EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was the offseason and Phil Simms was heading into the film room to get some extra studying in and see if he could pick up on anything he did wrong the previous year.
Walking with film and a notepad in his hands, Simms ran into Bill Parcells. It was then that the old Giants head coach asked Simms to do something he would never forget.
"Even if you don't want to do it during the offseason, come down here anyway," Parcells told his quarterback. "I want you to walk around, let everybody see that you've got all the tapes and that pad, and you go in that room and you shut it and you lock it. I don't care if you watch those films or you lay down and sleep for four hours. I don't care."
Parcells, a master of perception, wanted his Giants to see Simms as the team's hardest worker. He wanted Simms to be the team's leader and he figured that the rest of the team would follow Simms' example.
Two decades later, the New York Giants head coach is still looking for leadership from his best and hardest-working players. Tom Coughlin badly needs his leaders to step up on Sunday night when the Giants face the undefeated Chicago Bears at the New Meadowlands Stadium.
Ever since veteran safety Antrel Rolle questioned the leadership in the locker room following the Giants' loss to the Colts two weeks ago, the Giants have been peppered with the leadership question pretty much on a daily basis.
Coughlin believes he has the right leaders in place with Eli Manning, Justin Tuck and Chase Blackburn serving as team captains of each unit. He even disbanded his leadership council which consisted of several veteran leaders to police the locker room.
But if the Giants (1-2) are going to stop their two-game losing slide, their three captains and a handful of other Giants will need to step up and exert their leadership skills, as well.
Some of the greatest leaders in the Giants' storied history chimed in this week on their old team's leadership predicament as 30 Giants will be enshrined into the team's new Ring of Honor at halftime on Sunday night.
"I don't think there's a set pattern of leadership, and there are no rules and regulations that you can follow," said Parcells, now a consultant with the Dolphins. "I think of a person that has the ability to kind of lead and people follow or listen, but it's an acquired thing. It's just not built in. You don't just come in as a high draft choice or a free agent from another team, and completely take over a new situation because you're not well-known enough. So I think it takes a little time, and I don't know, quite frankly, how the whole evolution goes."
Michael Strahan knows how he grew into a leader. Strahan believes being a leader sometimes requires a player to wear more hats than just a helmet. Sometimes a leader has to take on a different personality. And like Parcells said, it takes time and a comfort level with being a leader.
Strahan knew when to scream at his teammates and when to pat them on the back. He made sure to keep things light when they needed to be, like on Fridays when he and Osi Umenyiora would have rap contests in the defensive meeting rooms. During the 2007 season, when the Giants won the Super Bowl and had championship chemistry, Strahan and the other defensive ends had multiple competitions, from who could get the most sacks, tackles and quarterback hits to who received the most compliments in team meetings from coaches.
And Strahan had help leading. Back then, Antonio Pierce would lead the linebackers. Sam Madison controlled the secondary. And Strahan oversaw the entire defensive unit while also keeping tabs on the offense.
When it came to the media, Strahan vigorously defended his teammates as if his family were being attacked by the press. At times, he was downright nasty. And when somebody needed to take the heat, Strahan sometimes did that.
"I look back and I think about the guys who were there when I started, between LT and Phil Simms and all those guys," Strahan said. "I didn't realize what they were doing, I just figured they were the best players on the team, and they knew what they were talking about."
"Now, you look back, and it takes a special guy to really step into that position in New York on that team because you're in the biggest media market, you'll be the focus, and I don't think everyone is comfortable with that," the current FOX analyst added. "You have to be very comfortable with your skills on the field. I don't know how many guys are comfortable in that situation. It's one that once you grab it, you need to be ready for it."
Strahan and Tiki Barber both agree that Coughlin needs several leaders to police the locker room, to challenge and inspire other players.
"Jessie Armstead, even though you could half understand him, Keith Hamilton, even though he was cussing every other word, me, trying to be intellectual and reason with guys, it was Strahan with his fiery temper, and Amani [Toomer], basically led by example," Barber said of some of the leaders during his Giants' tenure. "You can't get lost in looking for one or two leaders. It's got to be five, six or seven guys."
"Teams that have divided messages, meaning one guy is saying this, two guys are saying this, 15 guys are saying another thing -- that's when teams get lost," Barber added. "That's when locker rooms get lost. But, when you have a coach who has players who can disseminate one single message ... that's when a coach takes control of a locker room. That's what needs to be gained with the New York Giants."
Like Barber, everybody has an opinion on what is missing with these current Giants and what guys like Tuck need to do. Some want to see Tuck transform into a Strahan Jr., stomping, screaming and firing up his teammates.
"I think people have gotten leadership misunderstood," said Tuck, who has spoken to Strahan and Coughlin about being more of a leader this year. "Everyone thinks a good definition of leadership is how much you talk. It's about leading. If it was about talking, they would call it 'Talkingship' or something."
All the current and former Giants do agree on one leadership method -- perform on the field and win.
"Maybe I'm crazy, but I think the concept of leadership is just a little overblown," said defensive tackle Barry Cofield. "It can't be that every successful team has great leadership and every team that loses just has no leaders."
"You got to play well enough to win," Cofield added. "You got to execute. It doesn't matter if we got Barack Obama on our team. If guys go out there and commit personal fouls and we turn the ball over, if we play undisciplined on defense, we are not going to win. [And] he is supposed to be the greatest leader."
But then Cofield pointed out to an Obama flaw.
"He is a Bears fan, anyway," the defensive tackle said with a smile.