Feely still driven by memory of brother

There were four brothers in Jay Feely's family and the three youngest are all exceptional athletes. But it was his oldest brother, Michael, who had had the most impact on those around him although he lived his life much differently than the rest.

An allergic reaction to a DPT booster shot when he was 18-months old likely exacerbated a pre-existing brain condition, pachygyria, which left Michael Feely unable to care for himself for the 26 years of his life.

"For a long time in my life I kind of resented Michael," said Jay Feely, the Giants new kicker. "It's such a burden when you have someone in your family who needs 24-hour care. The expense for our family was great, nearly $25,000 a year. As a kid you don't understand. As an adult, you learn the impact he can have.

"The biggest result [of Michael's illness] was my parents ended up getting divorced. My dad had trouble trying to grasp what it was like to lose his eldest son. But going forward it helped my entire family develop empathy for those in trying times. The charitable work that I do now is a direct result of him."

Being a professional athlete in New York can be an acquired taste. The enormity of it, certainly in terms of the geography and expectations, is enough to cause some otherwise confident individuals to think twice before establishing roots.

That wasn't the case with Feely. He's a self-described "idealist" who willingly embraced the city and the various opportunities it presented when he became a free agent after four seasons with the Falcons.

"It was an awesome opportunity to be in New York, right in the heart of the country," Feely said. "I've enjoyed it so far. And it's a great opportunity to be with one of the premier organizations in the NFL, a team that goes back to the beginnings of the league. There's a lot of tradition and history here."

Feely had a chance to sign with the 49ers but decided the Giants were headed in a better direction.

"I have a lot of belief in where the franchise is headed," Feely said. "Compare and contrast that to a team like the 49ers. I just thought the Giants have a better base, a better chance to be good quickly and for a long time."

Feely and Jason Whittle, the Giants offensive lineman, have already taken their four-year-old daughters, Alexandra and Clair, the see "The Lion King" on Broadway.

"A date night for us," Feely said.

But mostly, he's impressed his new teammates with his willingness to work with weights, a passion that is manifested in the broadest set of shoulders among NFL kickers.

"His attitude is that of a player," Coughlin said. "That's how he thinks. That's what he did in the offseason. He jumps into the middle of the weight room, lifts and works out with the rest of the guys. He likes it and they like him."

His willingness to mix it up on tackles – "I like to help out in coverage," Feely said – would be a superfluous trait if he wasn't also one of the league's most dependable kickers. He made 98-of-127 field goals with the Falcons, with touchbacks on nearly 14 percent of his kickoffs.

"I'd be pleased if he'd just kick it out of the end zone and we didn't have to tackle at all," Coughlin said.

Feely is a rare commodity. His career percentage is better outdoors (78.0) than indoors (76.7), which naturally attracted the Giants to him. He's also made 93.6 percent of his fourth-quarter kicks (25-of-27), including 12-of-13 from outside the 40. In addition, he's five-of-seven in what the league defines as cold weather (under 40 degrees) and 17-of-20 in windy conditions.

"I don't know why that is," Feely said. "I've heard the stats, but to be honest with you, I have no idea why it is. Maybe it's because I kicked at Michigan and like the cold and playing the ball in the wind."

Feely's father, Tom, runs a kicking camp and his younger brother, Ryan, is a Division I-AA All-America kicker at Jacksonville. Along with his pedigree he credits his consistency with a positive outlook he developed by working with a sports psychologist who specialized in helping pro golfers. An avid golfer, Feely sees a strong connection in the disciplines that guide the athletes in both sports.

"He just stressed focusing on things you can control and don't worry about the rest," Feely said. "When you're trying a game-winning kick, you can't be concerned about the net result or what it might do for your career. You need to focus on the process and not the product."

Feely was out of football for two years after graduating from Michigan. There he developed a close friendship with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who ended up being in his wedding party when both were still in college and Brady was still a third-stringer. The wedding pictures are prized possessions for his wife's bridesmaids.

"We were sort of kindred spirits from the start, each of us wondering why we left California [Brady] and Florida [Feely] to go to Michigan. It grew through college. We went on spring break together," Feely said. "And that's all I can tell you about that.

"But our friendship has grown even more since we've been in the NFL, even though we don't see each other that much anymore. When you're in the position he's in, with so many people adoring and loving him for being a quarterback and winning Super Bowls, it's hard to know what the intentions and where the hearts are of people you encounter. He knows I'm someone not looking for anything from him, who liked him when he was fourth-string."

After college, Feely worked as a financial planner for a Minneapolis-based agency run by his cousin, John Castino, the American League's co-Rookie of the Year with the Twins in 1979.

He had a brief fling with the Arena League's Tampa Bay Storm in 2000 and tryouts with the Buccaneers and Chiefs, where he lost out to Martin Gramatica, Pete Stoyanovich and Todd Peterson before the Falcons invited him to camp as a non-roster player in 2001.

That's when he finally made the team, replacing a future Hall-of-Famer, Morten Andersen, and converting 14-of-15 attempts on the road to establishing his career.

Feely has no idea how long he wants to play. What he is interested in is using the NFL as a springboard for all of the other aspirations he has in his life.

"I have a lot of aspirations, politics being one of them," Feely said. "Whatever I'm doing, I want it to be something that has an impact on people's lives. I can use football as a platform to go out into the community and have an impact on kids, to get involved in Special Olympics or Muscular Dystrophy [the disease that claimed his brother] or the Cancer Society."

And when he steps on the field for the Giants, he will have his brother's name inscribed on the inside of one sweatband, God inside the other.

"Having exposure to a brother like Michael taught our family respect for life," Feely's mother, Janice Rodda, told the Tampa Tribune. "There was survival. The fight. Michael's will to stay alive. I think all that got transferred to all our boys.

"Jay was so in love with Michael. They had a special bond from the start. Jay would lay with him, cuddle with him, help him. He was totally in support of Michael."

Said Feely: "Michael died in May 2001, just before I made the Falcons. I write his name so I can take him out on the field with me. I look at it like God gave me a gift he wasn't able to use. Hopefully he can enjoy it with me."

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