Leave Me the Journey

Evan Pinkus/AP Photo

The night after we upset the undefeated Patriots in 2008, I was up in my hotel room in Phoenix when I heard a knock at the door. I looked through the little peephole and saw Strahan and Osi standing in the hall. Stray had a box of cigars. I guess he was making the rounds before everybody went out to party. 

He had already told Osi. Now, he was coming to tell me.

He was retiring.

Now, to understand the range of emotions I felt in that moment, you have to understand the history of me, Stray and Osi. I mean, we used to talk so much s*** to Stray. We treated him like he was the old fart and we were the two young bulls coming in to take the Giants to the promised land. We would heckle him in practice, yelling, “They drafted us to replace you, old man!” We’d call him a dinosaur and tell him we were going to push him out of the league. We always gave him a hard time. And he dished it right back to us. 

But one thing we never did was say thank you. 

We never told him what he truly meant to us. How much we learned just from watching him. How he helped us mold our skills and find the things inside us that would make us great. How if it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have grown into the players we became. 

Without Stray, we would not have been world champions.

That night, we got our chance to tell him. 

To this day, it’s still one of my favorite nights. The three of us just sitting in my hotel room, me and Osi letting Stray know how much we appreciated him, toasting to his incredible career, and just being grateful that we were able to send him off with a ring. 

Evan Pinkus/AP Photo

A lot of people ask me about playing for a world championship. And to be honest, I don’t remember the experience for the actual game. 

I remember it for the journey to get there.

I remember the road trips and clowning with the guys on the plane. Hanging out in our hotel rooms. Breakfasts and dinners with my teammates. If somebody came to me and said they were going to take a championship memory from me, and I had to choose between the game itself or the journey to get there, I’d tell them to take the game. 

Leave me the journey. 

Because that’s what I value the most. That’s where the joy is. The relationships, the brotherhood — that’s what matters. 

Take that first one. A lot of people forget that in the 2007 season, we played the Patriots in Week 17 — and that was really the catalyst for that whole playoff run. The Patriots were gunning for 16–0, but we had already locked in our playoff seed in the NFC. We knew we were going down to Tampa for the wild-card round. So even though we definitely wanted to go out and spoil the Patriots’ bid to go undefeated, we spent most of that week looking ahead and preparing for Tampa.

We ended up losing by three. And at the end of the game, I was standing on the sideline with Osi, watching the Patriots celebrate, and I remember just nodding my head and saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll see them again.”

And Osi says, ”Yeah, we will.”

“We’re gonna beat them in the Super Bowl.”

And it wasn’t even an outrageous statement. Despite the fact that we had lost, that game gave us a lot of confidence. We went toe-to-toe with what arguably the greatest team in NFL history … and we hadn’t even put a game plan together.

That belief that Osi had stemmed from everything we had been through together — on and off the field — since he and I had gotten to New York. 

We’re gonna beat them in the Super Bowl.

Osi Umenyiora

I remember we had this thing we did with the other D-linemen in practice where we would set all these metrics that we had to meet each day — X number of sacks, this many sprints to the ball, whatever. And the punishment for not meeting the quota or for finishing last was … you didn’t get to eat lunch. 

There were definitely some days when us young guys got after it and Stray was the odd man out, and you know we let him hear about it. Any opportunity for us to talk some trash to him, or for him to get back at us, we took it.

We had a lot of fun with that. It was just one of those things we did to keep things light while also holding each other to a high standard. 

With that kind of dynamic in practice, when we got to the game, you could look at the man next to you and know he’s not going to let you down. No matter how tired he is. No matter how frustrated he gets. No matter what.

So when Osi said we’d beat the Patriots the next time we saw them, I don’t think there was one person inside our locker room who didn’t believe him.

Outside our locker room, nobody really gave us a chance.

We were underdogs in Tampa, and we went down there and got a win. Then we went to Dallas. They were the No. 1 seed — a division rival that had beaten us twice already that year. 

Now, I’ve never been a bulletin-board-material guy. The opportunity to play the game that I love alongside my brothers is enough to get me ready to go. So whenever I heard some good trash talk or somebody taking a shot at me or my guys, I just filed it away. I put it in a toolbox in the back of my mind, just in case I could use it later on.

Well, before that game against the Cowboys in the divisional round, we found out that Jerry Jones had already given his players tickets for their friends and family for the NFC championship game, which, if they had beaten us, they would have hosted in Dallas.

Once again, I didn’t need that motivation.

But I heard it.

And I filed it away.

You’ve seen The Waterboy, right? Well, you probably remember the part where the coach stops Bobby Boucher before he goes onto the field, and he says, “Hey Bobby! Water sucks. Gatorade is better.” And then Bobby goes out on the field and everywhere he looks, he sees the coach’s face saying, “Water sucks! It really, really sucks!”

That’s what that Cowboys game was like for me.

I was ready to play. One hundred percent. No extra motivation necessary. But during the game, there were times when I was getting tired, and the Cowboys would get rolling, or their offense would put together a long drive … and I’d look over at the sideline and see Jerry roaming around. And every time I saw Jerry’s face, I remembered those tickets, and I was like, O.K., I’m good.

Then I’d go back out and try to rip Tony Romo’s head off.

Elaine Thompson/AP Photo

Fast-forward to before we played the Patriots in Phoenix. There was some talking going on that week on both sides. With Media Day and all the hoopla, you can’t really avoid it. 

But let me tell you about the one thing that actually did get a lot of our guys fired up.

It was right before the game. Not during warmups, but earlier, like two hours before, when guys were out on the field in their sweat suits and headphones, just zoning out and killing time. Most of us were in the locker room, and one guy comes back in from the field and says, “Yo, [this dude on the Patriots] just invited me to his after-party….” 

Now, something like that happens once, and you don’t think much of it. You think it’s crazy, maybe even disrespectful. But you dismiss it as an outlier and laugh it off. 

But then other guys came back in saying the same thing.

Turns out there were multiple guys on the Patriots who were so confident that they were going to beat us that they were already planning their celebrations and inviting us to their after-parties.

If anybody in our locker room did need extra motivation before that game, that was it right there.

We never really looked at ourselves as underdogs. We had a lot of belief in our team. I think that’s a common denominator for any underdog who pulls off a big upset. They believe in themselves. They embrace the underdog role.

And it makes that brotherhood even stronger.

Kevin Terrell/AP Photo

A lot of people say that first win over the Patriots was the best game I ever played. And I say it as well. But what really made that possible were the guys around me. It was that brotherhood and us playing out of our minds as a group that allowed me to have success on the biggest stage.

And believe me, that stage is big.

I remember I was standing on the sideline watching the kickoff. And as soon as the ball was kicked, the stadium lit up with flashbulbs, and I became so transfixed on the crowd that I didn’t even watch the return. I was so hypnotized that I almost forgot to run onto the field to play defense. Somebody literally had to grab me, like, “Yo, Tuck, what are you doing? Let’s go!”

It’s so big that as I’m writing this, I’m at home in my office, and I’m looking at my bookshelf. On that shelf is a book by David Tyree. And look ... I love David Tyree. He’s an unbelievable human being and one of the best teammates I have ever had.

But let’s be honest: There’s only one reason David Tyree has a book.

It’s because of one play.

I still joke with him about that to this day. But the reality is that David is one of those guys who had been a big part of our team for a few years and had put in a ton of work behind the scenes so that when his moment finally arrived, he would be ready. And it just so happened that his moment came at the biggest possible moment on the game’s biggest stage. So the book deal, all the attention, and the right to lay claim to one of the biggest catches in football history — he earned every bit of that.

That’s how big the game is.

One play can make you a legend.

A lot of you guys on the Chiefs know this because you were there last year. Tom Brady has obviously been there more than any human in history. 

But if you’re one of the guys who are there for the first time, let me tell you this much: If your goal as a football player is to make a lot of money, play well on the biggest stage. If you want to be famous, play well on the biggest stage. If you want to leave a legacy….

Play well on the biggest stage.

Julio Cortez/AP Photo

You won’t find one photo of me holding the Lombardi trophy on the field after winning my first ring in 2008. 

At the parade? Yeah. 

Back home in New York? Sure.

But on the field after the game? I didn’t even pick it up. I wasn’t on the stage when it was presented. I wasn’t doing interviews or taking photos with my teammates.

I just went to find my dad.

I remember I gave him the biggest hug, and then my whole family came down and we just hung out in the background, away from all the hoopla. 

I did the same thing in 2012. While my teammates went up to the podium at midfield, I went over to the sideline, sat alone on the bed of a golf cart and waited for my family to come down. 

I’m just weird like that. For me, it was more enjoyable to take a step back and watch the confetti fall on everyone else’s heads. Especially the first time around. More than anything, I was just happy for all my guys. I was happy for Eli, even though I hate quarterbacks and I give him a lot of s***. I was happy for David Tyree and the legendary catch he had made. Osi and the rest of my guys on defense. Coach Coughlin. I was happy for everybody. 

Especially Stray.

You know, I was there when both the Giants’ 1986 and 1990 world championship teams came back to New York for their 25-year reunions. And I saw that the relationships they had built all those years ago are still strong today. So when I think about our two world championship teams, I view them through that lens. I don’t think we’ll fully appreciate the brotherhood we have until we get to that point. Just like we did that night Stray and Osi came to my hotel room, we’ll arrive at our 25-year reunion, light up a few cigars and reflect not on the game, but on the journey. And we’ll know that the joy we took in being with each other every day and growing together is what carried us to being world champions. Because we played for each other. 

That’s how we made history.