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Thursday, November 24, 2011
Tollefson thankful for more than football

By Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPNNewYork.com

The kitchen in the Tollefson household will be busy with Megan Tollefson preparing her usual Thanksgiving meal with turkey, stuffing, noodles, mashed potatoes, corn and Dave Tollefson's favorite: sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top.

The Giants defensive end, though, is especially grateful for this Thanksgiving after his wife, Megan, could have bled to death in late May due to a complication with her pregnancy while carrying the couple's second child.

Megan's complication, placenta previa, is a condition in which the placenta grows in the lowest part of the uterus and covers all or part of the opening to the cervix.

If it weren't for the NFL lockout, Tollefson likely would have been at a Giants offseason workout in New Jersey instead of at the couple's Nebraska home, where he was able to call 911 and save the lives of his wife and youngest son.

"Obviously this Thanksgiving is a little different after what we went through this offseason almost losing her and the baby," Tollefson said. "It is going to be real special."

Tollefson was asleep around 6:30 a.m. on May 23 when Megan got up to go to the bathroom. When Megan got back into the couple's king-sized bed, she felt a sensation as if her water broke.

"I put my hand down there and to my knees I was covered in blood," Megan said. "Within seconds it was everywhere."

Placenta previa occurs in one out of 200 pregnancies and can result in severe bleeding and hemorrhaging, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Megan hit Tollefson with her bloodied hand to tell him that something was wrong. A sleepy Tollefson initially tried to play it cool and calm his wife down prior to seeing the blood.

"The automatic husband response. … I tell her it is all right, don't worry about it thinking that your wife might be making a big deal out of something," Tollefson said.

But as soon as he got out of bed, Tollefson saw his wife and the bed covered in so much blood that it was dripping onto the floor off the bed.

Tollefson, 29, called 911 and Megan was rushed to a hospital, where she remained for nearly three weeks. After another bleeding episode, Megan had a cesarean section and the Tollefsons welcomed their second son, Cade Harlan, who was born six weeks premature on July 10. Their oldest son, Tucker, is 3.

Doctors told the Tollefsons that they were very fortunate. Megan could have bled to death just by getting up to call for help.

So while owners, players and lawyers bickered and fans groaned about greediness during the lockout, the Tollefsons believe the labor stoppage was a blessing that saved two lives.

"I always hate the offseason because we are away from each other more during the offseason than the football season," Megan said of living in Nebraska while Tollefson works out in New Jersey with the Giants during the offseason. "And I never have been so thankful for an offseason because we actually got to spend a lot of time together.

"When everyone hated the fact that football wasn't going on, we actually enjoyed it. If he wasn't here, it might not have turned out so well."

Dave Tollefson feels incredibly fortunate that things have always seemed to work out for him.

"For whatever reason, God always keeps me under his wing," Tollefson said. "Kind of always been the story of my life, kind of being at the right place at the right time."

He, his twin sister and younger brother were raised by their single mother, Debi Crocker, and his grandparents in northern California. Even though he never met his father, he never felt sorry or ashamed.

"I went without [materialistic things] but I never felt at any point that my life [stunk]," Tollefson said. "I thought I was pretty lucky to even have a pair of shoes [even if they weren't] the best shoes ever. They were shoes, I could be barefoot I guess.

"The big thing for me growing up without having a dad is not to let the cycle continue as far as making sure I am a good father. It wasn't like I was a shameful little kid because I carried a guy's last name that nobody knew who he was."

Few knew who Tollefson was when he walked on the football team at Northwest Missouri State, where he met another walk-on who played on the softball team there. The Tollefsons have been together for eight years, married for the last five.

"So our kids are probably going to have to walk on somewhere, too," Tollefson cracked.

Giants coaches and players love Tollefson, who was drafted in the seventh round by the Packers in 2006 and plays with the attitude and motor of an inspired walk-on who takes nothing for granted.

The 6-foot-4 backup, who has eight sacks in his five seasons in New York, has started one game in place of an injured Justin Tuck and has three sacks and one forced fumble this season.

The self-deprecating Tollefson describes himself as a "pigeon flying with eagles" when talking about the Giants' wealth of pass-rushing talent with Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka.

But had there been no lockout and if things had gone wrong on that May morning, Tollefson said he would no longer be a Giant.

"I probably wouldn't even be playing football, to be honest with you," Tollefson said. "The support that she gives me to be able to do the job that I do, I don't think I could do it without her or my kid. I come home every day and I am sore, tired and worn out and it makes it a little easier when you see your little boys and your wife and you realize that is what you are doing it for."

"I really couldn't imagine it," Tollefson added of a Thanksgiving without Megan and Cade. "And obviously, thank God, I don't even have to imagine."