By Matt Sugam
EAST RUTHERFORD – With over 90 minutes until kickoff, clad in his black “Believe” T-shirt and family in tow, Eric LeGrand took what would be one of many laps around the MetLife Stadium field prior to the Giants-Buccaneers game. He’d stop to chat with anyone from Giants head coach Tom Coughlin to the average fan, posing for some pictures along the way.
He’d pass by the 25-yard line where he was paralyzed 23 months ago, with the gregarious smile never leaving his face.
“Today was the first time I realized where I got hurt. This was my fourth time here, but I never knew because the stadium looks all the same to me,” LeGrand said in his suite during the second quarter of the Giants-Buccaneers game. “But when we came down the tunnel I was talking to [my agent] Sandy [Monthe] and I was like ‘Sandy, this is where I was when I came out for the game. Now I know exactly where I went down.’
He didn’t get to do donuts to leave his mark on the spot he was injured like he hoped he would. There was no room to with players warming up.
The Avenel, NJ native said his emotions were in check. No bitterness or sadness. It was just part of a football field.
However, that may change when LeGrand reaches his goal of walking, upon which he’ll return to MetLife Stadium, lay down on that 25-yard line, and finally get up and walk off the field. Then his emotions may get the best of him.
“When it happens and it comes time for me to get back up and go lay there, maybe it’ll be a little bit emotional,” LeGrand said. “But probably not even.”
Prior to kickoff, the former Rutgers defensive tackle rolled out from the Giants sideline to the 50-yard line to participate in the opening coin toss. The home crowd gave LeGrand a rousing standing ovation, ignoring the fact that he had changed into his red Bucs jersey.
“I said I wasn’t going to wear the Tampa Bay Bucs jersey,” LeGrand said. “Then everyone convinced me that I had to wear it, so I wore it out there and they still showed me love so that’s much respect for the Giants fans.”
LeGrand recieved well wishes from the Giants and Bucs game captains, along with playfull ribbing from Giants defensive end Justin Tuck who told LeGrand he’d “look better in blue.”
But being in Buccaneer red didn’t matter to the Giant faithful. LeGrand probably could have worn an Eagles jersey and gotten a warm reception.
With the courage he’s shown and the the inspiration he’s become, Giants fans were cheering the man, not his affiliation.
“Seeing the fans cheer for me, it meant a lot,” LeGrand said with his effervescent smile. “It touched my heart.”
Just like he touches everyone else’s.