EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — David Diehl wears his heart on his sleeve.
And the rest of his arms, shin, and trapezoid as well.
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Major elements in Diehl’s life – his family heritage, personal background and love of football – are reflected in the multitude of tattoos that the New York Giants right tackle began accumulating when he was 18 years old.
“I can look at every tattoo on my body and it symbolizes something to me,” Diehl told FOXSports.com after practicing Thursday for the FOX America’s Game of the Week against New Orleans (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday). “I didn’t go and close my eyes and just pick something off of the board.”
The tattoo for which Diehl is best known highlights his ancestry. It’s a Croatian coat of arms stamped on his left shoulder that is a version of what is known as a Za Dom GRB.
Diehl was seeking an image beyond the standard checkerboard Croatian flag. He had a revelation when spotting a large refrigerator magnet that belonged to his best friend’s dad.
“I wanted something old with history to it,” said Diehl, whose tattoo is evident under his shoulder pads every time he plays. “This is from the wars back when Croatia was started. You see the knight’s sword, the ram, and the three lion heads on it that represent Istra, Dalmatia and Dubrovnik, which are the three main centers of Croatia that fought through the wars.
“It’s really cool because it not only symbolizes Croatia but when they started fighting for their freedom and what it symbolizes as a whole.”
Diehl has two other prominent Croatian-inspired tattoos. The first is the word “Neunistiv” on the inside of his left biceps.
“That means indestructible and built-to-last in Croatian,” Diehl said. “You have to be physically tough and mentally tough not only playing football but off the field.”
Diehl’s toughness came in handy with the pain he suffered getting the tattoo on his left shin. It’s the image of a sunglass-wearing face with a full head of hair. He’s wearing a blue-and-red bandana over his mouth stamped with the Giants’ “NY” logo.
Diehl had this done last year as a tribute to his favorite soccer team – the Hajduk Split – and some of their rabid fans known as the Torcida.
“It’s like madness in the stands,” Diehl said. “The leaders of the Torcida wear Raybans and bandanas to cover their faces when they’re holding road flares during the game.
“Usually, the bandana has an ‘H’ on it for Hajduk but I put an ‘NY’ on it to not only make it for the soccer team I root for but relative to me being with the Giants.”
Diehl has two other football-related tattoos. One is of a sword-wielding samurai on the inside of his right forearm because Diehl says football players are “warriors” in their own right. Diehl said the body art that spans from his right elbow to wrist took 10 ½ hours to complete during one sitting with acclaimed tattoo artist Mario Barth in New Jersey.
“I’ll never, ever do that again,” Diehl said. “I felt like my arm went through a meat grinder. I drove home with my wrist on the steering wheel because I was so sore. But we were rolling and (Barth) was in the zone. Once he started it, I didn’t want to come back. I figured I’d just sit through the pain and we’d finish it.”
As a freshman at the University of Illinois, Diehl got his first ink – the image of former school mascot Chief Illiniwek on his right shoulder. As the years passed, Diehl began filling in the rest of his arm.
To represent his home town, Diehl had the four six-pointed stars in the middle of the Chicago city flag aligned on his trapezoid. There are four aces as a play on his last name (pronounced “deal”) and two dice showing sixes (representing his jersey No. 66) surrounding Chief Illiniwek. When his father Jerry died in 2003, Diehl added two flowers — a mum and peony – because of his passion for gardening.
For almost every tattoo he has gotten, Diehl said he waited a year “to make sure this is exactly what I wanted.” That’s one of the reasons he has no regrets about anything he has gotten.
“Tattoos are permanent,” said Diehl, 32. “And most importantly, when people ask you, ‘What does that symbolize,’ you don’t want to say, ‘Oh, it’s just a tattoo.’ You want something on you that actually symbolized who you are and what you stand for whether it’s something that happened in your life or what you represent. That’s what you want on your body for self-expression.”