By Mike Lupica of the Daily News
His name is Lt. Col. Greg Gadson and he used to wear No. 98 for the Army football team and was with the Second Battalion and 32nd Field Artillery, on his way back from a memorial service for two soldiers from his brigade when he lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Baghdad. It was the night of May 7, 2007, and Lt. Col. Gadson didn't know it at the time because he couldn't possibly have known, but it was the beginning of a journey that brought him to Lambeau Field Sunday night.
He was there as an honorary co-captain of the Giants, there on the sideline at Lambeau because this Giants' season has become his season now and he wasn't going to watch from some box. This is a Giant at the Super Bowl worth knowing about, as much as any of them.
"Me being a part of this team," Gadson was saying Monday night from his home in Virginia, having made it back there from Green Bay, "really starts with the team I played on at West Point."
He played at West Point between 1985 and 1988, and one of his teammates was Mike Sullivan, who played cornerback and some safety and is now one of Tom Coughlin's assistants with the Giants. When Sullivan and so many other of Gadson's teammates found out what had happened on the night of May 7, found that Gadson had first lost his left leg to arterial infections and then his right, it brought that old Army team back together.
"My injury turned out to be a catalyst event," Gadson said. "These were guys who hadn't talked in years, but now were rallying around me, and my family. Some of us had stayed in contact, but not to any great degree. But now an incident in a war reminded us that we were still brothers."
Sullivan visited Gadson at Walter Reed, came back in June, this time with a No. 98 Giants jersey, Gadson's own name on the back, signed by several Giants players. When Sullivan left that day in June, he said to Gadson, "What else can we do?"
Greg Gadson said he'd love to take his family to a Giants game.
It was the Giants-Redskins game, in Washington, third Sunday of the season, Giants 0-2 by then. The tickets were arranged and then the Friday before the game Mike Sullivan called and asked if Gadson would be interested in addressing the team on Saturday night.
Gadson's wife Kim drove him to the Giants' hotel. Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, Second Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, old outside linebacker from Army, spoke to the Giants. And just as no one knew that the Giants would begin a 10-game road winning streak the next day, just as no one knew this could ever become a Super Bowl season, no one in that room including Gadson himself knew that the soldier in the wheelchair was joining the season that night.
"I just spoke from the heart, as a soldier and as a former football player," he said, "for about 10 or 15 minutes. I talked to them about appreciating the opportunities in their lives, how special and privileged they were, how everybody needs to understand what they truly have. And I talked to them about the power of sports in people's lives, especially soldiers' lives, how many times I'd watched soldiers get up in the middle of the night after a 12-hour shift if there is a chance to watch a game, or how soldiers would do anything to watch a game before they went on that kind of shift.
"I told them that of course after all the exteriors had been stripped away, they played the game for themselves. But that they had to play the game for each other. Then I talked about myself, how my old teammates came to my need, and how I was reminded again the power of a team, the emotional commitment teammates have for each other, that when a team finds a way to do things greater than they thought they could do, that they couldn't have done individually, that a bond is formed that can live forever.
"I told them that truly great teams usually form that bond by going through something together, and how whatever they were going through at that point in the season that no success ever came easy. And finally I reminded them that nothing is promised to anybody in this life, starting with tomorrow."
The Giants won the next day against the Redskins, and began a six-game winning streak, and began that road winning streak that now takes them on the road to Super Bowl XLII. It began Greg Gadson's road to Lambeau, and being wheeled out by his 13-year old son Jaelen as an honorary co-captain of the Giants along with the great Harry Carson.
"I can't even remember the last time I was actually out on the field," he said. "Maybe when I played."
Gadson had been on the sidelines when the Giants won their first playoff game against the Bucs. The team wanted him in Dallas, but he was having more surgery, on what is left of his right leg, and his right arm, which had also been damaged by the IED. But he was well enough to travel to Green Bay, and strong enough to spend the whole game on the sideline with his son, the players calling him what they have all along:
"I wouldn't say I was warm," he said. "But I was comfortable enough not to be hugging one of those heaters all day."
He watched from the sidelines at Lambeau as the team he met at 0-2 played the way it played against the Packers and played itself to the Super Bowl, watched as the Giants came back from that missed field goal at the end of regulation, finally saw Lawrence Tynes kick it through from 47 yards out.
"When the ball went through, you could feel the elation on our sidelines, and hear the stadium go quiet at the same time," Gadson said. "It was like the air being let out of a whole state's soul. And then the next thing I saw was my son jumping in the air and running on that field."
The boy ran for both of them.