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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The last time Keith Bulluck was in a Tennessee Titans uniform, the linebacker was being helped off the field by trainers after suffering an ACL injury.
Bulluck had started 127 consecutive games for Tennessee. That game against Miami on Dec. 20 would be his last with the Titans.
Drafted in the first round by the Titans in 2000, Bulluck had hoped to finish his career in Nashville.
"That was his home, really," said Linda Welch, who became Bulluck's legal guardian when he was 12. "It seemed cruel somehow [to have to leave]. It is bittersweet and sad. He is not into change a lot. At the same time, he is really excited to be with the Giants."
Only a few months into his New York tenure, Bulluck is still adjusting to his new team. He would love nothing more than to establish himself and have his signature game in a Giants uniform against Tennessee on Sunday.
"They are used to me being out there talking and running my mouth playing against them [in practice]," Bulluck said of his old team. "Now, it counts for something, and I'm looking forward to it. I know how hard these guys worked and how much the game means to them, and they know it means the same to me. This game will definitely be fun, and no holds barred."
With the game plan geared toward stopping the explosive tailback Chris Johnson, Bulluck may see a ton of action against the Titans. That would be a welcome change since Bulluck has seen his playing time fluctuate in the first two games, depending on the various schemes and the personnel new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell employs.
Bulluck entered camp trying to learn a new defense and a new position (middle linebacker) only to be switched back to the outside near the end of the preseason. He's done all of this while making his way back from ACL surgery.
"It really is a change in his career," Welch said. "A change in his physical ability. Makes me sad that after doing all he has done, he has to prove himself again."
Bulluck, 33, had a difficult upbringing. His father abandoned him at birth. When his stepfather died 12 years later, Bulluck's mother could no longer afford to take care of her son. So she asked Welch, the mother of one of Bulluck's close friends, if her son could stay with her for a few weeks.
As Bulluck likes to say, a couple of weeks turned into six years and Welch became Bulluck's foster parent. Welch, who moved to the U.S. from Britain in 1977, was already raising two boys of her own as a single mother. But Bulluck was already around her house so much, sleeping over on weekends and playing sports with her sons, that it was natural for her to take the 12-year-old in.
"I have known him since he was five," Welch said. "When his mother had to leave, it was normal progression. He had always been with us. He was a part of us already.
"It is a very fragile situation, I am sure, for a child that young. He had to grow up really fast."
Bulluck made the most of a difficult situation. The easygoing New York native was popular at Clarkstown High School North, and sports gave him his discipline, according to Welch. He was a standout in baseball, basketball and football.
With his life more stable, Bulluck went to Syracuse and became the team's MVP by his senior year. He then did something few NFL players experience in today's age. He stayed with the same organization and remained injury-free for a decade.
The Titans have said publicly that they wanted him back, but the linebacker disputed that. So like Eddie George and the late Steve McNair before him, Bulluck had to leave the only NFL franchise he had ever played for.
"I would have loved to stay in Tennessee and finished it out and played with the team that brought me into the NFL," Bulluck said. "Just being there, I know how that organization works, and no one finishes their career there.
"Even if I was healthy, I don't think I would've been back there. At the beginning of the year, before the  season started, they didn't sign me back. At the midway point, when I was playing good football, they didn't sign me back. I think the writing was on the wall, which is fine."
Bulluck's regret is that he didn't get to leave on his own terms. Without closure, Bulluck said he felt he had plenty of football left in him, and he rehabbed vigorously in Manhattan. He signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Giants just before the start of training camp, after proving to them his surgically repaired knee was ready.
This week has been a big one for Bulluck. New Yorkers for Children, which funds programs to support foster children, honored for his charity work with a gala on Tuesday.
Now nine months after tearing his ACL, Bulluck is hoping to display the old form that garnered him accolades on the field against his old team.
"It is strange, even though the number is the same," Welch said of seeing Bulluck in a Giants No. 53 jersey. "But he wears it well, he absolutely wears it well."
Bulluck plans to look and play great on Sunday when his number is called by Perry Fewell.
"Nothing really needs to be said about that," Bulluck said when asked how much he wants to face his old team. "Those guys know how I get down. They have been around me for so long. I know how they get down. It will all pan out on Sunday."
Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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