The Shutdown Corner Interview: New York Giants DL Justin Tuck

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

It's been a busy week for New York Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck. On Thursday, he picked up the second Super Bowl ring of his career -- and the night before, he was in New York City at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, for a screening of the movie, "Battleship," to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. The WWP is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors, and Tuck was there in conjunction with SUBWAY restaurants.

"SUBWAY would like to recognize our nation's military heroes and say, 'thank you,' said Tony Pace, Sr. Vice President, Global Chief Marketing Officer of the SUBWAY Brand. "The U.S. military played a significant role in the making of "Battleship." Given our involvement in the film, we felt it was important to honor these service members."

The movie, directed by Peter Berg ("Friday Night Lights"), stars Col. Greg Gadson, a member of the WWP who lost both his legs in Iraq in 2007, and who has been an inspirational force for the Giants ever since. We had the opportunity to speak with Tuck about the premiere, the Giants, a couple of Super Bowl wins, and his NFL future.

Shutdown Corner: First, could you talk about the "Battleship" screening?

Justin Tuck: Colonel Gadson is in the movie, and he's meant so much to myself and to the New York Giants, it's just a good way to support the people who are overseas, fighting for our freedoms.

SC: Colonel Gadson is the man who came to your facility during the 2007 season and proved to be such an inspiration for you, right?

JT: Right. I first met him in 2007, just before that Super Bowl, and coach Coughlin brought him in to do a motivational speech. One of our coaches at the time knew Colonel Gadson pretty well, and he just wanted an opportunity to tell his story to us. After that, he had such an impact, he became like a member of our team. He would go on the road with us, three or four games a year -- as many as he could make it to -- and he really had an impact on our team. So, he's been around since 2007, I've known him since then, and we've had the opportunity to watch him battle with the struggles he's had from serving over there. You marvel at the fact that he never complains -- he's always upbeat, and he's always lifting us up. That's amazing from a guy who doesn't have any legs.

SC: It kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

JT: Oh, no question. You really can't allow yourself to complain about anything, when you see a guy who could have easily given up on life, but he's making the best of it.

SC: Obviously, we're not talking about the same level of risk in football, but there has been a lot of talk about player safety lately. Where do you stand on the issue, and how well do you think the NFL is handling it?

JT: It's a serious issue, The game we play is a physical sport, and we put our bodies on the line every time we go out on that that field. But it's something ... we know the dangers that come with it, but the dangers are a real issue, and I hope we'll find ways to minimize them. That goes with a combination of the equipment we're using, to the rules changes by Commissioner Goodell and his bunch. Just being more aware of player safety from the players' standpoint, also.

SC: Right. People say, "Well, you guys knew what you signed up for when you decided to play this game," but that doesn't mean that more shouldn't be done. Specifically, do you think there should be more of an outreach for players after they're done with the game?

JT: I think so, because there's one thing about players -- most players won't ask for help until it's too late. That's something that's ingrained in us, and it's unfortunate. Hopefully, we can get the word out to former players and current players that if you need help, there is help. Like with [Junior Seau], you think that could have been prevented, but unfortunately, it wasn't. Hopefully, it's a sign to guys who might be going through the same thing, where they say, "I want to live -- I want to enjoy my life" and you get the help that is provided to you.

SC: On the positive side of that equation, your old buddy Michael Strahan has made quite the successful transition in his post-football career. How much of a mentor was he to you, and do you still talk a lot?

JT: Oh, we definitely talk a lot. He's back and forth to New York every month, and we talk in person and on the phone. He's definitely meant a lot to me in my career. Coming in as a rookie, he was well-established at the time as the best defensive end in the league. It was fun to get to work with him every day, and mirror how he went about his business-- on the field, and off. I give him a lot of credit for putting me in the right positions and introducing me to the right people. And inspiring me to the work ethic I have today. Because I just tried to follow in his footsteps.

SC: I was in the locker room after Super Bowl XLVI, and he was there talking to you guys, and he almost looked happier than the current players did about the result.

JT: Yeah -- we were texting and talking back and forth through the whole playoff run. He just continued to congratulate us and tell us how to get prepared for these games. He's definitely a true Giant, and he'll always be one. When you see him on Sunday mornings [on Fox's pregame show], and he's picking the teams, he's always going to bleed Giant blue. He can't help it.

SC: Watching both of the Super Bowl games the Giants won in the last five years, I had you pegged as the MVP in both cases, until Eli Manning corked off two of the most amazing throws in Super Bowl history in what turned out to be the game-winning drives each time. Obviously, you'd rather have the ring than the MVP award, but do you ever wonder what might have been?

JT: You know, I'd rather have 10 Super Bowl trophies and no MVPs. The whole thing about having the MVP -- I don't care. I could care less, because the way I look at it, I can't play the game by myself. If I got one, I'd probably cut it into 10 other pieces and give it to my defensive teammates.

SC: It must be a great point of pride, though, to play at your very best when it matters the most.

JT: We're all brought up to believe that the best players show up in the biggest games, and what bigger game than the Super Bowl? I've just been blessed and very lucky to have two of my best games on that stage. I'm very humbled to have that opportunity, and if I get another opportunity, I'm just going to go out there like I did last time and give 100 percent.

SC: One of the most remarkable things about your play -- and you seemed to be kind of a trend-setter in this regard -- is that you will be seen playing well all across the formation. That's become more common in the last few years, but how did that develop for you? Was that something you did at Notre Dame, or did it start when you got to the NFL?

JT: It started in New York, because when I came in, you had Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora on two different sides. So, it was a way for me to get on the field at first - you put your best pass-rushers on the field. I didn't like the thought of it at first, and I wasn't really good at it a first, but I got an opportunity to learn more about it, and learn more about how to rush from inside. it's just something that gradually became part of my game.

SC: When you look at the Super Bowl XLII team, and the XLVI team, which one was better?

JT: I think this one has more talent -- younger guys, but guys who had been there before and knew how to win those types of games -- but it's hard to compare to the 2007 team. That '07 team had tremendous heart. Both teams had tremendous heart, but if I was to pick one of the two, I would say this last year's team, because it seems that we have more of a talent [base].

SC: You've clearly done a lot in your career -- what is left for you to accomplish?

JT: I just want to continue to play great football -- that's all that matters. I don't really care about the accolades or any of that. Everything to me is about team football, and if we keep winning Super Bowl trophies, I'll be fine.