Maybe or maybe not, Justin Tuck can see the end

Jamie C. Harris | 8/15/2013, 11:33 a.m. | Updated on 8/15/2013, 11:33 a.m.
Justin Tuck

New York Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck has been an exemplary representative of leadership, production and class—characteristics that define one of the NFL’s oldest franchises. The Notre Dame alumnus has won two Super Bowl titles and is a two-time All-Pro, the latter honors earned in 2008 and 2010. But as he enters his ninth season, the native of Kellyton, Ala., has reached a crossroads.

Tuck is keenly aware that at age 30, the physical toll of football has chipped away at his mortality, leaving him only a few more years to live out what was once a boyhood dream. The sport has afforded Tuck financial independence and celebrity. And seemingly modeling after one of his mentors, Michael Strahan, the affable and cerebral Tuck appears well prepared to transition to life after football. But that existence is still on the horizon, albeit not too distant.

The present finds Tuck in a state of rediscovery—a search to form a synergetic balance between mind and body that will yield contrasting results compared to what he has endured over the last 24 months or so. Tuck’s effectiveness and impact on the field has markedly diminished over the past two seasons. In 2011 and 2012 combined, he averaged only 26.5 tackles (not including assists) and 4.5 sacks. Injuries are at the root of his declining numbers, yet are unforgivingly an intrinsic aspect of football. Last season, Tuck was hindered by a neck injury.

Given those statistics, it is not a figment of “ignorant writers,” as Tuck referred to unidentified members of the Fourth Estate a week ago, that a stiff back, which has limited him early in training camp, should be regarded as a concern for those hoping that he can appreciably increase his output. Leading up to the Giants’ first game of this preseason versus the Pittsburg Steelers last Saturday, Tuck understandably downplayed his back issues.

“I’ve played in worse pain,” he said. “[I] just want to be smart and make sure it’s nothing that’s going to linger.”

Tuck could have been speaking for the organization and its legion of fans.