Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010 started like any day as one would expect. Though slightly warmer than crimson fall days of the past, New York City was bustling with the usual air of frenetic energy.
It was to be a morning where I would have the privilege to be served a sandwich (if I wished) by a $30 million contract waiter, who also happened to be the captain of the Giants defense—none other than the venerable Justin Tuck.
Rarely does one have the opportunity to meet a professional athlete who redeems the notion of what the "human-athlete" is like in real life. Too many times we are disappointed by the short-comings of the athlete.
No city is more unforgiving to their stars and no city deserves to expect as much from it's athletes as New York City does. The heart and soul of the fan in New York invests real emotions in every action they do—both when a spectator and participant. No less is expected from the athletes which walk the concrete jungle known as Manhattan.
Win and you are on the pedestal, lose and you are on the first rail out of town. Randy Johnson could not survive it, nor could countless others. In a city where Giants are what is the norm, Justin Tuck showed up at a Subway restaurant on Fifth Avenue to trade barbs with one of the highest touted rookies in recent memory—certainly in Detroit where the last rookie phenom was Barry Sanders—in Ndamukong Suh.
It was an opportunity for traditional newspaper writers from the likes of the New York Daily News and N.J.'s Star-Ledger to mingle with up-and-coming sports bloggers, speak to Suh by video chat and indulge in the new Subway breakfast being promoted. Oh yes, Justin Tuck was there as well.
Tuck was inhibited by a typical New York moment as the first driver sent to pick him up was a victim of the expected traffic accident (which certainly made the marketing gurus of Subway sweat as the theme was to have Suh versus Tuck via video). The opportunity was not lost though, as the fans from New York had a chance to speak with Ndamukong—called Suh by most.
Suh was asked about coming back to New York, coming off of an "athletic interception," as one writer put it during the questioning session. New Yorkers were wondering what happened to Jake Delhomme's head, after all Eli Manning's head is quite important to Giants Nation.
A lover of car racing and family, Suh has indulged in the Indy 500 and Nascar in his professional life (free of the restrictions of NCAA life). A peak into Suh taking down Colt McCoy and the aftermath of the both recapping on a bus after the game in Orlando. Both differed on their opinions on the play and Suh stands by his hard-nose football style.
Suh has yet to be the victim of rich rookie hazing, which in Detroit means paying for the D-line's dinners. ND showed excitement, but has a "bittersweet" feeling about his Alma mater going to the Big 10, but certainly recognized the potentially large rivalries led by Iowa versus Nebraska.
Finally, Justin Tuck arrived looking ready to go. Asked if he was involved in the car accident, Tuck found out how close he had come to a potential crash. The self-professed hockey fan, "...football on ice with sticks," is how Tuck so aptly put it, reminisced about Madison Square Garden and legends that have flowed through the halls of the great arena.
Suh and Tuck faced off on the phone and after much friendly banter (Tuck asking Suh about Nebraska and how Suh could have possibly ended up playing for the Cornhuskers), a friendly wager was made. The player from the team that loses would be obligated to donate Subway food to the charity of the winning team's player's choice. It was a reflection of what Suh is looking to become and who Tuck is, but more on the charitable persons they are later.
Later Tuck would be behind the counter, helping and making himself "some English muffin, egg, cheese, some spinach, some mayo."
Tuck has been watching Suh ("I thought he should have been the No. 1 pick. I am sure you all are [Detroit Lions' fans] glad he wasn't.").
Tuck imparted the Giants' philosophy in obtaining excess sacks, by "tackling the quarterback while he still has the ball in his hands," as being the marquee message. Tuck is a natural leader, as he felt that last year was the same as the present season (just Tuck being Tuck).
On the rookies: Tuck showered his praise, showing Tuck the mentor within his presentation.
On the defenses attitude: "Just going to go out there and have fun...it became contagious...not caring what the media say...no offense to the media, but we do not care what you guys write."
About Tom Coughlin, Tuck was first to defend his head coach, saying, "People think they know Tom well but they really don't. I'll give you an example...Tom gave me a behind the back low-five. It took me a while to figure out what he was doing...Over the years he has loosened up… used to be… militant... He is starting to understand us and we are starting to understand him."
On last year with defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, "Lots of things happened last year… Once we got off to that fast start, we kind of backed off a little bit… He wasn't a guy that necessarily had the personality that we were accustomed to and we clashed a little bit and that is in no way Bill's fault… I think Bill is a mastermind in terms of his knowledge of defenses."
On the new Giants' defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, "He understood how to bring us in... One thing about defensive players is that we are stubborn, it is hard to change our mind… Perry set everything on the table… The difference is the communication levels from Perry and Bill."
On Subway, Justin made Jared proud in saying, "They have great food... I made it through Notre Dame on Subway… A brand you can believe in...Shouts out to Jared, he's running the marathon in a couple of weeks..."
On Sunday's game, "...I predict that one team is going to have one more point than the other team."
Yet no encounter was more poignant than speaking one-on-one with Tuck as he finished up his exhausting rounds with the media and I had the honor of being part of the finale before the next serving behind the counter.
Tuck knows he is good, not in an egotistical way but as each of question about statistics, career year, Notre Dame football (has a lot of respect for new coach, Brian Kelly), Tuck seemed to want to be Justin "the person" and not Justin "the football player" that day.
So I took a different angle. Switching to discussions of New York and the contrast with growing up, Tuck became engaging as we shared our family background. Justin and his wife welcomed their first child eight months ago into the world, additionally Tuck is one of seven with a set a twins just ahead of him in his large family's pecking order.
What really showed Tuck's value as a person, player and leader was when the subject of charity came up. "Tuck's R.U.S.H. for Literacy" campaign opened the heart and soul of an up-and-coming leader not only on the field, but in the community.
Tuck believes in helping children and not only having a charity, but being engaged in it. Guarding it with the care of a leader, Tuck seeks to have the program grow at a controlled pace so that both him and his wife can continue to be involved first hand in every aspect.
It is a quality rarely promoted in the New York sports market, that of the heart and soul of the athlete who not only entertains society, but gives back with the good fortune that they have been given. Giants' fans are proud of the player known as Justin Tuck already, and the person can give all New Yorkers (yes, even the Jets' fans) something to be proud of.
Currently in his sixth season in New York, the native Alabamian did not anticipate living long-term in New York, but fast forward to today and Tuck may just have become a New Yorker for life and the type of athlete which can, is and will make New York proud.
A well-rounded, educated athlete, Tuck is a great leader. Possibly he will eclipse Taylor, Strahan and the likes. Tuck has emerged in 2010 with four sacks under his belt and is on pace for a career year. The Giants defense starts and finishes with the heart of Tuck.