Life on the Line

To this day, there are members of the Giants offensive line who draw strength and inspiration from their coach, Pat Flaherty, for the way he waged a difficult personal battle.

The entire line was stunned back in June of 2004 when Flaherty gathered them together and, while never mentioning cancer, said he was undergoing chemotherapy and promised to "kick its butt.'' Flaherty missed minimal time while undergoing treatment and surgery for colon cancer.

Three years later, that memory continues to resonate in the hearts and minds of the players under Flaherty's care.

"Still to this day any time I'm feeling tough or feeling like it's a tough day, feeling beat up, not feeling like coming to work, I think back on the days when he was battling his cancer, he was coming into work when the doctors were telling him he could stay home and rest,'' center Shaun O'Hara said. "He was coming in every day, never showed a sign of weakness or he was in pain or discomfort. He's the ultimate professional. He loves his job, he loves coming to work every day and he really sets the tempo for our unit. I really admire that.''

Flaherty said "I don't play that card'' when asked about being an inspiration.

"I'm flattered that would even be brought up,'' he said. "I went through a major hurdle, there's no question about it, my family first and foremost helped me through it, the Giants organization, the players. Am I grateful more so now that what I was four years ago? Probably. I probably appreciate getting up in the morning and coming to work more than I did. Everybody has their day when you're just tired. The stages I went through, I saw people, they didn't have an opportunity like I have right now. They weren't given that second chance.''

This is the Pat Flaherty that few outside a small circle know, as he's the very definition of an assistant coach who works far removed from the spotlight, one of the grunts who is so very responsible for the success of a unit but rarely singled out for praise or recognition. The Giants this season have been able to rely on many different facets of their roster, none more consistently than the play of their offensive line.

When Eli Manning hits his third option and directs a pass into heavy traffic he's lauded, often without regard for the time he was granted to get the job done. When Brandon Jacobs gallops for 15 yards, he celebrates the first down and there is little mention of the fact he was untouched for the first half-dozen yards.

This is the way of the football world when toiling along the offensive line and thus it is appropriate that Flaherty's name is not on the tip of everyone's lips although the quality of his work must be compared favorably to the top assistants in the NFL.

"People don't know him, he doesn't have the name recognition that a lot of line coaches in the league do, but after this year he will,'' said Dave DeGuglielmo, the Giants assistant offensive line coach. "He's a tremendous coach. I'm lucky to be working with him.''

Flaherty does not seek credit and jokes "We punt the ball too many times and all of a sudden they'll know my name. I played the position, we have a joke, I guess it's a joke, a lot of it is true, it's if you're unknown when somebody else is known within the offensive group then you must be doing your job.''

In many ways, Flaherty is an appropriate ringleader of this particular offensive line. None of the five starting linemen has ever been selected to a Pro Bowl but this group is operating as effectively as any unit in the league. Likewise, Flaherty, 51, is a veteran of 25 years of coaching but rarely at the top of anyone's list as the next hot commodity. What he is, more than anything, is a grinder, a worker, a lunch-pail assistant who has engendered fierce loyalty from his players.

"He's really similar to how we are,'' right guard Chris Snee said.

"It speaks specifically to how well he's done his job, how well we play,'' right tackle Kareem McKenzie added.

No game has been perfect but every game something has gone right for the offensive line. Through eight games this season, Giants quarterbacks were sacked nine times, the fourth-lowest total in the league. Their time of possession (32:07) was also fourth best. In six of the eight games, the Giants averaged at least 4.5 yards per rushing attempt, four times averaging a healthy five yards or better.

Flaherty's fingerprints are all over the success. He was an all-America center at East Stroudsburg and mostly coached the offensive line during six college stops, including Penn State and Rutgers, before arriving in the NFL in 2000 as tight ends coach for the Redskins. He filled that role for the Bears before Tom Coughlin hired him for his first Giants staff.

This line is made up of seasoned veterans in their primes. The youngest, Snee, is 24 and in his fourth year. The oldest, O'Hara, is 30 and in his eighth season. In between, there's McKenzie (28), Rich Seubert (28) and David Diehl (27). Flaherty's style – he's called "Flats'' by almost everyone – is not bombastic and it works well with this group.

"You can't be yelling at guys at this level,'' Snee said. "He understands that and he's very good at talking things through. He's also a good guy to have fun with, he's not just a coach, we enjoy being around him and I think he enjoys being around us.''

Flaherty is heavily involved in deploying the Giants running game and is particularly knowledgeable in determining how the opposing defense will attack certain formations and blocking schemes. During games, Flaherty is unafraid to cut through the emotional red tape and give his players real, tangible tips based on their mechanics to help them get through the combat.

"He's always making sure I'm mindful of my stance and what I'm doing on a certain play,'' McKenzie explained.

The offensive line has developed a reputation as a bunch of battlers and they firmly believe their coach has a hand in that evolution.

"I tell you what, it's not just the cancer,'' DeGuglielmo said. "He had a hip replaced, had to have it done twice. He has an incredible ability for working without sleep. The man is tireless. He spends four nights a week here, in season. He hardly ever sees his children. Sleeps in a lazy boy chair in his office.''

Flaherty was taken aback when asked how many nights he sleeps at the office. "This group right here, they have busted their rear ends for a long time, so whatever we can do as coaches to help 'em,'' he said. "How much sleep do you need?''


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