When he showed up at hoagie shop in Wayne, N.J., during the bye week, fans lined up around the block to get his autograph. When a deli owner in Secaucus heard he liked chicken cutlets, he sent some straight to the Giants locker room. A brewery in Jersey City named a beer after him, too.
He’s been all over the back pages of the New York City tabloids. People and Us Weekly magazines have done stories on him. The Giants even gave him his own theme music when he ran onto the field for his first home start. And his dad has become a viral sensation on the internet for his over-the-top reactions in the stands.
If it all seems a little crazy … well, Tommy DeVito knows it is. But that’s not going to stop him from enjoying every minute. He’s still just an undrafted rookie who’s only played in five NFL games. He still keeps his locker next to his old practice squad teammates. And he still lives at home with his parents.
So nothing’s changed — except that he’s now the starting quarterback for the New York Giants, getting ready to face the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football.
And for the moment he’s also the biggest football star in New York (and New Jersey, too).
“I love the whole storyline,” said Giants running back Saquon Barkley. “I love that he’s from Jersey, he lives with his parents, and he’s the starting quarterback of the New York Giants. That whole thing is something I’d do in Madden. I would go and draft or pick an undrafted guy and put him on my team and just make him into a superstar.”
OK, maybe DeVito isn’t quite a superstar yet, but his star has risen fast over the last month as he went very quickly from a guy who might not have been recognized outside of his family kitchen to a guy who probably doesn’t have to pay for meals at Italian restaurants in the tri-state area anymore. It’s not easy to describe the “Tommy Cutlets” craze (or maybe it’s “The Passing Paizano” as some have called him … just don’t use “The Italian Stallion” because that’s more of a Philly thing). But it’s undoubtedly gripped Northern New Jersey in recent weeks.
It’s not that anyone believes the Giants have found their next franchise quarterback. It’s not that anyone thinks this is all going to last.
But everyone — especially DeVito — is enjoying what he admits has been a “roller coaster” ride.
“You always play the scenario out when you’re a little kid,” DeVito said a few weeks back. “I was probably five years old doing that, when I was playing with my friends in the backyard, acting like that was playing in the NFL. I wouldn’t say that changed too much. You understand that there’s a business side of it and it’s not so much fun as (it was) when you were five years old. (But) I think that it’s something that I try to bring to this offense and this team.
“It’s just like ‘You need to have fun with it. Don’t let anybody else take your joy.'”
“Joy” is a good way to describe the Tommy DeVito experience. The former Syracuse and Illinois quarterback, straight out of Don Bosco Prep — a private, all-boys, Catholic high school/football powerhouse in Ramsey, N.J, about a half-hour drive from the Meadowlands — has hit a perfect storm of Jersey, Italian, and the desperate fans of a losing football team. He’s a hometown hero who looks and sounds like the stereotype of his hometown.
But he’s not just a novelty act — at least not anymore. DeVito was first thrust into unexpected action on Oct. 29 against the New York Jets when Giants quarterback Daniel Jones was out with a neck injury and his replacement, Tyrod Taylor, was knocked out with broken ribs. But Giants coach Brian Daboll clearly didn’t trust DeVito to throw in that game. He attempted just seven total passes in that 13-10 overtime loss. DeVito was 0 for 3 in the first half and 0 for 1 in the second half, before the reins were removed in overtime, where he went 2 for 3 for minus-1 yards.
Soon, though, Daboll had no choice but to trust him. One week later in Las Vegas, Jones was lost for the season when he tore his ACL. And with Taylor on injured reserve, it was DeVito or bust for the Giants. He finished that game — a 30-6 loss where he went 15 of 20 for 175 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions. Then he was rushed into his first start one week later in Dallas. That game — a 49-17 loss — didn’t go much better (14 of 27, 86 yards, two touchdowns, one interception).
But since then, DeVito has shown some unexpected skills. The past two weeks he’s completed 35 of 51 passes (68.6 percent) for 437 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s even put a little spark of life in the Giants’ mostly lifeless offense, despite being sacked a ridiculous 26 times in the last four games. It’s not a big spark because they’re still only averaging 19 points per game in his three starts. But they averaged less than 12 points per game before DeVito was in charge.
Also, not for nothing, but the Giants have won two straight games and they entered this weekend just two games back of a slew of 6-6 teams — including the Packers — in the race for the final spots in the NFC playoffs. And, as Saquon Barkley said this week, they are believers again.
“We’re in this motherf—–r, to be honest,” Barkley said. “Everyone can say what they want about the season, but it’s week whatever and everything we want is still there.”
If that seems ridiculous and improbable … well, really, it all does. And the Giants organization has embraced every last bit of it, leaning especially hard into the Jersey Italian heritage of their former third-string quarterback. They released a social media video last week where DeVito ranked his favorite Italian foods (Penne Vodka was his top-ranked pasta and “cutlets” were his favorite entrée because “You can do anything with a cutlet … sandwich or dinner!”). And when he was introduced before his first home start last week, the Giants made sure to introduce him last and they changed their intro music to The Sopranos theme.
And everybody — especially every Italian in Jersey—has embraced his on-field finger pinch celebration, where he raises his arm, turns his hands up to the sky, and pinches his thumb against his fingers. It’s a familiar, very Italian hand gesture that means … well, he’s not really sure what it means, exactly, but he knows everyone understands it.
“I don’t know,” DeVito said. “I kind of thought it was just the old Italians, when they talk, they start doing this.”
His teammates are doing it too, of course, because they’re as wrapped up in the Tommy DeVito craze as everyone else. That surely was a big factor in Daboll’s decision to keep DeVito as his starter, even as Taylor, a 13-year veteran, returned from injured reserve last week. And it’s not just that his teammates love him and his story. It’s that in the middle of a season that long ago took a turn for the worse, that has been a never-ending series of bad breaks and bad news, DeVito has given them a jolt of energy.
He’s made everything fun again. He took over a dead locker room and brought it back to life.
“He’s got some swagger and some presence about him that the players like,” said Giants general manager Joe Schoen. “And they follow him.”
Or, as left tackle Andrew Thomas put it: “DeVito brings in energy. Juice.”
DeVito responded: “Yeah, I try to bring that energy all the time. I respect this game so much, but at the same time, it’s a child’s game in my eyes. So, I try to have fun with it. Like I was when I was kid, when I was five years old playing with my friends in the backyard. It is a job, it is stressful. You are in all-day meetings and workouts. So it’s like when you’re on the field, enjoy it and have fun with it. Bring your own kind of confidence and swagger.”
If DeVito seems born for this … well, he might have been. He grew up in Cedar Grove, N.J., just 10 short miles from the Meadowlands. He played high school football at Don Bosco, one of the state’s greatest football factories, and even led them to a state championship in his junior year. He went from there to Syracuse University, where he was a starter by his sophomore season but suffered through four injury-plagued seasons before transferring to Illinois.
“Yeah, it was a long journey,” DeVito said. “I dealt with a lot of injuries. Played through a lot of injuries. It wasn’t the perfect road, but it is what it is.”
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What it was, was a road that led to him being undrafted, despite throwing for 2,650 yards and 15 touchdown passes in 13 games as a senior at Illinois. He did have an offer from the Washington Commanders, according to his agent, but he decided to stay home in Jersey with the Giants instead where he could live at home and save money.
He knew the deal in New York. Jones had just signed a four-year, $160 million contract and the Giants had their veteran backup in Taylor. DeVito was always ticketed for the practice squad after training camp. That’s where he figured to be all year.
Then came the injuries to Jones and Taylor and just like that DeVito was called into action. It started slowly with his handoff-filled relief performance against the Jets and slowly built towards his breakout performance — 18 for 26 for 246 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-19 win on Nov. 19 in Washington. That’s when the Tommy DeVito craze really arrived. Suddenly everyone, it seemed, was doing his Italian hand gesture. He was getting more free beer and free sandwiches for his teammates. His family was reaping the rewards too.
“They probably get more stuff than me,” DeVito said. “Food-wise, they go out to dinner anywhere around the area everything’s (free). People start sending food to the house. It’s kind of crazy, honestly, to an extent.”
It’s crazy, and yet it’s not. There’s definitely something special about DeVito. His teammates and coaches feel it, too.
“I think he operates well in the pocket, he’s got quick feet, he throws with anticipation and timing and he’s instinctive,” Giants coach Brian Daboll said. “He does a good job of seeing defenders and feeling defenses. I don’t think he’s an over-processor, an overthinker. He can make a variety of the throws.”
Daboll’s not getting carried away, though. He admittedly had a decision to make this week when Taylor was activated off injured reserve. And after the Packers game, there’s no guarantee that DeVito will start any of the final four games. He certainly won’t be the starter heading into training camp next season. The Giants are committed to Jones, and they’re expected to bring in another veteran in the offseason to back him up.
Maybe that’s one reason DeVito never gave up his practice squad locker — since he might just be back there again next year. That’s definitely why he’s enjoying the moment, and the Tommy DeVito Special at Natoli’s Deli in Secaucus (chicken parm cutlet with vodka sauce), and the Tommy Cutlets Italian pilsner from 902 Brewing Company in Jersey City. And it’s why he made sure every fan that lined up outside of Primo Hoagies in Wayne on a cold night got the autograph they wanted.
It’s also why he promises to never stop working, and never stop trying to prove he belongs. Because “Tommy Cutlets” has no idea how long any of this frenzy is going to last.
“I think he should continue to have that confidence, have that mindset of ‘F it’ and go out there and ball,” said Barkley. “You’re an undrafted kid from New Jersey living the dream. Go out there, have fun and you’ve got everyone’s support.”
“Yeah, I think it’s a respect thing, is what it is,” DeVito added. “I’m going to go out and try to prove myself every single time I step on the field, whether if I would’ve been drafted No. 1 overall or undrafted as I was. You need to go out and prove yourself. That status and all that doesn’t really mean anything, but how you go out and play means something.”
And for an Italian kid from New Jersey to go out and play for the Giants? There’s no doubt that means a lot.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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