EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants have six players on their current roster who have played in at least one Super Bowl, all for other teams. Five of them have championship rings, four from the New England Patriots and Golden Tate from Seattle.
That leaves recently-signed tight end Levine Toilolo with the team's Super Bowl heartache award. He not only played in two Super Bowls in which his teams lost, but they were among the most excruciating defeats in the game's history: the 2016 Atlanta Falcons blew a 28-3 lead and lost to New England in overtime in Super Bowl LI. And two months ago, Toilolo played in Super Bowl LIV for the San Francisco 49ers, who saw a 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate into a 31-20 loss to Kansas City.
Instead of being debilitated by the defeats, Toilolo joins the Giants even more determined to return to the final game and win it.
"Honestly, every time is tough," Toilolo said in a phone conversation. "You get so close to that end goal, which you work all year for. It's something you dream of your entire life. But you take that and you use that as fuel for the next season and everything going forward. I think that's the best way to handle it. You need to have the learning experience. Being on the wrong end of two of those is obviously tough, but you know what it takes to get there. For me, I can only imagine how it'll feel to be on the other side right now. Obviously, even just making it to that point is such an accomplishment. A lot of people don't even get to play in that game. It just excites me more for the future and for what's to come. I'm hoping this next time, hopefully I make it back there a third time, and the third time will be the charm."
Toilolo said those two Super Bowl teams share common traits.
"One of the biggest things for me that I saw between the two teams over the few years was off the field, how close the guys came together and built relationships, and see how much that can translate onto the field," Toilolo said. "When you're playing at this level, I think it can be hard to really get out of the business aspect of it. But once you develop those relationships with not only your teammates but your coaches, and you feel that everyone is playing for something bigger than just themselves. You can definitely feel that on the field. Obviously, there's tons of hard work that goes into it. But really just approaching each day as not only just a work day, but something you enjoy, because you enjoy the people there. You enjoy the people that you're in the building with, that you're in the meeting rooms with. A lot of people outside of football may not see that. But for someone who is in the building, I think that's one thing that people may not realize is probably something that, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects to a team being successful."
The Giants will be the fourth team in as many seasons for the 6-8, 268-pound Toilolo, following his fifth and final year in Atlanta and single seasons with Detroit and San Francisco.
As a pro sophomore in 2014, Toilolo started all 16 games and caught a career-high 31 passes. Two years later, he averaged 20.3 yards on 13 receptions. Toilolo has scored eight career touchdowns.
But last season, he had just two receptions for 10 yards for the NFC champions, who had the conference's starting Pro Bowl tight end in George Kittle. A backup, Toilolo was deployed primarily as a blocker but is confident he can be an all-around contributor for the Giants.
"When you're working on your game, you're always trying to become a better blocker, always trying to become a better receiver," Toilolo said. "It's been up and down for me statistics-wise. I pride myself in being a complete tight end. Someone who can be in there whether it's run-blocking or pass-blocking, or someone who can be in there to go and get the ball when the team needs a play. It's really just doing whatever the team needs. I had more of a blocking role last year. But I think what I bring to the table is definitely a little bit of everything. I'm excited to show that when the opportunity comes."
View photos of tight end Levine Toilolo
He brings to the Giants one of the NFL's most colorful names. Toilolo is of Polynesian descent. He got his first name from his grandfather. "My mom's dad, his name was Levine," he said. "I'm named after him.
Three of Toilolo's uncles played in the NFL: Dan Saleaumua played for the Detroit, Kansas City and Seattle from 1987-1998, Edwin Mulitalo played for Baltimore and Detroit from 1999-2008, and Joe Salave'a, who is currently a coach at the University of Oregon, played for Tennessee, San Diego and Washington from 1998-2006.
"I remember being able to go to a few games," Toilolo said. "They came to San Diego, where I grew up. But there's nothing too crazy in my memory bank. Really just going to a practice here or there."
Toilolo prefers to look forward and to getting into the nitty-gritty of learning the terminology verbiage and assignments in his fourth offensive system in four years. His assistant in that task is his wife, Stephanie.
"I pride myself on being someone who you can count on," he said. "Knowing your assignment, being out there and doing their job. The playbook obviously takes time and takes work, and with everything going on, it'll probably be a little bit different of a learning curve. Right now, we'll probably have to do meetings a different way. But as far as picking up offenses, it's definitely not something that I'm too worried about. Being in a lot of different systems, I think that's definitely helped me learn things quick and learn on the go.
"When you watch film, you see a lot of similar concepts. When you go into a new system, it's really just learning the new terms and the verbiage. That's all really just memorization. My wife, she also knows the drill as far as helping my study. We already have our whiteboard and note cards ready to get studying once we get the playbook going."
That's a man who knows what it takes to win.