PHOENIX – Justin Tuck has returned to the desert for another Super Bowl to be played in University of Phoenix Stadium.
But this time he didn't bring a team with him.
Seven years ago, Tuck played perhaps the best game of his 10-year career when he had six tackles, two sacks of Tom Brandy, and a forced fumble in the Giants' 17-14 victory over previously undefeated New England in Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots will face the Seattle Seahawks Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX.
"It's one of my fondest memories of playing the game of football – in the NFL, college, wherever," Tuck said today. "To be back here - and it's ironic that the Patriots are back here, too - but this is kind of the stage where I became a household name."
That game vaulted Tuck into the conversation of the NFL's elite defensive ends. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl the following season (2008) and went again in 2010. The Giants' and his 2011 seasons were capped with a rematch against New England in Super Bowl XLVI. Tuck again sacked Brady twice and the Giants again defeated the Patriots, this time, 21-17.
Tuck's 4.0 sacks – in just two games - are the second-highest total in Super Bowl history. He trails only Charles Haley, who had 4.5 sacks in five Super Bowls for San Francisco and Dallas.
Given that, and the beating he twice inflicted on the Patriots' quarterback, it's no surprise Tuck considers a persistent and effective pass rush a key in the game to be played Sunday.
"Especially against a guy like Brady," Tuck said. "You know where he's going to be. He's going to set up at eight (step drop) and step up to six and if Seattle is able to be dominant in their front four, that's where I give them the edge in this football game. Because if they can't get to Brady without blitzing him, it's going to be a lot of trouble for Seattle. Brady finds a way to disperse the ball in so many different areas that I think they can have an edge if Seattle is not good at getting to him and pressuring him up front."
The Raiders, for whom Tuck now plays, lost to both the Patriots and Seahawks this season, and Tuck believes the Super Bowl XLIX teams are evenly matched. So who has the edge?
"Honestly, I think it's who plays the best on Sunday," he said. "These teams are so capable of having the elite guy that you don't know. The Patriots are stacked. Seattle is stacked. I think it comes down, like Coach Coughlin would say, to the team that handles the chaos the best and comes out and plays their game on Sunday."
Tuck is here in part doing promotional work for Subway, for whom he has appeared in several commercials. Just for the record, his favorite is the sweet chicken teriyaki sandwich. As he made the rounds today, he carried his two Giants Super Bowl rings from interview to interview.
"I'm very proud about it because it's a huge accomplishment," he said, "but at the end of the day, I'm trying to win more of them."
Tuck played his first nine years for the Giants before signing with Oakland as a free agent last year. In his first season with the Raiders, they fired coach Dennis Allen after an 0-4 start and lost their first 10 games overall. Oakland finished 3-13 and Tuck had a team-high 5.0 sacks. After the season, interim coach Tony Sparano was relieved of his duties and Jack Del Rio was hired as the new coach.
"It was tough sledding," Tuck said. "We're trying to build something new in Oakland. We're trying to get out of the rut that we've been in for 10 years and coming from New York, where you're accustomed to winning and accustomed to being able to put together some things, it was new for me. But I'm turning my legacy now into hopefully being a part of the group of guys that went into Oakland and helped that team build back to one of the best football teams in the NFL."
Although he resides on the other side of the country, Tuck admits he keeps a close eye on the Giants. And he often speaks for many of his former teammates.
"Just because I'm not a Giant anymore doesn't mean I just cut it off," Tuck said. "Those guys there, we'll be brothers for life and that won't change. (I talk to) JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul), Zak (DeOssie), Eli (Manning), Steve (Weatherford), Antrel (Rolle), Victor (Cruz). If I have their number, we talk. We've got a group chat going on. We're still bros.
"Obviously, that's home for me. Nine years there. The relationships and things of that nature where I loved New York and I think they know that and if they don't, then something is wrong with them. I'm very adamant about that. But it's a business and I don't hold any ill will or any grudges. I still watch Giants games and root for my teammates and brothers that I've built relationships with over my time there."
Tuck sees better times ahead for the Giants, in part because they brought back Steve Spagnuolo, who was the defensive coordinator in 2007-08.
"I think it's a great fit for New York," Tuck said. "I think it's great for coach (Tom) Coughlin, because it gives him a guy that obviously understands him and how he wants to do things. And Spags obviously understands New York and what it takes to win there. It's a good move for them."
Giants.com looks through the Giants career of defensive end Justin Tuck