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Tuck embracing leadership role

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Pam Oliver

Since joining the NFL on FOX team in 1995, Pam Oliver has established herself as one of the premier sports reporters on network television. She contributes feature stories and sideline reports for "FOX NFL Sunday" and reports from the NFL on FOX's top game.

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ALL ACCESS: A lot of networks do TV interviews, but have you ever wanted to know the juicy details that never make air? You can tell a lot about who people really are when the cameras aren’t rolling. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look of the interview with the Giants' Justin Tuck that Pam Oliver had for this week's segment for the NFL on FOX pregame show.

While playing through a shoulder injury, Sundays are when Giants defensive end Justin Tuck goes into gladiator mode. He calls it that because game day demands a certain pain-free mindset. It’s hard to keep up the front the other six days of the week when the body doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear.

Gladiator makes me think of Russell Crowe’s Maximus, the rugged movie character leading a group of fierce fighters, while wearing the coolest steel face masks and body armor a potentially doomed man could hope for. Can I get an amen and an ”Are you NOT entertained!!!?”

For his part, Tuck would rather harass quarterbacks in peace (and in standard NFL head gear) than, say, harangue teammates when a situation dictates.

As a newly installed Giants leader, the low-key six-year pro, voted a first-time captain by his teammates before the season started, admits fulfilling that role is a work in progress. He wasn’t quite sure how to do it or where to start.

“I talked to my dad about it,” he told me. “He gave me some words of wisdom saying to be a great leader you also have to be a great follower.”

“I took it in the light of, just go out there and do my job and they’ll follow you. But in certain situations you have to be more vocal.”

“I think some leaders just talk to hear (themselves) talk. I’m not one of those guys.”

At this stage in the conversation Tuck brings up Michael Strahan, the NFL’s single-season sack record holder who retired before 2008 after 15 seasons with the Giants. Tuck watched Strahan and learned from Strahan’s play and leadership growth.

“The thing I figured out going back and looking at Mike over his climb, he wasn’t always that guy. He had to learn somewhere along the way exactly what I’m trying to learn now, how to be 'the guy.' It’s not a natural thing.”

I found Tuck’s honesty so refreshing. I mean, who says that?!

I also found Tuck, who’s collected four sacks over five games, two behind team sack leader Osi Umenyiora, to be a man of his word. Before the cameras rolled for my interview with him as part of a broader story on the Giants resurgent, and now top-ranked defense, I asked him to keep it real and shoot straight on whatever topic comes up. I only asked because a new leader can easily go all blah, blah, blah on you.

Tuck then let me in on his speaking pattern, in case he happens to stutter, hem and haw...

“I’m lying.”

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“Defense, pretty good?”

“Decent,” Tuck says instantly.

“How are you feeling? How’s the shoulder?”

“I feel like crap,” Tuck responds with a half smile. “You wanted the truth. I didn’t stutter, I meant to stutter.”

We’re shooting this on Thursday and Tuck is thoroughly entertaining. He’s only got three more days before it’s back to gladiator mode and being a nuisance to quarterbacks.

For Pam’s complete interview with Justin Tuck and the rest of the Giants defense, watch the NFL on FOX Sunday, America’s No. 1 pregame show, at noon ET / 9 am PT

Tagged: Giants, Justin Tuck

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