For The Love Of Kids And Cadillacs: An Interview With Giants Legend Jessie Armstead


These days when the New York Giants are mentioned in the news, it’s completely focused on the team’s poor start to the 2013 season. Certainly predicted to get an early jump on the NFC East, the 0-3 start has provided more sports talk jokes and speculation than actual analysis. Yet, for the doom and gloom that comes with #SeptemberFootball, the team still found a moment to step back and reflect on something good.

The franchise recently honored one of its greatest linebackers, Jessie Armstead, by presenting him with the Man of the Year award at the annual Giants Big Blue BBQ in support of The Touchdown Club. Joined by several former teammates in Roman Oben, Keith Hamilton and Michael Strahan along with current Giants Eli Manning, David Bass and Jason Pierre-Paul, the former All-Pro was given the award for never declining an opportunity to provide his time and resources to the community.

My family and I have been blessed in so many ways,” he said when receiving the award from team President and CEO John K. Mara. “‘The Big Blue’ has taught me how to respect and play the game right — both on and off the field. The principles I learned from the Giants always give your best, through community and service — I apply to all avenues of my life.  I am truly grateful for this honor.

TSFJ had the opportunity to speak with the Dallas native about his post-career success, the struggles of former athletes in the business world, the “family” environment of the Giants, the team’s stunning start and the steady return to prominence of his alma mater, “The U.


TSFJ: In researching your post-career pursuits, I learned about the two auto dealerships you’ve been running, Hamilton Honda and Englewood Cliffs Cadillac. Talk about cornering the market with two different types of consumers. What piqued your interest in the car dealership business?

Armstead: It really started because I had so many cars as a player. I loved cars. I love everything about a car. I had an opportunity when I got into Hamilton Honda. After that, it took off, just skyrocketed. I was able to parlay that into Englewoods Cliffs Cadillac.

TSFJ: What stood out to me about this was that you decided to start with Honda first, sort of a more available consumer car, if you will, and then got into Cadillac. Was that something you had in mind from the beginning, or was this an undeniable chance? A lot of folks, if they get started in the business, would probably want to go into the higher end.

Armstead: One thing about Honda is that they don’t let companies like Hertz or Avis or anyone else rent their cars. The resell value is always higher on a Honda car.

I started building out the Honda store in 2008 (opened in 2009) during the recession. A few people thought it was crazy, but when you look at it, it’s probably one of the top 10 (Honda) dealerships in the country (right now).

TSFJ: I’ve spoken to former players in the past who try to enter the business world. Whereas you’ve found something that has been very successful, what is it that inhibits other guys from finding that everlasting success?

Armstead: I think it’s so hard. You’ve played football, you’ve played basketball all your life, and to try to make that transition, it’s kind of hard. You’ve been doing something for the past 12 years in the pros, and then all of the sudden, you want to jump to another career and it’s just hard. Mentally, it’s hard just dealing with other people because everyone just thinks you had success all of your life and they want to take advantage of you. You’ve got to find a way to survive.

TSFJ: One of the things that has always stood out about you has been your charitable efforts, which is all the more reason why you were honored by The Touchdown Club and even the YMCA has honored you not too long ago. Now, a lot of people look at the athlete/charity connection with a cynical eye, yet because you support multiple organizations, there seems to be something deeper within for you. What was it within that motivated you to say, “This is going to be more than a photo op,” when it comes to your involvement with charities, especially with children?

Armstead: There were a lot of times when I first started (playing) where you’re real tired and you have to go to a children’s hospital, you got to have enough energy (for the visit). You start feeling bad about yourself, but then you go into the children’s hospital and start seeing the kids fighting, scrapping to stay alive and they look forward to seeing you. You see the parents spending days, weeks, months at a time for their son or daughter, and you can’t help but to want to reach out and help someone because you’ve been very fortunate. We’re all very fortunate to be able to play a game and make money at something we love doing anyway. I like reaching back and helping out by not only being able to write a check out of my dealership for these different foundations, but I show up and participate, I work with the kids, I do all the things with the kids.


TSFJ: Having covered the Giants for the last eight seasons for the New York Beacon, one of the themes that keeps coming back with this franchise is "family." After receiving the Man of the Year award, you spoke about that very "family." So what makes a team a "family"? Thanks to shows like "Hard Knocks" and the like, we’re starting to understand more about how the bonds are formed during the season, but what is it that makes a team a family when you’re done playing and are no longer in the trenches or at practice?

Armstead: Well, it’s the time that you spend with your team. Going out to eat, going to each others' houses and watching film, just being around each other and breeding that atmosphere. It means something to have that big brother to lean on, and … everybody goes through something in life and at different stages and you need that somebody to talk to, to sit together and get that bond. One thing about the Giants organization is that there is that bond within that structure.

TSFJ: Now, I have to ask you since you are a special assistant with the team and a lot of people have been asking you the same questions about what’s been going on with this 0-3 start. I am curious, how have your interactions been with the current linebackers on the Giants. It seems that over the last few years, it’s been a revolving door for the starters. How much advice have you given them?

Armstead: My interactions have been good. One thing about them is that they got big shoes to fill when you come to the New York Giants. When you’re talking about the Harry Carsons, the Lawrence Taylors, the Pepper Johnsons, the Carl Banks, I mean you can go on and on with the great linebackers that came through with the New York Giants. Big shoes to fill. And for a young guy, he’s got to step up, and sometimes it’s hard. But right now, the team is 0-3, something that we didn’t see coming, but once again, we have to fight our way back and get a win against Kansas City.

One thing about this league is that nobody’s going to feel sorry for you; they all want to beat you. Kansas City’s looking for us, licking their chops and … we got to give them what they’re looking for and whoop 'em!

TSFJ: So many people are focusing on what’s going wrong with the Giants, but is there something that’s going right for the team that’s not so obvious to fans, media, outsiders in general that the team can build upon?

Armstead: One thing is that a time like this when a team is 0-3, that’s when a team can be in disarray, where players and everybody start pointing fingers and disliking each other. But this team is holding together and getting real strong. This week in practice, everyone bonded together, everyone’s ready to go and I think that’s a positive. I know in a lot of situations it would be triple negative right now.

TSFJ: On that note, the team has this start, the NFC East has this start and people wonder if the division is overhyped and overrated, but late in the season, there’s just chaos that keeps us engaged. You’ve played in some equally, if not more, frustrating seasons during the Dan Reeves and Jim Fassel years. You’ve had the ups and downs: going to the Super Bowl, having some not great seasons, a mixed bag throughout your career. When a team is down like this, what seems to be missing from a team or individual player/coach perspective?

Armstead: One thing about it is that you have to keep fighting. New York (and New Jersey, of course) likes that blue-collar worker whose not going to complain, whose going to give you everything they have. That’s why New York loves certain players so much because we’re just like that. Guys you can say that every day I can go out on the field, I can depend on him and that’s why they loved our team because New York loves a blue-collar team. Within the ups and downs, and just like life, you keep fighting no matter what the circumstances are.

TSFJ: Have to ask you this one quick last question — how about “The U”? I assume you’ve been keeping a close eye on your alma mater. How much have they impressed you?

Armstead: Oh, they’re doing a great job. You know, I’ve taken some blows over the last couple of years about the University of Miami, but I’ve withstood them. The week before last when we got ready to play Florida, all the guys on the team that played at Florida were talking so much noise about how they were gonna beat us down and we wound up beating them. Last week, we won, beating a team that’s really bad, but I don’t want to discuss that. We’re just looking forward to building the team up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *