Commentary

Nicks goes his own way

Updated: September 4, 2012, 1:39 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Hakeem Nicks Nick Laham/Getty ImagesNew York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks doesn't talk much, preferring to let his play speak for itself.

Everybody wants to talk about Hakeem Nicks' YouTube hands, which are 10½ inches wide, require 4X gloves and are approximately the size of George Foreman grills. With them, he can catch anything thrown at him, up to and including single-engine Cessnas.

Nobody wants to talk about the hands of Hakeem Nicks' brother Robert Nicks III, which he allegedly used to kill a man, as well as attempting to jack cars and buy guns illegally. To try to hide what he had done with his hands, he tried to chew off his fingerprints. Apparently, it didn't work. He's in a Coleman, Fla., prison today.

Everybody wants to talk about the way Hakeem Nicks finishes off drives. His 37-yard Hail Mary catch with no time on the clock in the first half of the Giants' playoff game in Green Bay crushed the favored Packers and helped propel New York to its eventual stunning Super Bowl win last season.

Nobody wants to talk about some of the drives of Hakeem Nicks' father, Robert Nicks Jr. Three of those drives ended up in DWI convictions. Many others have ended up in a shoebox full of traffic violations.

Everybody wants to talk about what an A-plus citizen Hakeem Nicks is. It's true. There was a New York Post report last season that Nicks was at teammate Victor Cruz's 25th birthday party at a New York City nightclub at 2:20 a.m. when it was sprayed with bullets, leaving one man dead. Please. To Hakeem Nicks, there's only one 2:20 in any 24-hour cycle. In fact, he was at home with his then 3-year-old daughter, Harmony.

Nobody wants to talk about what a good citizen Hakeem Nicks' brother Aleef is. He has lived in and out of striped sunshine for years, including beats for drug, weapons and assault violations. He added one more arrest Saturday in Charlotte, on charges of assault and battery and felony possession of a handgun.

So the question isn't, "Why is Hakeem Nicks the way he is?" The question is, "How did Hakeem Nicks not end up like the rest of the men in his family?"

The answer is: None of your business.

"I don't speak on it," Nicks says sternly. Nicks is a very serious man who does not kid a lot. You can tell he's not kidding now.

Fine.

Everybody wants to talk about Eli Manning and Victor Cruz and salsa dancing and Mario Manningham and the Ball That Dropped Into The One Square Foot It Had To For The Giants To Win The Super Bowl. But how come nobody wants to talk about the most supernatural, freakishly talented, undyingly dedicated New York Giant of all, Nicks himself? How come nobody wants to talk about a man who has caught balls with his helmet, behind his back, and with only his left or right hand? How come nobody wants to talk about one of the most frenzied after-the-catch receivers in the league?

Check that. There was one man who's been talking about Hakeem Nicks since the kid was 13 -- a soothsayer.

When Nicks was in the eighth grade and shuffling from life with his mother to life with his grandmother to life with his aunt to life in homeless shelters, his grandmother took him to a church with a visiting prophet.

"And he picked me out!" Nicks remembers. "He started prophesizing about my life. He said, 'I see a lot of money around this boy! I see people pulling this boy in different directions! I see them pulling this boy left and right! But God has a hook in this boy's nose. If he tries to stray away, God will pull him back on the right route.'"

That route finally led him to Charlotte to live with his father and his two brothers in a siren-strewn neighborhood where the cops often ended up at his house. Yet he stuck to that path, when every path around him seemed to be heading to juvie. He became the first person in his family to graduate from high school.

"He was 18, 19, 20 going on 40," former University of North Carolina coach Butch Davis once said of him. "I never lost any sleep worrying that he was going to be a guy on the front-page headlines."

It figures that the most trouble Nicks has ever gotten into was at UNC for accepting unauthorized academic help from a tutor. Nicks refuses to talk about it.

Drafted in the first round by the Giants in '09, he has stayed straighter than a Kansas highway. And when the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl? Nicks came down to the party with Harmony and left in 15 minutes.

"He's not a flash guy, and he's not a trash guy," says the Giants' starting right tackle David Diehl. "He's humble. You'd think with all that success that Victor Cruz has had, there'd be egos clashing, but there's not."

The only typo in New York Nicks' book so far was breaking his right foot on May 24. Nicks didn't run on it for eight weeks and didn't practice Sunday or Monday. Giants' fans were petrified he might not be ready to play in Wednesday night's NFL lid-lifter at home versus the Cowboys. After all, Nicks and Cruz torched Dallas so bad last year in the two games -- 25 catches, almost 500 yards -- that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones brought in two new cornerbacks to replace the ones they devoured: free agent Brandon Carr and first-rounder Morris Claiborne.

"I'm playing," Nicks said before the first question was asked. "You don't have to ask me no questions."

Little advice for the two new Cowboys? Good luck trying to knock him off his route.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com