Cloud nine

Mike Cloud noticed that there were words coming from the mouths of Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli, New England's vice president-player personnel. <BR><BR>

After they said, ‘We're releasing you,' though, Cloud couldn't comprehend anything else. That certainly wasn't what he was expecting to hear on Sept. 4, not with Kevin Faulk nursing a knee injury and only two other tailbacks, starter Corey Dillon and Patrick Pass, on New England's roster. The former Boston College star figured he would at least start the regular season as a Patriot, especially since he performed so well when called upon last season.

But Belichick took just two tailbacks into the Patriots' season-opening victory over visiting Indianapolis and Cloud's comfortable homecoming came to an abrupt halt.

"I was surprised, very surprised," Cloud said, "given the situation." The sixth-year veteran was not surprised with what happened two days later. Tom Coughlin sought Cloud's services 11 years earlier, just before he left Chestnut Hill for Jacksonville and a chance to run his own operation. So when Coughlin claimed Cloud off the waiver wire, Cloud considered the three-hour move down I-95 an overdue opportunity to play for the Giants' first-year head coach.

Unlike many Giants, Cloud actually chose to play for Coughlin at one point in his football life, mostly because the rigid disciplinarian reminded him of his father.

"He looks you straight in the eye and tells you, straight as the arrow, what the situation is going to be," Cloud said. "And he was a comfort to be around, because he resembled my father in a lot of ways."

Cloud's dad, Charles, spent 23 years in the Navy and instilled discipline in the youngest of his three sons at a very early age.

"He really doesn't talk about (his military career)," said Cloud, whom Coughlin successfully recruited out of Portsmouth (R.I.) High School. "He was in Vietnam and all that. He was a pretty high-ranking officer. But he doesn't really speak much about it."

Cloud, a second-round draft choice of Kansas City in 1999, has a clearer understanding of what's expected of him here. Though Coughlin contends that he'll still use slimmed-down Ron Dayne in short-yardage situations, he hopes the 5-10, 204-pound Cloud can help the Giants gain those tough, game-deciding yards Dayne doesn't regularly get. Coughlin appreciates Cloud's versatility and thinks that he can spell Tiki Barber, too. "He's fulfilled many roles," Coughlin said. "In the past, he's been a guy that was called upon strongly (last year) in a situation where they had diminished at running back and he performed extremely well at Tennessee. He has been, in his career, a short-yardage kind of a back, he's been a kick returner, he's been a punt-block protector, he's been used on special teams. So I've seen him in a lot of different roles." Coughlin didn't anticipate a prolonged acclimation process, either, since Cloud came familiar with the Giants' offense. Giants offensive coordinator John Hufnagel helped the Patriots to their second Super Bowl win in three seasons seven months ago and the two teams share similar offensive characteristics. In fact, Cloud's comfort within that system was what made his dismissal so surprising to him.

When given a chance in 2003 due to New England's injuries, Cloud produced. The 29-year-old Cloud rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns on only seven carries in a 38-30 victory over Tennessee in Week 5. Cloud added another touchdown run against the Giants the following week, but struggled in a Week 7 overtime win against Miami and was inactive for the next three games. He suited up in Weeks 12 and 13, and contributed two more touchdowns to New England's 38-34 win against Indianapolis on Nov. 30. Though Cloud continued to contribute, he was de-activated for the Patriots' final four games. He was a spectator for all three Patriots postseason games as well.

"It was frustrating," Cloud recalled. "It was an opportunity where I had to come in and help the team out, and I believe I did that. Then, from (the Tennessee) game on, it was like a roller coaster ride. Active, then inactive, active, then inactive. So nothing was stable. But I continued to work hard. With the opportunities I had, I tried to do well in those situations.

"(Missing Super Bowl XXXVIII) was very tough. Going into that game, they had spoken to me previously and said that I could be active for the game. So once again, I performed and worked as if I was starting the game, or would have a significant role in it. Then the day of the game, that's when I found out that I wasn't active. So it was a roller coaster ride, but you've just got to hold your head up high and continue to do what you've been doing."

Cloud became an asset in New England after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's steroid policy. Cloud claims he unknowingly digested the steroid through a protein supplement. He has since filed a federal lawsuit against MuscleTech, the supplement production company, largely because Cloud was an unrestricted free agent at the time of the positive test.

"I had some options," Cloud said, "but given my situation, they kind of dwindled away very quickly. It hindered (signing with another team) tremendously. Being a free agent at the time, I had eight-to-10 teams that were interested in me. Then once we had to tell them the situation, it went from 10 teams to no teams. It was a tough situation and something that was very frustrating, because it was something where I was totally innocent."

Cloud's suspension clearly didn't deter the Giants from acquiring him. They, too, have had a player, former reserve safety Lyle West, test positive for steroid use and then contend that a nutritional supplement was the culprit. Coincidentally, Cloud and West were teammates in Kansas City.

Cloud left Kansas City in 2003 following four unfulfilling seasons there, but the Giants' decision-makers still see flashes of the player who became a record-breaking back at BC. "I think that was a great acquisition for us," Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi said. "He's a guy who's played well in this league. We now have three different running backs and depth at that position."

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