EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At this time last year, Mathias Kiwanuka was wondering if he would ever be able to play football again after a cervical disc herniation.
His brother, Ben, was still recovering from a near-fatal motorcycle accident in May 2010 while the two were riding together in Indianapolis.
Life hit Kiwanuka harder than one of his quarterback sacks.
But the most trying time of his life would eventually turn into the best time of his life.
Kiwanuka was cleared by five doctors and the Giants to resume playing again last February. He agreed to re-sign with the team for two years in late July, has been healthy ever since, and is about to play in his first Super Bowl. (Kiwanuka was on injured reserve with a broken leg for Super Bowl XLII.)
And Kiwanuka's first Super Bowl will be in his hometown of Indianapolis, in front of his family, his fiancee, who is expecting their first child, and Ben, who is basically fully recovered.
"It's just been a big year for me," Kiwanuka said. "My life in general has taken a turn for the better."
Kiwanuka jokingly asked reporters on Friday if they had any extra tickets to the Super Bowl, since he has 15 friends and relatives coming and could use some more.
But the linebacker is most thrilled that Ben, who is five years older, is alive to take part in his finest moment as a football player.
On May 28, 2010, Mathias and Ben were riding their motorcycles in Indianapolis, to run a few errands and grab a bite to eat. After lunch, Mathias, who was still tired from a long drive to Indianapolis during the offseason, was ready to go home. So Ben rode with his brother to make sure he got back to their mother's house safe.
With Ben riding in front, on Lafayette Road and just a few minutes away from their mother's house, Mathias watched in horror as his brother smashed into a car pulling out of an apartment complex on Hunnewell Road.
Ben, who wasn't wearing a helmet since Indiana state law did not require it, was thrown 100 feet and suffered injuries to his pelvis, both arms and both ankles. He fought for his life, and his heart stopped at one point during surgery, as doctors couldn't pinpoint where the internal bleeding was.
"There was bleeding in his arm; they couldn't get it stopped originally," Kiwanuka said Friday. "The second doctor came in and actually got all the bleeding to stop. Then when he was in the OR, there was bleeding in his pelvis and they weren't sure they were going to be able to find the source."
Ben, though, fought through several broken bones and surgeries and survived -- mentally and physically.
"Afterward, the emotional toll it takes when you literally can't move any part of your body and everything that you do -- eating, getting up -- has to be done for you ... I am sure that was emotional," Kiwanuka said. "When he started to get back to walking, you could see the smile back on his face."
The accident, though, took its toll on the younger Kiwanuka as well. Even though the linebacker avoided injury himself, he had daily flashbacks about the accident for six months.
"Every couple of minutes, it would just flash," Kiwanuka said. "I was right behind him on my bike, so I saw the entire process. When I hit my brakes, I was waiting for him to hit his and it didn't happen. So you see the car, you see him and you see the smoke come out and that instant used to replay in my head all the time."
"And I literally would get a chill from seeing it," he added.
Kiwanuka felt guilty and couldn't shake that feeling for a long time.
"I bought him the bike," Kiwanuka said. "I was there. The only reason why he was on the ride was because as soon I drove into town with my bike, I said, 'Let's go ride.' That is something I have to live with. You live and you learn to make better decisions not for myself but for other people."
But as Ben got healthier, Mathias felt better.
"He is good ... he is really good," Kiwanuka said of his brother. "It is always going to be a process. When you break that many bones in your body, you are going to have to deal with it the rest of your life. But if you just saw him and didn't know [he was] in an accident, you wouldn't assume that anything was wrong with him."
Physically, Kiwanuka's health has been excellent. His neck is no longer an issue. And in a full season as a hybrid linebacker/pass rusher, Kiwanuka had a career-high 84 tackles to go with 3.5 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble.
"I just think he's a great player," Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch told reporters this week. "You look at his stature, everything. He has the intangibles. There's a reason they move him around so much, because he has the ability to make those plays. His speed, his strength, he's a great player."
Kiwanuka is eager to make an impact in Super Bowl XLVI.
When the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLII, Kiwanuka -- who was also playing linebacker that 2007 season -- had to watch and cheer while Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan smothered Tom Brady.
He was thrilled to get that Super Bowl ring, but he wants one that he helped win on the field.
"The way I compare it, I played on some good high school football teams too and won two state championships," said Kiwanuka, who played at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. "The one from my sophomore year, I was on the field and I contributed a decent amount but I wasn't a starter. The one from my junior year, I was starting on both sides of the ball and my friends were all involved."
"I feel like this one will be more like that," Kiwanuka added. "If we go out there and get a win, I still appreciate and was still a big part of that last team that won one. But this one I will remember more."