On Sept. 1, 1986, the Giants cut wide receiver Phil McConkey, who quickly joined the Green Bay Packers. A month later, the Giants sent a 12th-round draft choice to the Packers to re-acquire McConkey, who famously declared upon his return, "Anyone who thinks the grass is greener doesn't know what he's talking about."
In a circuitous way, that brings us to Dave Tollefson. For the first time in his career, Tollefson became a free agent when the NFL's owners and players reached a new collective bargaining agreement. He spent the previous four seasons with the Giants, for whom he was a valuable role player on defense and special teams, a popular teammate and the owner of a Super Bowl ring. Tom Coughlin and some of Tollefson's teammates urged him to re-sign.
But Tollefson was eager to hear what other teams had to offer. Could he compete for a starting job? Could he earn more money? Essentially, Tollefson was faced with the question all free agents ponder when considering a move from one team to another.
"You talk to your wife and you decide for your family life - is the grass really greener?" Tollefson said.
He concluded that its optimal hue is right here in the familiar surroundings in New Jersey. Tollefson signed a one-year contract to return to the only pro team he's ever played in a regular season game for. He even re-claimed is familiar No. 71 jersey, which was worn early in camp by rookie free agent Justin Trattou.
"I was pretty good here," Tollefson said. "I know the system. I know the guys. We've been here together. We've got rapport on the field, off the field. I know the coaches and the front office guys. Hey, it's a recession, I've got a job. I can't be too upset. It's really not a bad deal. I'm just happy to be playing football here."
And the players and coaches he works with are delighted to have him back.
"The guys all wanted him back," Coughlin said. "He is back. Hopefully, he's going to help."
His teammates believe he will.
"When he (Coughlin) asked me about Tollefson, I told him the contribution he's made to this team and what he means in this locker room," Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck said.
"We're all glad that he's back," Mathias Kiwanuka said. "We need him. Dave is very fun, very fun. Off the field, he's joking around. He has relationships with every person. On the field, he means business."
Tollefson said, "I was talking to Tuck in this whole process and Osi (Umenyiora) and Kiwi. They wanted me back here. Which really, to me, that means a lot for my peers to have that kind of respect for me to want that."
Tollefson did not start any of the 47 games he's played for the Giants, but he's easy to spot on the field. Because of his boundless enthusiasm, he's often moving faster and gesturing more demonstrably than anyone else. He can set a tone in a limited role. On Oct. 4, 2009 in Kansas City, he blew up the Chiefs' blocking on the opening kickoff, which led to a fumble that the Giants recovered. Two minutes later, the Giants had a 7-0 lead.
Tollefson's career totals include 48 tackles (23 solo), 5.0 sacks, three passes defensed and 28 special teams tackles. In 2010, Tollefson played in 13 games. He was inactive for the season opener vs. Carolina (9/12) and at Green Bay (12/26) and at Washington (1/2), the latter two because of an ankle injury. Tollefson contributed 10 tackles (six solo), a half-sack, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles on defense and tied for second on the team with 13 special teams tackles (nine solo). He had a season-high three tackles vs. Jacksonville (11/28) and a half-sack at Minnesota (12/13).
The previous season he had a career-high 20 defensive tackles (eight solo).
Those aren't the statistics of a superstar. That's why Tollefson knew free agency wouldn't be the road to riches that it has been for many other players. But he is proud of what he brings to a team.
"It's not that I had delusions of grandeur that I was going to be the next Charlie Johnson by any means," Tollefson said of the defensive end who signed a reported $72 million contract to stay with Carolina. "I understand my role in this league and I know what I'm worth. It (a big-money offer) just never came around. If this is it not coming around, that's a hell of a deal. I'll take this.
"I know for a fact I'm going to bust my (butt) on special teams and when I get in a game to play defensive end, I'm going to bust my (butt) doing that. Chips will fall how they will. It's so easy to speculate. That's not my job. This is my fifth year. I've played well. The coaches know that and the front office knows that."
They expect to get the same steady contribution and enthusiastic approach that Tollefson has always delivered.
"He's been working his butt off," Coughlin said. "He's about 268, 270. He can run. He can play on special teams. He could go in there and be one of our package guys on second and long or third down. He knows the system. He knows where we're coming from."
"We talked back and forth a couple times prior to me signing," Tollefson said of is interaction with Coughlin. "Tom and I have a good working relationship, I would say. I respect him. I think he respects me for the way I play the game, which is the right way, hard and physical. It wasn't like, 'Dave, you've got to get back here.'" You know how Tom is. (He said), 'Dave, it's time to come to work, Dave.'"
It was an eventful offseason for Tollefson. His second son, Cade Harlan, was born six weeks premature on July 10. His wife, Megan, had a difficult pregnancy.
"She had placenta previa (a condition in which the cervix is covered) and hemorrhaged and I had to call 911. It was really scary," he said. "Luckily, I was there. It's kind of a blessing these guys were locked out and I was able to – if she had to get up to call, she could've bled to death. It was really scary. They saved her and the baby. She was in the hospital for about three weeks. Then, she hemorrhaged again. Then we had to do the emergency C-section."
Mother and baby are both well now, which allowed Tollefson to think again about football. He flew in yesterday and immediately went to the Timex Performance Center. Tollefson passed his physical this morning and received an ovation when he walked into the defensive line meeting room.
"I feel like I'm a part of this family," he said. "Everybody knows me, my wife, my kids."
Tollefson promises to be ready for the Giants' first preseason game, a week from tonight at Carolina.
"This isn't my first rodeo by any means," he said. "It's not like they're bringing a young kid in a week late. I'm ready with the defense. They know my skill set. I'll be ready to go."
*Coughlin said he has been impressed with fullback Henry Hynoski, a rookie free agent from Pittsburgh.
"That's a pure fullback in the pure fullback position," Coughlin said. "Hopefully, he'll be the physical presence that we need. He catches the ball very well. He hasn't had a lot of problems with assignments, which has been real good. As we advance, he basically has to master first and second down, which should be to his advantage."
*Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham have been the first-team receivers, but Coughlin is uncertain who is No. 3.
"We're going to find that out," he said. "We're going to work that out. Domenik (Hixon) has been the third. We unfortunately have to slow him down on occasion, say every other day, to get him stronger and healthier and feeling faster coming off of his (knee) surgery. There's a lot of room for a lot of people if they could just improve and come along. (Ramses) Barden (who is on the physically unable to perform list), get out there for crying out loud. So there's plenty of opportunities. I'm hoping these guys will advance.
"I'm basically just using the needle on a couple of these guys. Don't let this time go by now without having been on the field because it's not going to be that helpful. I showed them this morning, which was a good idea, to be honest with you. We walk in, we start the meeting, and I say, 'Okay, look up here at the calendar, fellas. You're playing next Saturday. It's Saturday.' I don't know what day it is, but somebody said it was Saturday. 'Next Saturday we're playing a game.' And we have a day off (Tuesday). And the day before the game is normally a day off."