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Giants among men

Jack Hefferon | Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I’m having a pretty good week.

I am a pretty avid sports fan, and I support the New York Giants, who upset the New England Patriots 21-17 on Sunday to claim Super Bowl XLVI.

This made me extremely happy, and turned an average Monday and Tuesday into a pretty awesome couple of days. But back on Sunday night, about an hour after the game, I sat for a second to enjoy the win, and I found that I was actually, legitimately happy for the Giants, a bunch of grown-men millionaires whom I’ve never met.

Both Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin, men whose abilities have oft been questioned during their Giants careers, solidified their legacies with another improbable Super Bowl run. Those are the big names that were big storylines during the game, but there are other, more awesome and inspiring stories deeper in the organization.

There’s linebacker Chase Blackburn, who as of Thanksgiving was a substitute math teacher in Dublin, Ohio. One week later, he signed and was starting for the Giants, and his interception on Sunday was the only turnover of the game.

Tight end Jake Ballard was the key to the Giants’ regular season win over the Patriots, but he injured his knee early on in the Super Bowl. He pushed himself to try and reenter the game for his team and tore his ACL putting himself through sprints on the sidelines.

Then there’s linebacker Mark Herzlich, who was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and was told he would never walk again. Not only did he get back on his feet, but he returned to football and made a huge impact as an NFL rookie, and now has a Super Bowl ring to show for his efforts.

All of this has taken place under the ownership of the throwback Giants organization, which has been owned by the Mara family since the team’s inception in the 1920s. The Maras are, by all accounts, a great family and involved in the community, and they’ve continually kept the organization classy and taken care of their own.

I believe it’s the stories like this, outside the game and in it, that make us care so much about sports. Sports are fantastic entertainment to begin with, but when we begin following a team, in an indirect way we form a bond with the people on it. We get to know the stars, role players and big personalities, and we root them on with our fathers, grandmothers, brothers and friends.

If you look hard enough, you can find these great stories on any team in sports (possible exceptions: USC Football, Kentucky Basketball and the Dallas Cowboys). The game on the field can be exciting, beautiful and improbable, but it’s augmented by our familiarity with the people making the plays. That’s why I was so pumped after the Super Bowl, and that’s what makes sports so special.

And if you were just watching the Super Bowl for the commercials? Hey, I guess you missed out.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.