Right Field

The Back-Story on Chase Blackburn of the Giants

Here’s the write-up of what I thought was the pivotal play in last night’s Super Bowl — LB Chase Blackburn of the Giants intercepting Tom Brady on a throw to superstar TE Rob Gronkowski:

In case you were wondering, no, the New York Giants’ first choice was not linebacker Chase Blackburn covering Rob Gronkowski all alone 50 yards down the field. But as he’d done for so much of the night, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady checked to a different play when he saw the coverage on the second play of the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVI, and Blackburn was stuck.

“I had to carry Gronkowski,” Blackburn said after the Giants had secured a 21-17 Super Bowl victory. “I heard the crowd go wild a little bit, and I thought we had a sack. But I continued to see Gronk go up the field, and I just tried to stay with him. When I saw him look back, I looked back for the ball, and when I spotted it, I tried to just block out and go up for a rebound like in basketball.”

Sure. Basketball. In case you’re wondering, Gronkowski’s University of Arizona media guide bio says he averaged 18 rebounds per game during the 2006 season at Pittsburgh’s Woodland Hills High School. He has three inches and 20 pounds on Blackburn, who as recently as Thanksgiving weekend was hoping to land a gig as a substitute high school math teacher before the Giants called and said hey, how about middle linebacker instead. But Gronkowski also was playing the Super Bowl on a bad ankle, which Blackburn and the rest of the Giants knew. It’s why they were, at that point in the game, using their better coverage linebacker, Jacquian Williams, on the Patriots’ other tight end, Aaron Hernandez. After the check, Blackburn knew he had the big guy by himself.

“I knew it was a long way,” Blackburn said. “He stopped for a second and I stopped with him. I was thinking it was a sack, but then as soon as I saw him go vertical, I knew I had to run and catch up with him.”

They both jumped for the ball, but Blackburn came down with it for an interception that was the only turnover of the game. The Patriots led 17-15 at the time, and had Gronkowski caught the ball the momentum might never have swung back the Giants’ way. Instead the Giants secured the kind of big stop they knew they needed to make all fourth quarter to put Eli Manning and the offense in position to win.

The thing is, Blackburn was sitting on his couch when the season started and only got a gall from the Giants after injuries sidelined their starting linebackers:

Although he was the leading tackler on special teams in his first six seasons with the Giants and a team captain last season, his phone never rang when the lockout ended in the summer. The reserve linebacker had figured that if the Giants didn’t re-sign him, another team would. So he waited. And waited.

Days turned to weeks, weeks became months, and eventually reality sank in. Blackburn, a married father of two young boys, had to get on with his life. He lined up a gig as a long-term substitute math teacher at a middle school in Dublin, Ohio.

Then, about two months ago, came the call. Giants rookie linebacker Mark Herzlich had suffered a badly sprained ankle in a loss to the Saints, and the team didn’t have a lot of depth at the position. Michael Boley had been sidelined with a hamstring injury, and rookie middle linebacker Greg Jones had very little experience.

So the Giants brought back Blackburn, who will start at middle linebacker in Super Bowl XLVI.

Turns out it wasn’t a pipe dream for Blackburn to keep a suitcase packed in his bedroom for just such an occasion — a bag containing the bare necessities: jeans, shorts, some dress shirts, T-shirts and underwear, and a hanging business suit to wear while traveling.

Yes, Manning was the MVP but I would have voted for Chase if I had a say.

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