INDIANAPOLIS - To be playing in the biggest game of his life in his hometown is one thing. To get a second chance after sitting out Super Bowl XLII with one injury, then sustaining another that could have ended his career is what makes this Super Bowl significant for Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka.
When the Giants shocked the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, Kiwanuka was forced to watch. He had been on injured reserve since November with a fractured left fibula.
“You definitely feel like a part, just not as big as you should be,’’ he said.
He worked his way back, but two seasons later he landed on injured reserve again with a herniated disk in his neck.
“It’s tough when you miss out on any game, any practice,’’ Kiwanuka said. “You don’t realize how important it is until it’s taken away.’’
To be at this point, he said, is a blessing.
“It’s very special,’’ Kiwanuka said. “All the stars lined up for this one.’’
When he broke his leg, he was certain he’d return, but when he suffered the neck injury, he didn’t know if he would ever play again. He re-signed with the Giants last summer, agreeing to a deal that depended on his ability to stay healthy.
He’s played in every game this season (the fourth time he’s done it in his career), recording a career-high 84 tackles to go with 3 1/2 sacks and an interception.
When the Giants went to Glendale, Ariz. four years ago for the Super Bowl, Kiwanuka arrived after the team and watched from the sideline. But he arrived with the team yesterday and will be in the thick of things on Sunday.
“Having this opportunity come back around and being out here with the guys and being on the field, it’s nothing short of amazing,’’ Kiwanuka said.
“I’ve been very fortunate,’’ he said. “Prayer works, and I’ve been fortunate that a number of things that had to go right did.’’
Coincidentally, his team is in the same spot. When December started, the Giants were 6-6, trying to figure out how to shake off four straight losses. They won three of their next four games, took the NFC East title, and haven’t looked back.
Now Kiwanuka has the chance to play for a championship in the same city where he won two state titles at Cathedral High.
He thinks back to his days at Boston College all the time and how close he could have been to the trifecta - championship games at the high school, college, and pro levels.
“I always say that if we were maybe a little bit better team, I could have gone to all three,’’ he said. “We have some guys on our team that have done that. But being able to still play football - I mean I’ve played with some great players, I wasn’t the best player on my high school team, and maybe I was one of the better player players on my college team, but being able to keep working, keep pushing and succeeding, is what’s gotten me this far.’’
The trip into Indianapolis was a familiar one, he said.
“I’ve done the flight from Newark to Indianapolis so many times,’’ he said. “It’s just like I was going home.’’
His kept the Super Bowl tickets to the standard amount and said he’s thinking of inviting teammates to his home. But even though it may feel like homecoming, he said it’s a business trip.
Before making the trip, he sat down with a couple former Giants, Antonio Pierce and Kawika Mitchell. They came into the locker room and Kiwanuka said they were impressed with how focused the players were.
“The message that they had was, ‘You never know when it’s going to be your last game, so enjoy it and give it everything you’ve got,’ ’’ he said.
He now has a second chance at what for some is a once-in-a-lifetime game, and he won’t let anything distract him.
“We’ll have plenty of opportunities to come back and see the city,’’ he said. “This is a business trip. I want to make sure that everybody stays focused.
“To come this far and have a letdown would be disastrous. So we’re focused on getting that win.’’Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.