EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The Giants' offensive linemen work in the roughest, toughest and meanest patch of real estate in the all of professional sports, the line of scrimmage in the NFL. It is there that huge, powerful and rugged men engage in the kind of mayhem that is socially unacceptable, if not illegal, outside the white lines.
Few, if any, offensive lines have been as consistently superior as the Giants' familiar five of Kareem McKenzie, Chris Snee, Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and David Diehl. They helped the Giants win a Super Bowl in 2007 and an NFC East title a year later. From the 2006 season finale through the fifth week of the 2009 season, they started 38 consecutive games together, the longest streak by an offensive line since the 1970 merger. Snee and O'Hara have played in the last two Pro Bowls, and Diehl joined them last year.
They are a special, accomplished and dedicated group with a tireless work ethic in-season and out to be their very best in every game they play. Their skill and the team's success have earned them acclaim in the form of magazine covers, posters and television interviews.
But for all the plaudits they've received, it's possible the five linemen do their best work away from the pandemonium of the trenches. Off the field, the men who must play with such a hard edge have a soft spot for those less fortunate, particularly children. They spend countless hours working in the community. For those efforts and for their devotion to helping others, McKenzie, Snee, O'Hara, Seubert and Diehl were honored today at the team's annual Kickoff Luncheon as the Giants' Men of the Year.
"We all have big hearts," Snee said. "We want to play these tough guys, but if it's anything that helps the children or people in need, we're all for it - all five of us."
"We care about people," McKenzie said. "We just want to go ahead and give back. Is it nice to get recognized for it? Yes, it is. It definitely is. But at the same time, the things that we do, we don't do for the publicity. We do it because we care."
"One of the things that we all realize as offensive linemen is that it's a position on the team where the majority of the people in this world can associate with," O'Hara said. "You go to work every day. It's like the clichés that they use that we're the blue collar guys or we're the lunch bucket guys. So I think in that sense, our mentality is that it's a privilege and we feel like there's opportunity there for us to give back and to just try to help others. I think the fact that we've all kind of been in the NFL for awhile now - Chris is really the youngest guy and this is his seventh year - it's given us time to establish some things and to kind of become pillars in the community and find ways to give back to the community as well as to help people in need."
Many Giants players frequently do good work in the community. Eli Manning, Justin Tuck and Kevin Boss are three who constantly make a difference. But the offensive linemen are unique because of the work they do as a group. Each has a project to which he is particularly devoted. At the same time, they support each other's causes and appear at each other's events while making themselves available for several other community endeavors throughout the year, such as a food drive at Thanksgiving.
They do it because they believe people with their means and platform should use them to help others.
"I think one of the important facets of being a professional athlete is doing it and showing that you care about the community and you haven't forgotten where you've come from," McKenzie said. "Whether it be professional sports or any type of profession, you have to be able to go out there and show you are community-minded and that you do care about people overall and that you're not so far above where everybody thinks that you are. You're saying, 'You know what? We're humble individuals also.'"
"It's not mandatory, but I think it's the right thing to do," Seubert said. "I think it's the least we can do. For myself, it's more of where I came from back home and everybody has causes that are close to them some way, somehow. It's part of your business to help out others. That's just being a good person. Anybody can be involved. Anybody can help out. Anybody can raise money and just be out in the community helping out. You don't have to a football player to do that. I think with us being out there, people see that and more people get involved.
"We all like to give to give back. We all like to help out. It's so easy for us to be involved. With us being involved in something, it helps the cause. I think all of us try to do as much as we can with the time we have in the offseason and even during the season. We all help each other out, which is cool. When somebody has one thing going, there's always a few of us there attending one of our friend's events."
That was evident in April 2008, when Seubert held his first annual celebrity trap shoot in his home state of Wisconsin. McKenzie, Snee, Diehl and O'Hara all flew to Minneapolis, hired a driver and trekked to out-of-the-way Eau Claire for the event. That kind of dedication is not unique, or even unusual. (Nor is it limited to the offensive line. This year, for example, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw attended the event).
"For those guys to give up their weekend, to come to Eau Claire, Wisconsin which is not the easiest place to get to in the world, it means a lot to me," Seubert said.
"Everybody really rallies around each other and helps support one another's organization," Diehl said. "If I have the time and if I don't have anything going on, I'll go to an event if I'm asked. One thing that's great about all of us as teammates is if somebody asks you to do something and they're free, they'll do it."
The trap shoot is near and dear to Seubert's heart, or, more accurately, his grandmother's. When Celine Seubert had a heart transplant, doctors speculated she might live five years. That was 23 years ago. Seubert's trap shoots have raised more than $800,000 to fund an endowment for heart research in honor of his grandmother at the Marshfield Clinic, which is just up the country road from the Seubert family home in Roselleville, Wis. Seubert's sister, Christina Zaleski, is a genetic counselor at the clinic.
Seubert received the 2009 Wellington T. Mara Award at the Boys Hope Girls Hope of New York annual Vision of Hope awards dinner. He and Diehl have hosted barbeques for children and their families at the Ronald McDonald House of New York City.
A desire to work with children prompted Diehl to immerse himself in Project Sunshine, a nonprofit organization that provides free educational, recreational, and social programs to children facing medical challenges and their families. Besides making regular hospital visits through the organization, David hosted his first annual Project Sunshine barbeque last summer at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn, bringing almost 20 teammates with him to enjoy a day of friendship and good food with kids receiving medical treatments. Diehl was the recipient of the 2009 Project Sunshine Volunteer Award for the work done on behalf of children and families living with medical challenges.
"I was invited to their spring gala in '07 and getting to meet the people and hear a little bit more about the cause and just being there, it was something that from the minute I was there it reached out to me right away," Diehl said. "After you spend time with the kids – and even the adults - you walk away feeling like a better person. It's the humility of it. Whether it's just playing games with the kids or smiling with them or signing autographs or just talking to the parents and listening to their stories and stuff like that, you just walk away feeling better that you're out there making a difference.
"It doesn't matter whether you're a football player or anything like that. Anybody can do this. Anybody can go outside the box and spend time. And for us, it's nothing that's mandatory. I think if you talk to each and every one of us, we do it because it's the right thing to do and it feels good. It makes you feel like you've really made a difference. I go into these things and I see some of these kids, and I'm triple/four times the size of these kids and to see the courage and fight in these kids, the daily stuff that they go through whether it's chemotherapy or all that and see them and still have the bright eyes and smiles in their face – I mean they're the real heroes. They're the ones that are dealing with life and death situations."
O'Hara began working in the community as a student/athlete at Rutgers University and later with his first NFL team, the Cleveland Browns.
"I learned about Tuesday being the off day and that being a big day to do stuff," O'Hara said. "I felt like it was a great opportunity, and I always remember when I was a kid and how much I looked up to professional athletes and how much I wanted to be like them. I just try to carry that with me throughout my career and know that at any given point, I could influence somebody in a good way. That's just kind of been my mantra ever since."
O'Hara does far more than just show up. In 2009, O'Hara started the Shaun O'Hara Foundation to Help to Increase Knowledge and Education (HIKE) in life-threatening diseases for which there is limited funding. O'Hara serves as an Ambassador of Hope for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, a role in which he meets with children and young adults living with the disease whenever he can to help keep their spirits high. He also is very active in events designed to help raise awareness of the CF Foundation's fundraising efforts to find a cure. Some of the events in which O'Hara has participated include Strides Across America, where people pledge money based on the amount of miles they plan to walk over an established course.
The Shaun O'Hara Foundation hosts an annual golf tournament and this year held a cruise around Manhattan to raise money for CF research.
"I've always kind of gravitated towards kids," O'Hara said. "I just feel like in today's world kids are extremely important but at the same time, they are very pure. They just have good intentions. It's always very tough for me to see kids that can't just get up and go play and they don't know what normal is. So any opportunity I get to try to brighten the kid's day or help create some awareness for a condition that he may have or even just sign an autograph for him, I try to take advantage of it."
Snee serves as the Giants' United Way representative and is actively involved with the organization in his hometown area of Susquehanna County, Pa. The two-time Pro Bowl guard hosts an annual Punt, Pass & Kick event and parade.
Snee is not just a figurehead host. He is on the field all day with the camp participants. Seubert has been a regular at Snee's camp.
"The organization (United Way) had just moved into my county in northeastern PA (when Snee was approached in 2007), and they were really looking for an event to really get the revenue rolling," he said. "When they asked me, I was excited because I wanted to find a way to give back to my area, and I really didn't know how to do it. I didn't know where to even start. They were able to come in and kind of get the ball rolling and say 'This is what we want you to do.' And it's been great.
"The Punt, Pass & Kick is free for the kids. The big money is raised the night before though the raffle and silent auction. Every area is tough now with the economy, but the area I'm from is a very rural area and income is scarce. So the fact that we are able to raise a little bit of money, it goes a long way around there. At the (camp) I see some of the same faces, so they'll come and run into me or bump into me or jump on me. I'm kind of sore when I leave the field because I'm a big jungle gym to them. But I try to imagine when I was a kid if I had the opportunity to be around an NFL player, especially with how obsessed I was with football. That would've been one of the highlights of my life. So I try to keep that in mind and I just try to make it an enjoyable experience for them."
McKenzie is also actively involved with helping youngsters. He hosts an annual football camp free of charge for kids in his hometown of Willingboro, N.J. The three-day camp includes football instruction and life skills sessions.
In addition to his own camp, McKenzie is a regular attendee at his teammates' events and he helped celebrate the holidays with children from Athletes for Charity's mentoring program, and spoke to them about setting goals.
"At the football camp we go ahead and showcase life skills and a lot of different things," McKenzie said. "It gives the younger generation, the younger men of the community, an idea of what it takes to be a man, what it takes to be a leader rather than a follower and how to conduct themselves in public. (We teach them to) not to fall by the wayside to what they see on TV. A lot of this generation today doesn't how a respect for individuals."
McKenzie is probably the most quiet and reserved of the five linemen, but that doesn't preclude him from making numerous community-related appearances and savoring every minute of them.
"You have to enjoy being around people," he said. "That's basically what this profession's about - entertaining people, being around people and making sure that they enjoy themselves. That's just part of the profession that I enjoy it, to bring a smile to somebody's face, to help them forget about their worries or whatever it may be on their mind and just enjoy the moment.
"You love the give-and-take. You love it because sometimes people say, 'You're so much different than I would have ever thought.' It catches you off-guard sometimes, because we're professional athletes, yet we're still people. We're still individuals. We have a home life just like anybody else does. We just are blessed with the opportunity to do a great job."
As their championships, Pro Bowls and universal acclaim demonstrate, the Giants' offensive linemen have climbed to the top of their profession. They have been honored for their exploits on the field. But to be named Men of the Year for the work they do in the community has moved each of them as much as the praise they receive for their work in uniform.
"It almost means more," Seubert said. "On the field is our job. We're supposed to perform well. We're supposed to win games. And that's why we're here. We're here to perform well. But the stuff you do off the field, nobody expects. It's out of the goodness of your heart. It's special. It's a special award."
"We've been out to Rich's event and Chris does a lot of stuff with United Way," Diehl said. "We went to Shaun's golf outing. Kareem's very relevant in the community. We have the same types of stories, whether it's playing a kid in ping pong and having fun or playing Guitar Hero or playing cards with the kids. That's the best thing about it. Everybody takes something different away from it, and yet at the end of the day, we all feel the same way about it."
"Anytime you get an award it means that somebody took the time out to think of you," O'Hara said. "Awards for the way we play the game, whether it's a game ball or a trophy those are nice. But when somebody gives you an award like this – and they call it 'Men of the Year' - I think we all collectively feel that the type of man you are is more important than the type of football player you are. I think that's something that we can all appreciate and that we all strive for."