Rafael Feliciano, a former MTA bus driver, knows how to navigate the New York City streets better than anyone. So, it was a change of pace last week when his son was in town.
"To bring him back and getting him chauffeured into the city instead of him driving around the city bus, it made me happy," Jon Feliciano said on the Giants Huddle podcast. "It made me proud."
Emotion struck the 6-foot-4, 325-pound offensive lineman as the driver took them from the airport to their hotel, and then to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, where the younger Feliciano signed as a free agent with the New York Giants.
The journey was a homecoming for Feliciano, who was born in East Meadow, N.Y. His parents divorced when he was 3 years old, and he went to live with his mother, Alicia, in South Florida.
"Every school break, I would come up here and spend time with my dad," Feliciano said. "Just driving around the city brought a lot of emotion to be back here and finally live here."
As Feliciano grew, so did the prospect of him playing football at a high level. The University of Miami recruited him and off he went.
The Raiders selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, starting a seven-year career (and counting) that also took him to Buffalo, where he played under and alongside a sizable contingent of former Bills who now wear Giants blue.
The group includes general manager Joe Schoen, head coach Brian Daboll, and offensive line coach Bobby Johnson.
"Just knowing what kind of guys they are, they're just good guys and good coaches," Feliciano said. "There are good coaches around everywhere, but it's hard to find good people. And it starts with people. Daboll and Bobby and Joe, they're people you can trust. When you can trust somebody, you know they just want the best for you. You know whatever they're saying or whatever they're coaching at the moment, it's for the benefit of the team and benefit for you as a player."
Feliciano's decision was a glimpse at Schoen's vision for the Giants.
During his introductory press conference, Schoen said the biggest thing he learned from their success in Buffalo was having the "entire building working toward a common goal." You do that by putting the right people in the right seats, and the right people treat people the right way.
"[Johnson] is able to see the small things that you're not necessarily thinking about in the moment," Feliciano said. "Say you got beat and you're like, 'Oh, crap, he beat me.' He will be like, 'Hold on, he beat you because you took too many steps this way. Stay inside out.' Him being able to work on the small things and just being someone that you know that he's telling you things not to be mean, not to be a hard-A, he's just trying to get the best out of you. He cares. He actually cares about you and your family."
And, of course, they care about winning.
"As Dabes will tell you, I talk a lot of crap and especially to Dabes and to Bobby," Feliciano said. "As you've seen, we like to throw the ball a lot from our time in Buffalo, so before every game we'll be stretching and Dabes will come around, dapping people around, and I just look at him and will be like, 'So, what are we thinking, 60-70 passes this week?' He would just giggle and give me a dap and [say], 'Let's just win.' To be able to play free and be free and lax and know that they're there chilling too and laughing, taking it serious but still being able to be yourself – it's hard to find around the league."
While Feliciano feels comfortable in his own skin around the new regime, he also isn't shy about where he thinks he is best suited. Despite making just two of his 43 career starts (including postseason) at the position, he sees himself as a center.
"If you watch the film of me when I'm playing at center, I think it speaks for itself," said Feliciano, who spent time in the rotation behind three-time Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson with the Raiders. "I consider myself pretty smart, so I love the challenge of calling out what the defense is going to do and the preparation of studying all week and knowing the team is kind of on your back when you're out there, especially a pass play and there's a blitz coming. You've got to call that out and flip the protection and pick it up. When the play comes together and you have a hand in fixing the problem at hand, there's no better feeling."
The Giants' decision-makers certainly agreed.
They have just one true incumbent on the offensive line in left tackle Andrew Thomas and needed a tone-setter at one of the most important positions on the field. And Feliciano isn't afraid to do just that, even in practice if he feels someone wronged his quarterback.
"I just want to kick some butt," Feliciano said. "It just comes natural. I can't explain it. As soon as I put on the helmet and I step out on the field, I just turn into a different person. And that's not going to change. I'll still be there. If someone does something, I'll be the first one to get there."
View behind-the-scenes photos of the newest members of the team touring the Quest Diagnostics Training Center.