The Angels’ Slump-Stopping Bat Pass

The Angels’ Slump-Stopping Bat Pass

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One of the beauties of going to a baseball game is the uncertainty of what you will see on the field. A perfect game, a three-home run, game, or a player reaching a milestone are a few examples of how a plain old regular season game can turn into a memorable one for those in attendance. For the 18,216 fans who came to Edison Field on August 4 to see the Anaheim Angels take on the Kansas City Royals in a battle of 45 and 44-win teams, they witnessed the unimaginable.

The year was 1999 but the Angels were not partying like it. Anaheim was 3-17 in its last 20 games and averaged 2.95 runs per game over that span. Desperate to find a magic potion for his offense’s struggles, manager Terry Collins concocted a rather intriguing plan. The first time through the batting order, all Angels hitters were going to use Jim Edmonds’ bat. Edmonds had been on the disabled list and only played in two games all season, meaning he had not been part of the Angels’ recent offensive slump.

What could possibly go wrong with the bat-sharing strategy? Orlando Palmeiro, who hit .278 in 1999, was the first man up for the Angels in the bottom of the opening inning. Just the Angels’ luck, Palmeiro struck out looking. That quickly became the least of Anaheim’s problems.

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Palmeiro left the bat at home plate for the number two hitter Gary Disarcina, which umpire Tim Tschida thought was Palmeiro’s way of protesting the strike three call. Unaware of the Angels’ one-team, one-bat plan, Tschida ejected Palmeiro from the game.

When Disarcina came to the plate, he and Collins explained the Angels’ strategy to Tschida. Collins, who Mets fans know has a way with words, calmly convinced Tschida to reinstate Palmeiro into the ballgame.

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Anaheim averaged 4.39 runs per game for the season and one inning later, Edmonds’ bat cracked the riddle of the Angels’ offensive woes. An RBI double from rookie catcher Bengie Molina followed by a sacrifice fly from the recently reinstated Palmeiro put the Angels up 2-0.

For those wondering, four out of the first nine Angels batters got hits with Edmonds’ bat, and no Edmonds was not one of the four. Edmonds actually went hitless in four at-bats on the night.

With their lead cut in half in the fourth inning, Molina singled to drive in his second run of the night. Garret Anderson followed with an RBI single of his own to give the Angels some breathing room with a 4-1 advantage.

Anaheim would never relinquish that lead as they went on to hold off Kansas City in a 4-3 victory. Edmonds’ bat snapped the Angels’ offense out of a post All-Star Game slump. With one win in the bank, Anaheim went back to their own bats.

The good news? The Angels exploded for eight runs in an 8-0 shutout of the Boston Red Sox the next night. The bad news? That was the Angels’ last win for over a week. Anaheim went on a seven-game losing streak and ultimately finished the 1999 season with a 70-92 record.

There obviously was not a lot for the Angels and their fans to cheer about in 1999, but one August night gave the fans in the stands one of the more unique sequences to be seen on the diamond. In how many other sports do you see an ejected player get reinstated into the game? None, because the beauty of baseball’s unpredictability simply cannot be matched.

Mets Stumble Onto Opening Day History

Mets Stumble Onto Opening Day History

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Thursday was supposed to be a joyous day for Mets fans. It would have been Opening Day at Nationals Park with ace Jacob deGrom on the mound and the freshly extended Francisco Lindor taking the field for the first time as a Met. And in case you forgot, it would have been the first game in the Steve Cohen era. All this went down the drain game day morning as the Nationals tested positive for COVID-19. The entire three-game series was postponed, which has opened the door for the Mets to make some Opening Day history.

The Mets open their 2021 season at Citizens Bank Park tonight in Philadelphia. What is special about this may surprise you. Tonight, the Mets season opener take place in the City of Brotherly Love for the first time since 1982. I was astonished myself to find out that the Mets/Phillies rivalry has rarely clashed on Opening Day. In fact, the Mets have not opened against the Phillies at home or away since 1998, a game won by the Mets 1-0 in 14 innings thanks to an Alberto Castillo walk-off single.

If you can believe it, the Mets’ 1982 season opener was postponed not once, but twice, and not because of rain. The Mets and Phillies were set to start the season on April 6, but saw their game pushed back to April 7 due to a blizzard. Well, Mother Nature did not bring much better fortune for April 7 as it was the coldest April 7 in Philadelphia records dating back to 1874 at 19 degrees Fahrenheit.

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The third time’s the charm as they say. The Mets and Phillies finally took the field on April 8 in not so pleasant conditions at Veterans Stadium. Temperatures were in the 40s with winds swirling up to 30 mph. It may have been frigid and uncomfortable, but the Mets’ offense was hot against Steve Carlton.

George Foster got the Mets out in front 2-0 with a two-run little league home run in the first inning. Gold Glove second baseman Manny Trillo made a two-base error allowing Foster, who was credited with an RBI double, to score.

On the mound for the Mets was Randy Jones, who made those two first inning runs seem like eight. Jones tossed six strong innings while only giving up an unearned run. Jones in fact was given plenty of support as the Mets bats kept knocking around Carlton.

After a fifth inning RBI double from Bob Bailor to make it 3-0, the Mets big barrage came in the seventh inning with Carlton still in the game.

Walks kickstart most rallies, and that proved to be so in the Mets’ half of the seventh inning. A Hubie Brooks walk was followed by a Ron Gardenhire single, which set the table for pinch hitter Rusty Staub and the top of the Mets’ lineup.

Staub slashed an opposite field single to plate Brooks with the Mets’ fourth run. After a Mookie Wilson groundout advanced the runners to second and third, Bailor struck against Carlton again. Bailor broke the game open with a two-run opposite field single to bring home Gardenhire and Staub’s pinch runner Wally Backman. That would be the last pitch Carlton threw as Warren Brusstar came on in relief and promptly walked Foster which led to a Dave Kingman RBI single. That closed the book on Carlton, who finished his day with a less than stellar line. In 6.2 IP, the Phillies’ ace allowed seven runs, six of them earned, on nine hits with six strikeouts.

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Seven runs were more than enough for the Mets’ bullpen. Ed Lynch relieved Jones with two innings allowing no runs on two hits. Neil Allen worked around a Garry Maddox home run in the ninth inning to close out a 7-2 Opening Day victory for the Mets in Philadelphia.

While a 7-2 Opening Day win might not jump off the page right away, it does jump off the page when you discover how unhittable Steve Carlton went on to be in 1982. Carlton would go on to win the National League Cy Young Award and lead the Major Leagues in wins with 23 while pitching to a 3.10 ERA. The cold temperatures must have gotten to the 37-year old, who had an overall brilliant season.

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As for the Mets, they look to begin a brilliant season of their own tonight as Jacob deGrom takes the mound against Matt Moore in Philadelphia. The Mets will also be looking to improve their amazin’ 39-20 Opening Day record. And oh, by the way, Lindor is a career .600 hitter against Moore in 10 career at-bats with a home run.

When the Mets take the field tonight, crack a smile. Not only because the wait for Opening Day is finally over, but because it has been 39 years since the Amazins started a season against their longtime division rival in the City of Brotherly Love. Also feel free to smile because there is no rain or blizzard in today’s Philadelphia forecast.

Eight is Great Too

Eight is Great Too

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Rangers fans thought they were dreaming when they watched their beloved Blueshirts score nine on the rival Philadelphia Flyers. It in fact was not a dream and instead a prelude. Eight days after their first rampage against the Flyers, the Rangers followed with an eight-goal sequel.

After their nine-goal Broadway show at the Garden, the Rangers took their act down to the City of Brotherly Love. And they certainly did not show any of that love to the Flyers. Instead of potting seven goals in 18 minutes, the Rangers blitzed the Flyers twice. Once in the first, and once in the second period.

Carter Hart was able to hold the Rangers’ offense in check until Artemi Panarin threaded the needle to Ryan Strome to give New York a 1-0 lead. Panarin’s pass was so pinpoint, that I probably could have scored Strome’s goal.

The blitz continued 52 seconds later as Pavel Buchnevich found the net against Philadelphia again. The 2013 third-round pick has turned out to be quite a steal for the Rangers, with Buchnevich racking up 31 points in 33 games this season. Coach David Quinn has rewarded the right winger for his strong play, as Buchnevich’s average time on ice has increased from 16:56 last season to 19 minutes this season. I have said it before and will say it again. Buchnevich is a restricted free agent at season’s end and it would be wise of the Rangers to bring Buchnevich back to the Big Apple for years to come.

Anyways, it seemed the Rangers were in for another night of scoring endlessly on the Flyers. After Justin Braun tripped Kaapo Kakko, the Rangers were given a second straight power play. After coming up empty on the first, Mika Zibanejad made sure the Rangers would not fail on the back-to-back power play opportunity.

In the span of 5:35, the Rangers had put up three on the Flyers. And it would not be the last time New York pulled that act on the night.

As the game moved into the middle frame, it felt a lot like St. Patrick’s Day again for the Rangers. The Blueshirts, led by Zibanejad, began a barrage on the Flyers. Again.

Zibanejad racked up back-to-back power play goals to complete back-to-back hat tricks versus the Flyers. To boot, Adam Fox picked up his third and fourth assists of the night only 2:06 into period number two. The madness did not stop there as K’Andre Miller got in on the fun with a seeing eye shot from the point that found its way through. Three goals in 1:48 extended the Rangers led to 6-0. This has the feelings of a football drive. Three plays for 53 yards in 1:48 resulting in a field goal to go up 6-0. I am no rocket scientist, but I cannot imagine the 2,854 fans in Wells Fargo Center were too pleased. Well maybe not 2,854. Let’s assume some Rangers fans braved their way down the New Jersey Turnpike on a Thursday night. Boy, did they get their money’s worth.

The one rough spot of the Rangers’ night came throughout the final 17 minutes of the second period. The Flyers despite a six-goal deficit picked up their play with goals from Claude Giroux and former Ranger Kevin Hayes. Things could have gotten a lot more interesting had Igor Shesterkin not made 24 saves on 26 shots through two periods.

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Taking a 6-2 lead into the third period, the Rangers kept their foot on the gas. Zibanejad again assisted Buchnevich on another goal, this one of the short-handed variety to go up 7-2. The goal completed another six-point, three-goal, and three-assist game for Zibanejad against the Flyers.

It is no secret that Zibanejad struggled for the first half of the season with only 11 points in 27 games. In the two-game 17-goal rampage versus the Flyers, Zibanejad compiled 12 points on six goals and six assists.

Filip Chytil put a bow on this one for the Rangers with 1:58 remaining to give the Rangers the great number of eight. The 8-3 victory propelled the Rangers 15-13-4 on the season, but let’s not forget about Shesterkin’s efforts in his first game back from injury. The Flyers outshot the Rangers 44-22 on the night, giving Shesterkin 41 saves on the night.

As fate would have it, the Rangers have dropped two in a row since their eight-goal parade. The Flyers responded on Saturday with a 2-1 win as the Rangers ran out of pixie dust vs. Philadelphia. Sunday saw Coach Quinn’s return to the bench in a 5-4 loss to Washington.

As painful as Saturday’s and Sunday’s losses were for the fringe playoff team, the Rangers will always have the memories of 17 goals in two games against the Broad Street Bullies. Yes Rangers fans, feel free to crack a smile.

Rangers Rack up Two Wins in One

Rangers Rack up Two Wins in One

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It has been multiple days, but it still has not fully processed through my mind that the New York Rangers celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by netting nine goals against the Philadelphia Flyers. Safe to say the Rangers’ St. Patrick’s Day gold was successfully potted. The Flyers of course are a playoff contender that the Rangers ran off the ice in a 9-0 win. A win which got the Blueshirts back to NHL .500 at 12-12-4. Nine-goal outbursts are fun, and it is great to put two points in the bank, but the Rangers’ drubbing of the Flyers saw slumps go by the wayside. In a 56-game sprint of a season, the individual performances were the biggest victory for the Rangers. The team and certain players needed to get going, and they certainly did just that.

Mika Zibanejad, who had been in a season-long slump with 11 points in 27 games, must have been feeling the luck of the Irish on this night. Before Zibanejad, the main event, Adam Fox came off the COVID list with a savvy pass to set up Brendan Lemieux to put the Rangers on the board first.

Quite a way to announce your return from COVID protocol.

To close out the opening acts, Artemi Panarin did what Artemi Panarin does: shoot rockets.

The Rangers should have signed Bruce Buffer to a one-day contract because as mentioned, Zibanejad was the main event. And he announced himself as just that with his second period performance. Zibanejad recorded two hat tricks in the middle frame. One being an assist hat trick, and the other being an actual hat trick as Zibanejad deposited three pucks in the net.

The Rangers’ star center was organized in his efforts as well, notching all three helpers to start the period, and all three goals to end the period. With his three assists in the span of five minutes and 52 seconds, Zibanejad almost equaled his season total of four. He obviously got tired of assisting, so Zibanejad started scoring. In the span of 10 minutes and 10 seconds, Zibanejad equaled his season total of goals of three with his natural hat trick. It was the perfect hat trick for Zibanejad with one short-handed goal, one power play goal, and one even strength goal.

To recap Zibanejad’s rampage of a game, or should I say second period, number 93 recorded three apples and that natural hat trick to give him six, yes six, points in the period. The six-point performance by Zibanejad gave him more than half his previous season total.

Going into the second period, Zibanejad had four goals and seven assists. It took Zibanejad only 16 minutes and 59 seconds to turn four goals into seven and seven assists into 10. That is a jump from 11 points to 17 in just under 17 minutes. In a surprising nine-goal onslot, Zibanejad dropped Rangers fans’ jaws the farthest.

Not to be forgotten is Alexandar Georgiev, who came out of a slump of his own with a 26-save shutout. In his two appearances prior, Georgiev allowed seven goals on 20 shots, which comes to a .650 save percentage. With Igor Shesterkin injured, Georgiev put his struggles behind him and proved to be a blockade between the pipes. Even with the offensive outburst, Georgiev still cracked the highlight reel with this extraordinary save on Nolan Patrick to preserve his shutout.

As Zibanejad and Georgiev got back on track, Pavel Buchnevich maintained his solid play as chipped in two goals and two assists. Buchnevich, who is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, has been scoring like he is in a contract year with 29 points in 30 games. It would be smart of the Rangers to give Buchnevich a nice chunk of change and keep him as a piece to the puzzle of the young and rising Rangers team.

Along with Zibanejad, Buchnevich was the other ringleader of the Rangers seven-goal barrage in the second period. The two combined for five goals and five assists. Buchnevich has shown he can and could continue to be a solid line mate for younger and developing players like Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière.

It was Lafrenière who assisted on the final goal of the night as Filip Chytil scored the ninth and final tally of the night for the Boys in Blue. 9-0 is beautiful in the box score, but when Rangers fans see how 9-0 came to be, they will smile a little wider. Especially now after seeing the Rangers’ last two games, which has seen Buchnevich and Zibanejad continue their strong play. The two have picked up a combined six points en route to two wins including a game-winning goal from Zibanejad in Washington on Saturday.

But last Wednesday’s explosion on Philadelphia was the upstart the Rangers needed. It was a complete team effort from the top to bottom of the roster. An effort that will be remembered as one of two parades in New York City that day. First came the St. Patrick’s Day parade…and then came the Rangers’ nine-goal parade on the Flyers.

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Hakeem Nicks’ Giantly Underrated Career

Hakeem Nicks’ Giantly Underrated Career

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Founded in 1925, the New York Giants are a storied franchise with greats spanning time from Frank Gifford and Y.A. to Michael Strahan and Eli Manning. With eight total NFL championships under their belts, the Giants clearly have had multiple deep teams. On those championship teams, several players have flown under the radar while helping Big Blue to a title. The Giants’ last championship came with a Super Bowl XLVI win over the New England Patriots. A playoff run that could not have been completed with the astute receiving abilities of Hakeem Nicks.

Drafted by the Giants 29th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, Nicks was thrown right into the fire of New York’s young receiving corps. Alongside Kevin Boss, Mario Manningham, and 1,200-yard receiver Steve Smith, the 21-year old rookie chipped in 790 yards of his own along with six touchdowns. Averaging 16.8 yards per reception on 47 catches, Nicks was a key part of the Giants’ eighth-ranked offense which averaged 25.1 points per game.

While the offense was sailing along, the defense had its struggles in 2009. Struggles that ultimately kept Nicks and the 8-8 Giants out of the playoffs. Big Blue’s offensive prowess was overshadowed by their defense, which was ranked third worst in the NFL.

Heading into 2010, Nicks entered his sophomore season looking to expand his role in the offense, and he certainly did. The 22-year old was Eli Manning’s right-hand man with 79 receptions. Nicks also led the Giants in receiving yards with 1,052 and in touchdowns with 11, a career high. Let’s go a step further and put these numbers into context.

Manning threw for 4,002 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2010, which means Nicks was responsible for more than a quarter of the Giants’ receiving yardage and more than a third of their receiving touchdowns that season. Nicks’ numbers were not close to being matched by other Giants receivers. Boss was second in receiving yards and touchdowns with 531 yards and five touchdowns. In only year number two, Nicks had become the go-to guy.

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Manning’s top target also ranked amongst the NFL’s best in 2010. Nicks’ 11 touchdowns were tied for fourth in the league, putting him right behind Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings who caught 12 touchdowns. Dwyane Bowe led the league with 15 touchdowns receptions.

Nicks’ superstar season also got him ranked in the top 15 in targets, receptions, and yards. Despite being a top pass-catcher in 2010, Nicks fell short in the vote count and missed out on a trip to Miami for the 2010 Pro Bowl.

A possible reason for Nicks missing out on a Pro Bowl selection? The Giants collapsed in 2010 and missed the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. New York had the NFC East title in front of them, but a certain Week 15 meltdown at the Meadowlands against the Eagles sent the Giants’ season spiraling downward.

As it turned out, blowing a 31-10 lead to the Eagles with 8:17 remaining was just the chip the Giants needed on their shoulder for the 2011 season. Coach Tom Coughlin preached the importance of finishing all season long and Nicks held up his end of the bargain.

The third-year receiver put up a career high in receiving yards with 1,192, which was second on the team to Victor Cruz’s 1,536. Cruz also became the Giants’ leading touchdown receiver with nine, but Nicks was right behind him with seven. Cruz and Nicks proved to be the dynamic one-two receiver punch Manning needed. Manning had a career year throwing for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns with a 61% completion percentage. Of Manning’s 359 completions, Nicks hauled in 76 of them.

As the 2011 season wound down, the Giants again found themselves in the thick of the NFC East race. The season’s final regular season game featured the 8-7 Dallas Cowboys and the 8-7 Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday Night Football with everything on the line. The winner would claim the NFC East crown, and the loser would head home.

New York jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead thanks to a 74-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Cruz and a rushing and a receiving touchdown from Ahmad Bradshaw. The Cowboys cut the Giants’ lead to 21-14 with two Laurent Robinson touchdown receptions from Tony Romo in the second half. After the Giants tacked on a field goal to go up two scores, it was Nicks who put the icing on the Giants’ NFC East title cake.

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The Giants defeated Dallas by that same 31-14 score to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. This was of course when New York ran the table on the road and beat the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. With a receiving corps headed by Nicks and Cruz, the 9-7 Giants looked to go on a magical playoff run again.

This time around as a division winner, the Giants got a home game in Wild Card Weekend against the Atlanta Falcons. Nicks and the Giants had the Falcons flying back down south for the winter.

The Giants cruised past the Falcons 24-2 and got themselves a date with the 15-1 Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay beat the Giants 38-35 in Week 13 at MetLife Stadium to keep their perfect season intact at the time. Some thought the Giants would need a Hail Mary to take down the Packers. As a matter of fact, the Giants had their Hail Mary prayers answered and then some by who else? Hakeem Nicks.
Nicks’ seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns led the Giants’ 37-point barrage on the Packers as the Big Blue defense held the NFL’s number one offense to 20 points. On to San Francisco.

The Giants were halfway home to their fourth Lombardi Trophy. The San Francisco 49ers, another team the Giants fell to in the regular season, were the only thing standing in New York’s way of a Super Bowl rematch with the Patriots.

In what was a trench warfare type of game in the mud and rain at Candlestick Park, it was a defensive battle all night. Nicks was held to five catches for 55 yards, but the 49ers couldn’t bottle up both Nicks and Cruz. Cruz hauled in 10 passes for 142 yards, while Manning found Bear Pascoe and Mario Manningham for touchdown passes. Nonetheless, it was a 17-17 tie as the NFC Champion would be decided in overtime.

In sports, we often hear how you need the ball to bounce your way. That is exactly what the ball did for the Giants in the extra frame. Steve Weatherford’s punt bounced off returner Kyle Williams’ knee and the loose ball was recovered by Devin Thomas of the Giants in prime field goal range.

Lawrence Tynes trotted out in the soppy conditions and knocked the game-winning 31-yard field goal through the uprights to send the Giants to Indianapolis with a 20-17 win. It was Nicks’ first Super Bowl appearance.

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Football’s February finale saw Giants vs. Patriots II. The Giants were looking to become the first 9-7 team to lift the Lombardi Trophy with the 13-3 Patriots standing in their way. Big Blue already beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick up in Foxboro in Week 9 24-20 thanks to a last second touchdown catch from Jake Ballard. Twelve weeks later, the Giants were looking to come out on top again.

As had been the case all season, it was Cruz and Nicks getting it done for the Giants’ receiving game. After a safety and a Cruz touchdown catch gave New York an early 9-0 lead, New England responded with 17 straight points.

Trailing 17-9 in the third quarter, Manning leaned heavily on number 88. Nicks made key catches on back-to-back drives that both ended in Tynes field goals to cut the deficit to 17-15. Super Bowl XLVI headed to the fourth quarter with that same score, and it almost stayed that way until the Lombardi Trophy presentation.

After Wes Welker dropped a Brady pass that could have iced the game, Manning of course started the ensuing Giants drive with the sideline dime to Manningham. As the two-minute warning approached Manning who else, Nicks, for 14 yards down the middle to put the Giants in prime field goal range at the Patriots’ 18-yard line only trailing by two.

The Giants approached the endzone with still plenty of time for a potential response from Brady. As it turned out, it was a go-ahead field goal Tynes never kicked. After Nicks was forced out of bounds on a first down reception, Bradshaw sat down in the endzone with 57 seconds remaining to put the Giants in front 21-17.

Big Blue’s defense held off Brady and the Patriots to secure the Super Bowl. It was the Giants second Super Bowl win over the Patriots in four years. As someone who was not around four years earlier, Nicks reached football immortality for the first time, and finished as the game’s leading receiver with 10 catches for 109 yards. In the four-game playoff run, Nicks proved to be the Giants’ most valuable receiver. He hauled in 28 passes, a team high, for 444 yards and four touchdowns, both also team highs.

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2011 would be the first and only time Nicks would climb to the top of football’s mountain. The 2012 and 2013 Giants missed the playoffs, but Nicks still racked up receiving yards. Although he only found the endzone three times over the next two seasons, Nicks compiled 1,588 yards on 109 receptions.

Nicks closed out his seven-year career with a stop in Indianapolis in 2014 where he bounced back with four receiving touchdowns.

Nicks would go on to be waived by the Titans before returning home to the Giants in 2015 for six games.

He did not have the longest of careers, but you cannot talk about the success of the early 2010s Giants without saying Hakeem Nicks’ name. A dynamic route runner who always racked up yards after the catch and converted third down after third down. So next time you go to MetLife Stadium, do not be surprised if you see multiple Giants fans donning a Nicks number 88 jersey.