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Kiwi: Giants believed in me after injury

2/8/2012

Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka stood at halfcourt during the Knicks-Jazz game Monday night, along with some of his Super Bowl champion teammates, absorbing the thunderous cheers from the crowd. The moment validated his reasoning for being in New York; there was no other place he wanted to play and celebrate football's highest honor.

“It was very cool," Kiwanuka said, after being honored at Madison Square Garden. "This is one of the greatest cities in the world and I’m privileged and I’ve been blessed enough to play football, one of the greatest sports in the world, on this stage.”

Realizing how far he had come since Oct. 2010, Kiwanuka knew the halfcourt setting felt even more special, basking in the applause from the tens of thousands of New York sports fans in attendance.

Not only did Kiwanuka's fast start with the Giants that season come to an end, but his stint -- and even his career in the NFL -- looked stifled. Up until that point, Kiwanuka had four sacks in the first three games, but then he was diagnosed with a herniated cervical disk and the Giants placed him on injured reserve.

Fortunately, because doctors caught the injury soon enough, he was able to avoid surgery. But, according to Kiwanuka, many teams still had doubts about signing him heading into last summer. In the end, though, the Giants came through and the rest was a success for the 28-year-old. He finished with his best season in the NFL, totaling 62 tackles in all 16 games in 2011, and went on to earn his second Super Bowl ring with the team.

"I came off of a neck injury and a lot of teams said, 'We’re concerned about whether or not your neck will hold up for an entire year,'" Kiwanuka said. "But the Giants said, 'You know what? You’re ours. Once you’re back here, this is a role we have for you.' And I accepted it. I embraced it with open arms and I knew it was going to be a lot of moving around. I knew it was going to be a lot of learning. It was stuff that I had to study. But in terms of how I fit into this team, it was a great experience for me."

Before the Giants' ticker-tape parade on Tuesday, Kiwanuka said he hadn't had time yet to fully digest Sunday's victory. Give me a week, he said. Then, he'll be back to business.

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