Mark Herzlich's journey to Super Bowl XLVI has been unlike any other, which is why his reaction to arriving on site was unique in the game's history.
Herzlich, the Giants' rookie linebacker was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in the spring of 2009. Now he's on a Super Bowl team. So when the Giants' charter arrived here Monday, Herzlich though it was important to note the milestone on Twitter.
"2 yrs ago I was told I might never walk again. Just WALKED off plane in Indy to play in The #SuperBowl. #TakeThatSh*tCancer," he tweeted.
Tuesday, in front of a throng of reporters at Media Day on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium, Herzlich explained why he was so emotional.
"It was two years ago, in November of 2009, that I had surgery to put a rod through my femur," Herzlich said. "At that point, I was told I was never going to walk again. I definitely would never be able to run again, and football was out of the question.
"It was determination. And it was support from my family and my friends. I told them the day I was diagnosed. I walked downstairs and I told my dad, I said, 'Dad, I'm going to make it and I'm going to play football again.' And if you're a parent and you're told that – he handled it well. He said, 'Okay, I believe you. Let's do this together.' And we did it together as a family. We never lost hope, we never lost focus.
"But for some reason yesterday – I don't think back about it too often when I'm doing nothing – I walked off that plane and I saw the red carpet laid out by our plane and the media and everybody was smiling and happy to be here. And I just thought, 'Wow, this is a dream that I never thought would come true. It was a tweet that I just thought of at the time and said, 'Hey, this is pretty cool how far I have come.' Then I sent it out."
Herzlich sat out the 2009 season but returned in 2010 to play for Boston College. He was signed by the Giants as a free agent when the lockout ended last summer. As a rookie, Herzlich played in 11 games with two starts and had six tackles (four solo) on defense and six special teams tackles. He has not played since injuring his ankle in New Orleans on Nov. 28. He could be inactive again for the Super Bowl. But that hardly diminishes his story.
Coach Tom Coughlin was asked how Herzlich's personal story relates to his professional success.
"Toughness, grit, determination," Coughlin said. "The decisions he made with regard to his disease in terms of wanting to play and get back on the field. Those were not easy decisions for him to make. He's a guy that never, ever missed one thing. All through camp, he worked his ever-loving off and was out every day, fully-padded, ready to go. He's a football player, he loves to play and be around it. He wants to be a good football player, and he's been a tremendous inspiration to us even though he doesn't want anything to do with that. You have to understand that, and he doesn't want to be referred to in that way at all. He's a tremendous example."
Herzlich is proud to be a cancer survivor. But he's more excited to be just a football player.
"Playing football again was that goal, and that really pushed me," Herzlich said. "After six hours of chemotherapy, you're sitting there and your body just feels drained. You don't want to move, but I said, 'I am going to be playing football again in eight months, so I need to go and work out. I need to go ride a bike, get some cardio in.' That's what I did. I made a highlight video for myself from my 2008 season. The real bad days, I would put that on in the chemo room and watch that kind of on repeat over and over again just to see myself succeeding. That's something that as you go through things, you learn that you have to see yourself succeed, whether mentally or actually in person. That can help you do it."
It obviously did, because Herzlich is here with the Super Bowl Giants.
*As always, Eli Manning attracted the largest crowd at the huge media gathering on Tuesday. He reacted as he always does, answering most questions thoughtfully and with great detail without revealing secrets.
Manning was again asked about playing a Super Bowl in the town where his older brother, Peyton, is an iconic figure. But his best answer of the day came when he was asked whether he considers Peyton one of the best quarterbacks of all time.
"Peyton has had an unbelievable career," Manning said. "Since I've been watching football, I haven't seen anybody play at a higher level than he has. It has always been my goal to get to his level of football, to get to his level of play. That is something that I've worked on. I've watched him in situations and I'm just amazed on some of the throws and plays he's made in his career. I try to ask as many questions and get as much help from him as I can. He's been great. He's been a great big brother and supporter of me. I know he'll be rooting hard for the Giants."
*Brandon Jacobs was asked what is the most upset he has ever seen Manning.
"It was a kind of emotion he did like, 'Damn!'" Jacobs said. "He missed Vic (Victor Cruz) one time or something across the middle, it was a little bit too low or something and he was open. He said a few things that I am not going to say right here on camera.
"You know, Eli has his moments when he is not happy with a certain play or a certain throw that he had. No one is perfect. He lets it out."
*Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Manning's toughness is underrated.
"When people talk about toughness, they talk about linebackers or a fullback - they don't think of the quarterback," Gilbride said. "But it's a totally different makeup. You're not inflicting the blow. The willingness to stand in there and focus on your job, which is delivering the pass, and knowing that you're going to get hit is a different kind of courage. And Eli definitely possesses it. As a coach, you appreciate the toughness that he shows and his willingness to do whatever it takes to win the game."
Tackle David Diehl agrees with Gilbride.
"(Manning) is definitely a tough guy," Diehl said. "People don't think about that because he's got that same even-keel demeanor, but he is one of us. He is a warrior, he fights through injuries; he is a guy we want to be the best quarterback on the field and he is a guy that wants to be out there each and every time, and you have seen him grow as a player and as a competitor, but everybody on the outside doesn't see that intense guy that says he we needs to get it right."
*It's possible no punter in NFL history is asked more about conditioning than the muscular Steve Weatherford, who was recently featured in Men's Fitness magazine.
"I'm a bad dude, man. I'm a bad dude," the always-entertaining Weatherford said. "Fitness has always been important to me because it helps me execute my sport, but at the same time, it has always been something that has fascinated me. Ever since I was a kid, I used to love the sections of movies where people used to work really hard like in Rocky or The Karate Kid. My mom would never let me watch those movies past 6 p.m. because I would want to go run or do pushups or sit-ups. I was blessed with good genetics, but I also work very hard."
*Lawrence Tynes has twice kicked the Giants into a Super Bowl with game-winning overtime field goals in NFC Championship Games. He is the only kicker in NFL history with two postseason overtime field goals. So how about the possibility of kicking one in the Super Bowl?
"You think about it," Tynes said. "We're at this game. It would only be right if I think about it. Of course, a lot of things would have to happen for that to come true, but you have to be ready. I'm mentally ready for that if it comes down to it. You just have to be ready, take care of your training this week and rely on past successes. Sure I'm ready for it."
*Coughlin is as serious and focused as ever, but he is making sure the week doesn't pass by without taking some pleasure in where he is and what the team has accomplished.
"I'm telling you that you do have a great sense of enjoying the moment, or seizing the moment if you will, and not allowing that every minute flies by without a greater appreciation for it," Coughlin said. "If it's the plane trip out here, if it's the players taking all the pictures on the plane, if it's the continuation of that kind of thing…it may not even be the most enjoyable at that point in time, but that's okay. Let's do it and go along with it."
Regarding Media Day, Coughlin said, "To be honest with you, it's great. It's part of the deal. It's fun and it's nice once in a while to get a unique question. We all understand that this is very much a part of the reason why this game is so very popular worldwide. You just try and enjoy it."
*Guard Chris Snee, Coughlin's son-in-law, was asked if the coach has gotten "warmer and fuzzier."
"Warmer? Fuzzier? I don't know if I'd use those adjectives, but he's lightened up a lot and we made reference to that four years ago when we were here," Snee said. "How he kind of changed in that regard, getting to know players more, getting players to know the softer side of him, the side that family members see. He shows that but then again he still has his beliefs that he sticks to. That's what makes him more successful."
*Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks again expressed little concern about the shoulder he injured in the NFC Championship Game.
"It feels a lot better this week," Nicks said. "I'm just trying to go out there and play and have a good week of practice. There should be no setbacks. It's not sore or anything. The rest helped out a lot with just my shoulder and just my body in general. I just took a couple of practices off and then would come out this week and be ready to go."
*Jason Pierre-Paul, who led the Giants with 16.5 sacks, was asked if sacking a quarterback elicits the same thrill as dunking a basketball.
"You know, the adrenaline is pumping," Pierre-Paul said. "You just have to get there, and like a dunk, you've just got to dunk the ball. Once you do it, you just want another one. Like a sack, once you get one sack, you just want more. The guys on my front line, if Osi (Umenyiora) gets a sack, I want two sacks, because if I get two sacks, Justin Tuck is going to want three sacks. So, the adrenaline is pumping and you just want to get there as fast as you can, but at the same time, you have to play the run."
*Sam Madison, who had two tackles and knocked down a pass in the Giants' Super Bowl XLII victory over New England, was in the team's locker room prior to the hour-long session with the media. He was wearing his championship ring. Madison now does television and radio work for the Miami Dolphins. Corey Miller, who played linebacker for the Giants from 1991-98 and now has his own radio show in his native South Carolina, stopped by during the session to say hello to his old friends with the team.