Giants' Mathias Kiwanuka goes home for Super Bowl
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)
Mathias Kiwanuka is well positioned for this Super Bowl.
The Giants' linebacker starred at Boston College in the heart of Patriots' territory, played his entire career in the shadow of New York and now will get the chance to go home to Indianapolis to finally play in the NFL's biggest game.
While he has a Super Bowl ring from the Giants' win over New England in February 2008, another one would mean a lot more to the 28-year-old Hoosier.
Kiwanuka was forced to be a spectator for the Giants' 17-14 win over then-previously undefeated New England in Arizona because of a broken leg suffered against Detroit more than two months before the title game.
''This is everything that dreams are made of,'' Kiwanuka said. ''It is an opportunity not just to play in the biggest game, on the biggest stage.
''This is America's game and this is the biggest game of the year. I get to do it at home, in front of my family and maybe people who would not have been able to travel and see me. Just being back out there after being injured and stuff, it is all fun.''
Kiwanuka laughed when asked how many tickets he would need for the Feb. 5 game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
''How many you got?'' he shot back, adding quickly he would make due with what he could get.
What he really wants is a ring that he can call his own.
While he felt very much a part of the Giants' win, not being out on the field took something away from it.
He equated the situation to winning football titles at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis in his sophomore and junior seasons.
The then-Colts fan played as a sophomore and contributed.
''The one from my junior year I was starting on both sides of the ball, and it was like my friends were all involved, so I kind of feel like this one will be more like that one. If we go out there and get a win, I still appreciate the opportunity, and I was a big part of the team that won one, but this is the one I will remember more.''
This has been somewhat of a comeback season for the Giants' first-round draft pick in 2006.
He might have been the best defensive player on last year's team for the first three games of the season before a neck injury suddenly ended his season and put his career in doubt.
What made things even more tenuous was that Kiwanuka became a free agent after last season and the injury was a caution sign to suitors.
The Giants convinced him to come back and the key was telling him they weren't going to waffle on his position. The defensive end turned linebacker was going to remain a linebacker, except on obvious third-down passing situations where he would work on the line with Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul as a four-headed monster rush.
Kiwanuka has excelled in the role. He has had 81 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and one recovered one.
His best game came against New England on Nov. 6, when he had 12 tackles and picked off a Tom Brady pass in a 24-20 win over the Patriots, their last loss of the season.
''I just think he's a great player,'' Patriots receiver Deion Branch said Friday. ''This guy, you look at his stats or everything. He has the intangibles and there's a reason they move him around so much because he has the ability to make those plays. It's the biggest thing, his speed, his strength. He's a great player. I mean they have a team full of great players''
Like most of the Giants' defenders, Kiwanuka knows New York can't let Brady sit in the pocket all game. The key to winning the Super Bowl four years ago was getting pressure on the New England quarterback.
''Not matter what your job is, if there is somebody hitting you in the face every couple of minutes, you are going to be less effective.'' Kiwanuka said.
''Maybe he (Brady) doesn't get rattled as much as a younger quarterback does because he has been in high pressure situations, but it's impossible to ignore someone like Osi coming off the edge and hitting you in the back of the head.''
If the Giants do that, they have a shot at winning, and writing the perfect ending for Kiwanuka to a great season.
His finance is expecting a baby - a girl - in March.
His older brother, Benedict, who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in May 2010, is healthy again and has attended some games.
And now his family will get a chance to see him in the Super Bowl, and possibly see him make a game-winning play.
''I'm just focused on getting the win because that ring is the most important thing,'' Kiwanuka said.