Thursday January 31st, 2008

PHOENIX -- After 18 seasons of covering the NFL, I've discovered that I can't get through Super Bowl week without the Jeff Feagles of the world.

I can stand just so much drivel about Plaxico Burress' prediction, the Giants' choice of travel wardrobe and the state of Tom Brady's much-ballyhooed ankle injury before it all starts to swirl into one big, mind-numbing mass of Super Bowl overkill. That's where a guy like Feagles comes to the rescue, reminding me that this game and this week can have some meaningful moments in the hype-fest that reigns before they actually kick it off on Sunday night.

I'm sure you've heard of Feagles, the Giants' veteran punter. Been around forever. Seems to change teams every few years, although for my money he'll never really top being in Philadelphia from 1990-93, when he wonderfully enough was Feagles of the Eagles. He's been an NFL fixture for so long that I can't really remember when he wasn't.

I've sought Feagles out this week because for me he's the kind of story still capable of making Super Bowl week a bit special. Talking to the Giants' bald elder statesman is a breath of fresh air amidst the stale pack-mentality journalism that passes for football coverage. If you can't be happy for Feagles, you simply cannot be happy.

Feagles, you see, has been waiting for this Super Bowl week for nearly half of the Super Bowl's lifespan. It's his 20th NFL season, and his first trip to the Big Game. He'll be 42 in March -- the Super Bowl turns 42 this week -- and that makes him the oldest player to ever make it to Super Sunday. The guy's so old that his teammates have taken to swiping his jock out of his locker and replacing it with a Depends.

But the joke is definitely not on Feagles anymore. He has already played in an NFL-record 320 consecutive games, and owns the league marks for punts (1,585), punting yardage (65,793) and punts inside the 20 yard line (508). And now he gets to finally play in the Super Bowl -- in his hometown, no less.

"You would think that after 20 years, the law of averages would be that I would have been in a couple," Feagles said this week. "That makes this one so much more special, it really does. We have 10 rookies on the team this year, and I've talked to about six of them. I've told those guys, 'Do you know how lucky you are to be going to Phoenix? You have no idea, you really don't.' "

Feagles knows. When he broke into the NFL as a rookie free agent with New England in 1988, Ronald Reagan was still in the White House, and Pete Rozelle was still the league's commissioner. He's been with five teams -- New England, Philadelphia, Arizona, Seattle and the Giants -- and even retired once, following the 2005 season.

But before New York's dramatic overtime win at Green Bay almost two weeks ago, Feagles had never even played in a conference title game, let alone been on the winning side of one. Prior to this season, he hadn't played in a divisional round playoff game since 1992, with Philadelphia.

So when Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes was missing those two potential game-winning field goals against the Packers in the NFC title game, my mind strangely enough went immediately to Feagles, Tynes' holder. There he was on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, so close to realizing his dream he could almost touch it, only to have it cruelly snatched away. Not once, but twice. That might be the very definition of exquisite agony.

"I really didn't lose heart when he missed the first one," Feagles told me. "But the second one, I was like, 'This really could be the end.' But for some reason, the way our defense was playing, I didn't think we wouldn't have another chance. And when we walked out there for the game-winning (47-yard) field goal, I just had a feeling that it was going to happen. Finally."

After Tynes took off like a crazy man for the Giants locker room, it was Feagles who actually jumped in Eli Manning's arms, after he admittedly went running around looking for someone to hug like Jim Valvano. He has looked kind of the same way all this week, reveling in the moment and still not quite sure if he can believe it's all true.

"Year after year, watching it on TV, watching guys you had on your team previously play for another team that goes on to the Super Bowl, that gets kind of old," Feagles said. "I've never attended a Super Bowl in all my years. I kept holding out, holding out, deciding I wasn't going to go until I could experience it as a player. It's taken this long, but I'm glad I waited."

For me, Feagles is this year's antidote to Super Bowl overkill, and a reminder that some Super Bowl stories are far sweeter than others.

• Free-agent-to-be Randy Moss has said all week that he wants to retire a Patriot. Then on Wednesday, Tom Brady came out and said he and Moss are "a package deal," and that he's "going where Randy's going. If he goes, I go."

Brady was smiling when he said it, but don't think for a minute that the Patriots weren't listening for the intent in Brady's message. I asked Patriots V.P. of personnel Scott Pioli Thursday morning if he got Brady's drift.

"Did he say that?" Pioli asked. "Maybe Brady is going to do this negotiation for me. That's good.

"That's encouraging that Randy feels that way. We'll deal with that first thing next week, and I mean that. We'll be dealing with his situation and others' situations as soon as the season's over. But that's encouraging to hear."

• We've all heard again and again about the Giants' league-record 10-game road winning streak -- although the win over Miami in London was really a neutral-site game, wasn't it? -- but did you know that New York is the first Super Bowl team to ever lose five home games?

The Giants went 3-5 this season at home, although in fairness, they did fall to some pretty good competition at the Meadowlands. Four of New York's five home losses were to playoff qualifiers: New England, Dallas, Green Bay and Washington. Minnesota, which finished 8-8, was the lone non-playoff team.

• Anyone know for sure where Jeremy Shockey is spending his Super Bowl week? I haven't seen the injured Giants tight end anywhere this week, and my notebook misses him. Shockey fractured his left fibula in a Week 15 loss to the Redskins and is said to be rehabilitating at home in Miami. According to some reports, he'll attend Sunday's game with his mother, but no word on if he has arrived in Phoenix yet.

This week, one popular line of questioning to Giants players has been whether quarterback Eli Manning has somehow benefited from not having the burden of feeding Shockey the ball? The thinking being that Manning has the freedom now to find the open receiver, rather than making sure Shockey is happy. A notion that can't make Shockey happy.

"Not true, not true," Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said to that theory. "We'd be an even more dangerous team if we still had Shockey healthy."

• I think I want to go home now. We've reached that point in the week where most of the media is out of legitimate bullets, and folks are starting to fire away with nonsense. The New York Daily News ran a story on Thursday in which it asked players on the Giants to opine on the relative merits of Tom Brady's girlfriend, Gisele Bundchen, compared to Tony Romo's gal-pal, Jessica Simpson.

In other news, I heard reporters fired numerous questions at Michael Strahan about the rather familiar gap between his two front teeth.

I'm so proud to be a journalist.

• I don't know why so many people seem to be getting all upset about the fact that both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald have books ready to go that will commemorate the Patriots' 19-0 Super Bowl-winning season. What were they supposed to do, write them Sunday night?

And then there's the heat that Boston mayor Tom Menino is catching for having the audacity to plan out a potential Super Bowl-winning parade route for next Tuesday.

Hey, I wrote that the Patriots were absolutely going 19-0 back in October, when they were a mere 7-0, and nobody has given me any guff.

• My mindless question of the week award goes to the reporter I heard ask Eli Manning if he was tired of being identified as Peyton Manning's little brother?

"I am Peyton's little brother," Eli noted. "It's not a bad thing. It's not an insult."

• It's Super Bowl time, and that means the Patriots win by three on a late field goal, right? At least that's the way it always worked for ex-New England kicker Adam Vinatieri.

"If it comes down to it, I'll be ready," said Patriots second-year kicker Steven Gostkowski. "But if we win, I'll be just as happy to kick seven extra points as a game-winning field goal."

Careful, Stevie. Somebody will overhear you and claim you predicted the Patriots will score 49 points on the Giants.

• I watch Brandon Jacobs run once he gets past the line of scrimmage and I try to imagine what it's like to be an opposing defensive back coming up to make the hit on the 6-foot-4, 264-pound bruiser of a running back.

I asked Jacobs if he can ever see fear in the eyes of those poor DBs, and if he knows which guys really want no part in trying to tackling him?

"Sometimes you can kind of watch film before the game and figure out who wants to tackle you and who doesn't," Jacobs said. "The guys who go low and dive at your legs are the guys who don't want to go to the trouble of trying to tackle you."

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