Once again, Tuck was at his best when his team needed him most. (Getty Images)
New York Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck must be wondering what it takes to get a Super Bowl MVP with his teams. He's played just about as well as a defender can in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, only to fall short to his quarterback when Eli Manning went thermonuclear at the right time. The first time Tuck's Giants beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, it was the end of the 2007 season, and Tuck was absolutely unstoppable. He pressured Tom Brady all day, registering six tackles, two quarterback sacks, two quarterback hits, and a forced fumble. But Manning's miracle throw to David Tyree on the Giants' winning drive stole all the headlines.
Four years later, Tuck was even more dominant. He provided the quarterback hurry that forced Brady to take an intentional grounding play in the Patriots' first offensive play from scrimmage, starting the Giants out with a 2-0 lead. Then, he put up three tackles, two more quarterback sacks, three quarterback hits, and was in Brady's face all over again.
Of course, one 38-yard pass from Manning to receiver Mario Manningham on the Giants' winning drive (stop us if you've heard part of this before) stole all the headlines. Tuck played as well as any defender in Super Bowl history, and "all he has to show for it" -- if you want to put it that way -- is the one Super Bowl ring he already has, and the second one he's going to get very soon.
And Tuck couldn't care less. Part of his excellence as a football player is that he doesn't just subscribe to the "team think" policy when people are around to hear it -0- he really believes it. Tuck worked through several injuries this season to become dominant at the right time. Like the team he plays for, and the quarterback who keeps stealing away those pesky MVP awards, Tuck is all about the group rising when it's most needed.
"Each one is very unique, and this one is probably more exciting," Tuck said after the Giants' 21-17 win. "Probably more so because of the kind of year we had. What a wonderful experience to see the team come together like it did. Out defense started to play well, and when the defense played well, we gained some confidence, As they say, the rest is history."
Well, it wasn't quite that easy. Despite being outplayed through most of the first half, the Patriots took a 10-9 lead into the locker room at halftime, and it took everything the Giants had to roll that back in the other direction. Manning led the Giants on the 88-yard drive to win that Super Bowl, and the catch by Manningham will go right next to your Lynn Swans and Jerry Rices in the Super Bowl annals.
Former teammate Michael Strahan, who was in the locker room to congratulate the men who extended the Giants' legacy past the Super Bowl XLII ring he owns, talked about what Tuck now means to that defense.
"I would think so," Strahan said when asked if Tuck is now the happiest almost-two-time Super Bowl MVP in NFL history. "If you gave the MVP to a defensive player it would have gone to Tuck in both Super Bowls. To show up on the biggest stage and play your best game twice is really amazing. It's a testament to how hard he's worked, and I know he went through a lot this year."
Tuck simply doesn't pay mind to such things. "I'm going to do my part. But it isn't in an individual way -- and you've heard me say this before. Nobody cared about the stats, or the touchdowns, or the sacks, or anything like that. We went out there these last couple of games and played for each other. And it speaks to what you can do when you have 11 guys playing as one. it's a collective effort. A lot of people try to make it out to be rocket science, but you win football games by being more physical, be executing and by believing in each other."
The drive that allows Justin Tuck to play that way when it matters most also propels him to push that energy back onto the team. In other words, the very qualities that make him play at a Super Bowl MVP level are the same ones that have him oblivious to the fact that on most any other team, he'd have at least one of those individual honors.
Justin Tuck will take what he's got.
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