This is kind of old news now, but it was really nice to see Jessie Armstead sign a one-day contract and retire as a Giant.

After he came to us out of Miami in 1993 as a seventh round pick, Armstead spent three years busting heads on special teams before wresting himself the starting weakside linebacker job in 1996.

Beginning in ’97 – Fassel’s first year that saw us overachieve during the regular season and through the first fifty-eight and a half minutes of our opening round playoff game before before severely underachieving during a devastating, stunning ninety second sequence that still pains me to this day – Armstead began a run of five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances.

Strahan may have been the best player for the longest period of time, but anyone who watched the G-Men during those years knows that Armstead was the heart and soul of those late 90s/early 2000s Giants defenses, whose excellence is somewhat forgotten amidst the mediocrity that enveloped the franchise during those years (2000 Super Bowl appearance notwithstanding).

During his six years as a Big Blue starter, the Giants defense, in terms of points allowed, ranked 10th, 4th, 9th, 23rd, 5th, and 16th in the league. Basically, they were excellent for two of those years (’97 and ’00, not coincidentally), pretty good for two (’96 and ’98), average for one (’01), and very bad for one (’99).

All told, they averaged a ranking of roughly 11th in the league during that span. What that means is that throughout the Jesse Armstead years, the mediocre Giants still boasted a top-third defense.

In his write-up of the retirement ceremony, Michael Eisen has a nice little description of Armstead, who will go down in history as one of the best in the proud lineage of Big Blue ‘backers:

“Armstead played sideline-to-sideline with speed and what can best be described as controlled recklessness. At 6-1, 240 pounds, he delivered punishing hits to unfortunate ballcarriers. He was also a highly-respected and well-liked locker room leader who privately scolded teammates when they didn’t perform to his standards, inspired them to greater deeds when they did and was a stand-up guy with the media.”

Here’s a quote from Michael Strahan, (who earlier his remarks introduced to me the amazing phrase of “tasting the pineapple,” which means going to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii):

“He had the best football instinct I’ve ever been around.”

And a little later, re Armstead’s 43-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXV being nullified by a penalty…

“And if we wouldn’t have gotten screwed at the Super Bowl, he would have had a touchdown and we would have won that game…. I think about it all the time. All I remember was hitting Dilfer and I saw he dumped it and I just heard the crowd and I look up and there’s Jessie running like he stole something. That [it was called back] really put a damper on the Super Bowl.”

(Sorry Mike, but I’m not buying that. Yes, Armstead’s touchdown would have tied the game at 7 early in the second quarter and may have breathed some life into the corpses that were the New York Football Giants that night, and yes, it maybe would have changed the “complexion of the game,” but please. We lose 35-7 in one of the all-time most lopsided Super Bowls and we’re still complaining about getting screwed by one call?

We were utterly spanked in that game, period. More to the point, our offense was rendered something worse than impotent: actively counterproductive, as the Ravens defense scored more points than our offense, which gained a mere 152 yards while committing 5 turnovers. Whether Armstead’s touchdown counted or not, there was absolutely no our offense was putting up anywhere near enough points to even get close in that game.

By the way, while reliving that painful game, I came across the highlight package from this website. Do you notice how many guys seem to be close to Jermaine Lewis on his cruel rebuttal to Ron Dixon’s return? I counted four. How the hell did he get past those guys? Alas, it was that kind of night, and Armstead’s nullified touchdown was just a small piece of it.)

Ok, back to Armstead. One of the things I always liked about was his awesome celebration after big tackles: he would make the tackle, spring to his feet, then sprint twenty-five yards before launching into a full-fledged crow hop to throw a lunging horizontal punch, landing on a bent left knee and firing up the Meadowlands crowd, which appreciates nothing more in the world than good defense.

Indeed, Armstead brought passion to the Meadowlands during some pretty insipid years of Giants football. At the very least, let’s be grateful for the highlights of ’97 and ’00, which brought a tremendous career into focus.

One final note about Armstead: If you’ve ever read the book Friday Night Lights, the final play of the Permian Panthers season – a desperate fourth down pass over the middle in the Texas state championship game – was broken up by an athletic Carter Cowboys linebacker named Jessie Armstead.