Phil Simms was out of the way at Giants Stadium and Lawrence Taylor was out of the way and there was a new quarterback for the Giants and a brand-new defense. And out of the recent past came a tough little champion named Dave Meggett. Maybe it was because Simms and Taylor were gone. Maybe that is why Meggett looked bigger than he ever had Sunday. Maybe that is why he played as if he had the run of Giants Stadium and the place suddenly belonged to him. Meggett was something marvelously old Sunday, on a day when everything was supposed to be so new.
Dave Brown did just fine Sunday against the Eagles in his first start as Simms' replacement. The secondary, which is supposed to have more leaks in it than the Los Angeles district attorney's office, managed to cover enough of Randall Cunningham's receivers. There were just enough important plays on defense every time the Eagles got near the Giants' end zone, including one huge sack from Mike Strahan when the Eagles were trying to make it 28-20 early in the fourth quarter. But on a day when no one knew what to expect from the Giants, it was Meggett who ran away with the first Sunday afternoon in September.
Meggett recovered a fumbled Eagles' punt. He ran 68 yards with a punt return of his own, the fifth punt-return touchdown of his Giants' career. Then, in the third quarter, he took a handoff from Brown and once more this Sunday afternoon was wide-open for Meggett. There was a block from Lance Smith and another one from Jumbo Elliott. One new Giant, one old. Meggett was in the clear with Thomas Lewis, another new Giant, in front of him. He ran 26 yards for a touchdown, and the Giants had 28 points, which was going to be enough to make them 1-0.
"I feel like the oldest guy on the whole team sometimes," Meggett was saying afterward. He had showered and dressed fast. He does everything fast, including talk. He wore a white cap that said "No BS" on it and khaki shorts and a navy sweatshirt with a picture of the Seven Dwarfs on the front. Meggett is 5-7 and doesn't care who knows it. He is in the last year of his Giants contract, and it is going to cost plenty to keep him. If this was the beginning of an ending at Giants Stadium, Meggett made sure everybody knew he was in the house.
Meggett said, "I feel like the Last of the Mohicans around here, and I've only been in the league six years." He was at the door to the interview room now, waiting for Dan Reeves to finish talking. "So many of your buddies leave, and you get to feeling like an old man in this game when you aren't an old man at all."
Joe DeCamillis, the Giants' special-teams coach, came by and handed Meggett a ball. Meggett smiled. "My touchdown ball," he said.
It wasn't just Simms and Taylor who were gone from the Giants Sunday. A lot of other people had left with them. Mark Collins was gone from the secondary and so was Greg Jackson, and Bob Kratch had gone to New England to play for Bill Parcells, and Bart Oates, who snapped the ball a thousand times to Simms, was in San Francisco. No one knew what to expect from Brown or anybody else Sunday. And Meggett handed the Giants 14 points and changed the whole day. So at least Meggett had not changed at Giants Stadium.
He made his fumble recovery first. There was a punt from Mike Horan and the Eagles let it bounce. Then Willie Beamon, one of the new defensive backs, got to Jeff Sydner of the Eagles the same time the ball did. Beamon hit Sydner so hard you thought he had rearranged some of the letters in Sydner's name. Dave Meggett, flying down the field from the fullback position in the punt formation, ended up with the ball. The Giants got a touchdown a few plays later.
Meggett was asked in the locker room about making a defensive play like that, in addition to the other big plays he made for the Giants Sunday. Sometimes Meggett looks like Thurman Thomas, only shorter.
"It's this salary cap," he said. "Cap's changed everything. Cap makes them maximize somebody like me. Maximize the hell out of me. Don't be surprised to see me out there at safety one of these days."
He is only at safety as a punt returner. The Eagles kicked him the ball before the first quarter was over. Meggett got the ball a couple of strides in front of the Giants' 30. "Saw a wall I liked," he said. He got around the corner and did not look old at all, looked as fresh as anybody in the game, and finally there was just the Eagles' punter, Mitch Berger, on the sideline between Meggett and a touchdown. Meggett ran right at Berger. Berger tried to tackle him high, or as high as you can go on Meggett, and it was like trying to tackle the Giants Stadium wind. Meggett bounced off him and spun away and ran into the end zone, and the Giants were ahead two touchdowns.
"I always visualized that move," he said. "Jumping and spinning."