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Justin Tuck: I almost retired before New York Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI run

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Former New York Giants pass-rusher Justin Tuck was among the candidates to be the MVP of Super Bowl XLVI. According to Tuck, there was also a possibility he wasn’t going to be part of that team, which won the Giants’ second championship in four years.

Tuck contemplated retirement early in 2011 because of off-the-field struggles, the former defensive lineman told ESPN this week.

“At the time — a lot of people don’t know this — I was thinking about retiring at the beginning of that year,” Tuck said on the Breaking Big Blue podcast ahead of the Giants’ announcement that they will celebrate the 10th anniversary of that 2011 team this season. “I had a lot of things going on outside of football that I felt needed my attention, that needed more than just me being a football player at the time. That was probably just a little bit of me feeling sorry for myself, to be honest with you.”

Tuck admittedly had a rough year in 2011. He dealt with several nagging injuries and the loss of four close relatives — three uncles and a grandfather — that year alone.

It took a toll on one of the the Giants’ captains. It even reached a point where Tuck needed a talk with coach Tom Coughlin late in the season to snap out of the funk.

Coughlin told the Pro Bowl defensive end that the team needed him to put the personal stuff aside, temporarily. They needed him to be at least a fraction of his old self for his own mental health and the betterment of the team.

The way Coughlin approached it resonated with the captain.

“It was needed,” Tuck said. “I think it put me in the mental place I needed to be to say, ‘Listen, I’ll handle the other stuff after the season is over with, but for the next — at the time what [was] three [or] two months — let’s focus on helping this team win a championship.'”

Tuck responded by recording sacks in each of the final two regular season games — must-wins against the rival New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys. He had the game-ending sack/forced fumble with a hit on Tony Romo in Week 17 against the Cowboys.

That was nothing compared to what was to come. Tuck had 1.5 sacks in the NFC Championship Game win against the San Francisco 49ers and got Tom Brady of the New England Patriots twice in the Super Bowl — just as he had during New York’s 17-14 Super Bowl win to cap the 2007 season. The Giants beat the Patriots 21-17 in XLVI, and afterwards there is poignant video of Tuck decompressing and soaking it all in on a golf cart with his family after the demanding year.

It is only natural to wonder if the Giants would have had any chance at all to make that second magical run in four years without one of their top defensive players. Tuck wasn’t just a significant contributor; he was an unquestioned team leader.

Common logic says probably not. The Giants likely would have been in a heap of trouble.

But we all know how it ultimately played out, with Tuck being a major factor in the Super Bowl and cementing his legacy as a Giant. It’s not out of the question to suggest he should have won the Super Bowl MVP in the final game of a season in which he almost became an early retiree.

Tuck spent two more seasons with the organization before finishing his career with the Raiders.

Now, 10 years later, the Giants will celebrate the accomplishments by honoring the 2011 team with a halftime ceremony during a Week 6 game against the Los Angeles Rams at MetLife Stadium. The team also is running a “Bracket Challenge” that determines the 2011 season’s top play and includes a retail collaboration with former Giants linebacker Carl Banks and the Starter brand.

“Winning Super Bowl XLVI was an incredible achievement in our franchise’s history,” co-owner John Mara said. “We look forward to recognizing that historic season with the enthusiastic support of our fans, and the players, coaches and staff who dedicated so much that season to help us reach our ultimate goal of winning a championship.”


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