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Published: Sunday, 2/5/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

COMMENTARY

Big game provides backdrop for rich stories

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

INDIANAPOLIS -- There are so many stories, but so little space and time. So let's take a spin through some of them in advance of Sunday's Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium:

■ It is appropriate perhaps that the New York Giants and New England Patriots are in this game because without the owners of these two franchises there may have been no end to the preseason lockout and maybe no season.

New York's John Mara, since named the chairman of the owners' labor committee, may have been the most engaged owner at the bargaining table, and players accepted he was not the enemy. Robert Kraft of the Pats is chairman of the equally powerful television committee, and his ability to negotiate new 10-year deals with four networks produced revenue of about $5 billion per year, of which half goes to the players.

"Robert played an incredibly valuable role while going through a very difficult personal experience," said commissioner Roger Goodell, referring to the death of Kraft's wife on July 20, five days before the lockout ended. "John Mara was, I think, there for almost every single negotiating session from February through July."

Goodell said the tide turned on negotiations in June when each side designated five representatives at the table. Mara and Kraft were the two who headed the management team.

"Those two individuals deserve a lot of respect and appreciation," Goodell said.

The two longtime friends each claim the other was more responsible.

"I don't think we get to the finish line without Bob Kraft," Mara said. "The message that he kept delivering to the players, which I think really resonated, 'We're not going to let you do a bad deal. We need to do a deal that works for both of us, and we need to make it a long-term deal because that has such a huge effect on our business which, in turn, helps you.' I think [the players] all respected the amount of time he was putting in. Everybody knew what he was going through, and he still found the time to be there with us."

Said Kraft: "I'll tell you, John was terrific. He spent more time at it than I did. He was there every day. His family for 90 years has represented New York so beautifully in the NFL. They always put the NFL first.

"If there's special karma out there, then maybe that has something to do with both of our teams being here."

■ Giants' linebacker Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a form of cancer, shortly after his junior season (2008) at Boston College. He was told by doctors he'd never play football again. Of course, he'll be playing in Sunday's Super Bowl.

After being diagnosed, Herzlich said, "I looked at my dad and said, 'we are going to beat this, and I'm going to play again.' He was probably the only one who believed me at the time, but we did it together.

"I went through six months of chemotherapy, five weeks of radiation, had surgery to put a titanium rod through my left leg [where radiation weakened his femur], and then had to fight back from all that. I was able to play again [at BC] finally in 2010, progressed throughout that year, and then made the Giants.

"I think it's a little bit of a miracle that I'm in this game. It's just something you hear about when people beat the odds, and it's a case of me beating the odds. Everything had to go in perfect order to get me where I am. I'm very thankful."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Herzlich should first thank himself.

"How did he do it? Toughness, grit, determination," Coughlin said. "The decisions he made with regard to his disease in terms of wanting to play and get back on the field, those were not easy decisions for him to make. But he's a football player, he loves to play and be around it. He's been a tremendous inspiration to us even though he doesn't want anything to do with that. He just wants to be a football player, and he is."

■ Patriots' running back/kick return specialist Danny Woodhead is the subject of a children's book, A Football Dream Come True, with some of the proceeds going to a foundation that benefits children affected by cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis that is chaired by the book's author, Jon Goode.

"I thought it was cool to be able to have a book for my children someday that's about their daddy," Woodhead said. "I never expected it to happen, but it happened, and it's pretty neat. Even more important is that we did it for a good cause. That's the No. 1 thing."

■ Speaking of good causes, New England's three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Light heads up the Light Foundation, which, among other things, sponsors a 400-acre camp called Chenowith Trails near his hometown of Greenville, Ohio. It provides outdoor learning experiences for youngsters.

To raise money for the foundation, Light offered a raffle that included two tickets to the Super Bowl, three nights lodging in Indianapolis, a travel allowance, a Tom Brady-autographed jersey, and a cash prize to offset any tax liability.

"This morning, the pot was up to $262,000," Light said on Thursday, before the winner was drawn. "The cool thing about this whole week for me is that we have been able to do something with the foundation and raise a lot of money."

The 6-4, 305-pound Light, whose battle against Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiori will have much to say in regards to the outcome, came to the NFL from Purdue University.

■ Long before any of his popular salsa-dancing touchdown celebrations, Giants receiver Victor Cruz has another end zone ritual that is far more private.

"It's right when we come out of the tunnel and everybody runs to the sideline," Cruz said. "I go to the far end zone and take a knee and talk to my dad, have a conversation with him, and just ask him to guide me while I'm out there and watch over me. I understand that he's out there with me. He taught me how to play the game with respect and honor. That's what I talk to him about in the end zone."

Cruz's father, Mike, was a firefighter in Paterson, N.J. In the spring of 2007, after being in an accident and falling into depression, the elder Cruz committed suicide.

"He was a great guy," Victor said. "He's my hero. He taught me how to become a man. All I think about is him being here and how he'd be going crazy this week."

■ When Giants tight end Jake Ballard was playing at Ohio State, he spent more than an hour one day showing a Buckeye recruit around campus.

"He was a big kid out of Pennsylvania," said Ballard, a native of Springboro, Ohio. "He was kind of quiet, taking it all in. He seemed like a good guy. He seemed to like it, but I think he wanted to get a little farther from home than Ohio State being a Pennsylvania kid. Sometimes players go to different schools."

Rob Gronkowski instead went to Arizona and has since become a record-setting tight end for the Patriots. He and Ballard will be opposing starters sparring for the same Super Bowl trophy.

■ If Brandon Jacobs, the Giants' running back, wasn't a pro football player, he said he would be what he already is, a boxing manager. He has two young fighters in his stable and plans to branch out into fight promoting when his playing days end.

"I could definitely do it as a career," Jacobs said. "I know the ropes. I know who to deal with. More importantly, I know who not to deal with."

There was a time when Jacobs considered the sweet science as a career.

"I had an uncle, Joe Jacobs, who was really involved with boxing," Brandon said. "I had a bad temper, and he started me boxing when I was 8. I had a bad temper, and he figured that could help me out. But that only made me worse, because he taught a person with a bad temper how to fight."

■ It is interesting to note that the Patriots will be playing their 19th game of the season Sunday and their first inside a dome. It may not mean much to most New England players, but it might to kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

"The first couple kicks it might throw you off a bit because you're used to dealing with the elements all the time," he said. "It's easier to go from kicking outdoors to indoors, rather than vice versa, but just because you're indoors doesn't mean you're going to make every kick."



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