EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Being around the New York Giants wasn't fun late last season.
The team was en route to a sub .500 record, Jim Fassel was at odds with Pro Bowl player Jessie Armstead and Michael Strahan and the finger-pointing between a frustrated defense and a somewhat nonproductive offense was constant.
There's very little of that now with the Giants less than two weeks away from a Super Bowl showdown with the Baltimore Ravens, but winning wasn't what made this a fun team to be around.
It's what Fassel and the players did in the offseason that unified the team.
A roster facelift got things going, bringing in veteran offensive linemen Lomas Brown, Glenn Parker and Dusty Zeigler and middle linebacker Mike Barrow.
The real change came in the months that followed the season.
Fassel has said getting all his players to commit to attending an offense training program was a big step forward.
"You could feel the bonding coming on a regular basis," Fassel said Wednesday. "They were enjoying each other. Right from that point, I felt like we had a chance to have a heck of a year if we stayed healthy."
Not only did the players bond, they also learned to do crazy things that make them more than teammates.
There was a team boat trip around Manhattan in the spring, a wild golf outing at Forsgate Country Club in Central New Jersey in May, a trip to the movies (Gladiator) during training camp and a day of bowling during the season.
"Playing with these guys has been a lot of fun, probably the most fun I've had in my career," Armstead said.
The golf tournament might have been resulted in the most laughs. Eighteen foursomes went out, but the one that included Armstead, defensive tackle Keith Hamilton, defensive line coach Denny Marcin and coordinator John Fox was the one to watch.
Hamilton, who had never golfed, spent hundreds of dollars on clothing, shoes and clubs. He even looked like a golfer, until he started swinging.
It got comical after that.
Another novice, Armstead was just as funny according to teammates. He drove his golf cart down the middle of the fairway, through a sand trap and on the green, all moves that would have left golf purists aghast.
"He lost two of my clubheads, too," said Fassel, who loaned his clubs to Armstead.
It was like that in many of the foursomes, and the bonds on the Giants grew.
"I don't know if it's maturity or what you would call it," guard Ron Stone said. "Everybody came to understand that things work more when there is no animosity. We've been working hard and caring about each other instead of fighting each other. There's been no problems."
The offense-defense issue disappeared in training camp.
Brown and Parker were the type of veterans who did not take anything from the defense.
"They see that and they have a lot of respect for that," backup center Derek Engler said. "We were also making plays on them from day one. That earns you respect. We hadn't done that until this camp. Finally the offense was bringing it to the table and saying `Let's see what you have."'
While all the off-the-field activities and the training camp helped tighten the bond between the offense and the defense, the Giants 7-2 start made this a very close team.
"Winning cures a multitude of ills," Parker sid. "It's the truth. You win games and a lot of bad things that happen in the past are forgotten."
Parker also noted that the players from last year helped make the transformation complete by accepting the new players.
"They accepted a changed and wanted a change," Parker said. "When those things happen, anything can happen quickly."
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