INDIANAPOLIS - Hakeem Nicks gave up trying to squeeze his hands into receiving gloves when he was in college at North Carolina.
It was pointless.
He couldn’t fit into normal winter gloves. Work gloves wouldn’t fit, either. His best option, it seemed, was to shove his hands in his pocket.
“I couldn’t fit 3X,’’ said the New York Giants receiver. “So they had to order them in 4X. It’s been going ever since.’’
His hands were measured at 10 1/2 inches when he went through the NFL scouting combine in 2009, and when the Giants took him with their first-round pick, coach Tom Coughlin, who came up through the ranks as a receivers coach, knew what he was getting.
To this day, Nike still sends gloves to Nicks. Not only are they massive, but they’re a bright red that makes his hands looks like lobster claws when he goes up for a catch.
Nicks’s biggest grab of this season was easily the Hail Mary he hauled in against Green Bay in the divisional round that helped send the Packers home far earlier than they had planned. The ball actually went through his hands and hit his facemask before he trapped it with both mitts. Once there, it was never leaving.
“He has some freakishly large hands,’’ said Victor Cruz, who was the Giants’ leading receiver this season. “As a receiver, it’s definitely a plus to have those hands.’’
In his three seasons, Nicks has caught more passes (202) for more yards (3,034) and more touchdowns (24) than any of the Giants’ other receivers.
Around the locker room, his hands are easy targets.
“It’s not, like, abnormal, some crazy hulk hands,’’ said Cruz. “But he has huge hands and it shows on the field. We clown him all the time.’’
To paint a picture of how big Nicks’s hands are, receiver Mario Manningham put his left hand over his right so that the left eclipsed the right by half a finger.
“He’s probably one of the only players that can palm a helmet,’’ said Manningham.
Because of that, Nicks can make catches that others can’t.
Manningham remembered one he made while he was falling back.
“It didn’t even look like he stuck his hand out,’’ Manningham said. “It looked like he just had three fingers. After that, I knew. I was, like, ‘Yeah man, you’ve got some mitts on you.’ ’’
Nicks knows it’s a gift.
“I’ve made catches just catching the ball with the tip of my fingertips sometimes,’’ he said. “Just some kind of crazy catches just because my hands touched it.’’
It’s the only way he can explain some of his greatest grabs.
Such as the behind-the-back catch four years ago against West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care Bowl - “the one I’m famous for,’’ he said.
He has something in common with former Giants wideout David Tyree, the hero of Super Bowl XLII, as he caught a ball off his helmet against Duke.
Then there was the Hail Mary against Green Bay.
“Once I was running down the field, I saw how open it was,’’ he said. “Then I saw the ball in the air. It was nothing but me, the ball, and my head, so I just jumped up to go get it.’’
Quarterback Eli Manning has no problem finding Nicks. According to Stats Inc., Nicks was targeted 133 times this season, which ranks 11th in the league, and dropped just seven balls.
“To match those hands with his body frame,’’ said Cruz, “and his strength and his jumping ability, and being able to snag the ball out of the air and really have strong hands that go along with them being huge, it’s definitely a plus for him.
“He’s made some one-handed catches in practices where it’s like only Hakeem can do that. One-handed falling out of bounds, catching the ball with one hand and just gripping it, not putting the other hand on it, it’s just crazy.’’
The Giants had the league’s fifth-best receiving corps this season. They’ve had a different leading receiver each of the past three seasons. Cruz, thriving in the slot, paced the group this season. Nicks, stretching the field, led the team a year ago. And Manningham, quick on the outside, finished second to Steve Smith in 2009.
“We just know what we’re capable of doing,’’ Nicks said. “We don’t let it affect us as individuals. We all got our own style. We just know what we’re capable of doing. I don’t think there’s been a time where we get competitive in a bad way with each other.’’
Nicks missed the regular-season win over the Patriots because of a hamstring issue. And he used last week to recover from a shoulder injury.
“There should be no setbacks,’’ he said. “It’s not sore or anything.’’
He plans on being a handful for the Patriots secondary.
“I’m going to go out there and play the game the way I’ve been playing all year,’’ he said. “I’m excited about it.
“I want to play exciting. I want to step up in clutch situations for us and I want to be dependable for Eli and our offense.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.