CHANDLER, Ariz. -- To see what the mythic "American dream" represents, one need not look further than East Rutherford, N.J., home of the New York Giants.
Hailing from Tiptonville, Tenn., a town of fewer than 2,500 people, Jerry Reese never imagined himself being the general manager of the NFC champions.
The 2007 class
**The New York Giants had a highly successful draft. Several players were significant contributors and have a bright future:
"As a young kid growing up in really just a farm, rural community, I really didn't have a lot of goals. To be the general manager of the Giants was light years from my mind. I had no idea what even a general manager was at that time," Reese shared.
"All of a sudden I'm playing high school football and these strange men are coming to watch me play football and they're talking to me and they're talking about scholarships and I told my mom, 'You know, some guys came to see me play and they're talking about scholarships and I'm not even really sure what that scholarship thing is,' so it all happened, you know, football's been really good to me."
Indeed, it has.
All eight of his draft picks have made key contributions and he has repeatedly hit home runs with waiver-wire pickups.
"At the time I was like, you know what, I had moved up to assistant head coach and I was feeling pretty good about maybe being the head coach at Tenneesse-Martin and I was like, you know what, 'J.D. [Jeremiah Davis, the Giants scout who offered him the job], I'm in a pretty good spot, I'm not going to leave.' And he was like, 'Just think about it,' so we did think about it. My wife and I thought about it and prayed about it and, long story short, 13 years later I'm the general manager," said Reese.
He is one of only three general managers in the league who is a minority.
He is proud of that fact and hopes his success allows more minorities to have management opportunities in the future.
"I embrace carrying the torch for African-Americans. Really the tough part has been done. There's people who really suffered through this process that really don't even know anything about football, just so I'd have an opportunity to be where I am right now. And really for me, it's just to be successful and just show people that African-Americans or minorities in general, if you have the skill set and you're given the opportunity, you can get the job done," said Reese.
His remarkable success rate this season shows he has done more than simply just get the job done.
Fifth-round choice Kevin Boss, yet another standout rookie, reflects the feelings of his teammates when showing his appreciation for Reese.
"I can't thank him enough for believing in me and drafting me. ... He talked to us at the beginning of the year and talked to all the rookies and said, 'This year you're my first draft class,' and from that moment you felt special just to be his first. So it's been fun," said Boss.
Reese's accomplishments go far beyond just his draft class, however.
He has found a number of discarded players on the waiver wire who have turned into vital contributors.
Tollefson's pressure on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo helped stymie a potential game-winning drive in the divisional round; Hedgecock's key block helped spring Brandon Jacobs for the go-ahead touchdown in the wild-card round win over Tampa Bay; Hixon's fumble recovery in the fourth quarter preserved the Giants' chances in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers; and Pope's tight coverage on Dallas receivers assisted them in getting to the title game.
Prior to the year, none of those players were expected to even be on the field in a playoff game for the Giants, much less be making clutch plays.
That just goes to show Reese's ability to adapt on the fly.
Each of the players was on the Giants' radar and when a need arose, Reese was prepared and did not let past hurdles get in his way.
"Being undrafted, I signed with Miami even though New York wanted me to sign with them. So when it didn't work out in Miami, I was elated when Jerry Reese wanted to give me another shot to come to New York. I just worked hard all year. When I got activated and got my opportunity versus Dallas, I just tried to make the most of it. Jerry Reese, I think he's done a great job," said Pope.
Added Hedgecock, "It was creative and unusual, under the circumstances. You know, I got released, got claimed off waivers, fortunate to do that."
In many ways, Reese can relate to many of his vagabond players. He himself traversed a winding road to the top.
"I come from very humble beginnings and it built some character for me I think, growing up in a tough situation like I did," said Reese.
Despite his considerable accomplishments, Reese refuses to accept credit and repeatedly deflects praise to the coaches.
"The coaches have done a tremendous job just getting these kids just ready to play. We think they're talented, but the coaches have done an even better job than the draft was. You know, the coaches just get them ready to play," said Reese.
When pressed, Reese does not budge and showers the coaching staff with even more acclaim. "The kids are giving a great effort. But it's really the coaches who get them ready to play. ... It's the coaches who get these people ready and you know you gotta give credit to the coaches for getting them ready."
His humility is commendable, but inaccurate in this instance.
Just ask his coach, Tom Coughlin, who told the NFL Network, "When Jerry got the job, it's really been a very solid experience, I hope for both of us, but certainly for me. Because the quality of the man in Jerry Reese is that he's very honest. He's very open. He's very straightforward, he's very positive. He's very positive. ... He has solid opinions about the players, not only in the draft, but on the practice field."
While the players and coaches get all the fame it is the general manager who builds the team, and Reese has done so brilliantly.
In these cynical times, he is living proof that the American dream still lives.