hard for production.
Pretty much at every position there is intrigue, even for a promising young back such as Danny Woodhead. He's impressed Ryan and his coaches and teammates, but with an already crowded backfield, he has to show there are several roles he can fill so that Rex can take him to the games.
Yet even amidst the angst of a job competition for the Division II superstar of two seasons ago, No. 22 can take time to observe this rivalry from his own vantage point.
"It'll be fun," No. 22 said. "I don't know as much about the rivalry. It's definitely going to be exciting to play in and a lot of fun. And it'll be my first time in the game, so I'll see what it's all about."
Final Meeting in Familiar Surroundings
One other interesting sidebar to this Jets-Giants game is that it will be the last between the stadium mates in their Meadowlands home since they played there for the first time in the 1977 preseason. They don't meet during the 2009 regular season, and if, by happy circumstance, the teams both win conference titles, their long-awaited Subway Super Bowl will be in Miami.
Then next year, the teams will meet in the preseason as usual, but in the New Meadowlands Stadium.
So it's not really goodbye forever but more like see you next year 100 yards from here. Still, the run has been interesting. And we've put together two files to help you reminisce about the New York market's football version of the Mayor's Trophy Game: the first 16 preseason games from the first Jets-Giants Meadowlands meeting in '77 through '93 and the most recent 16 games, from '94 through last year's 10-7 Jets win.
Giants fans will perhaps be a little miffed that we've left out the regular-season series, which Big Blue has held the upper hand in for a while, but we could only do so much. Yet there are enough names and highlights here for fans of both teams to get a short but enjoyable trip down Green/Blue Memory Lane.