Sharp Corner

The memory hasn't gone away. Around the 12th week of last season Sam Madison began feeling as if something was definitely wrong.

He could not get out of bed without sharp pain. Getting up off the couch was a disaster. When he felt the urge to cough or sneeze, his whole body tensed up as he anticipated the knifing pain he was about to feel.

"You feel like an old man,'' Madison said.

When evaluating NFL cornerbacks, Madison is an old man. He is 34 years old, an age when most corners are either out of the league, spending some time at safety or else starting a career in coaching or out of football. He can think back on the sports hernia surgery that inflicted so much pain and could have prevented him from embarking on his 12th NFL season and third with the Giants. Once a star with the Dolphins, Madison is now a reserve but anyone tempted to diminish his contribution is making a mistake.

Ancient by cornerback standards, Madison can't run like he used to and, for the first time since his 1997 rookie year with the Dolphins, is not a starting cornerback. He's a reserve who does not contribute much on special teams, usually a deadly combination that often results in unemployment. Perhaps the only reason Madison was able to survive on the roster of the Super Bowl champions is because he agreed to cut by $500,000 his base salary, down to $1.25 million. He is a proud player but not too proud to accept less to stay put.

"The decision I made, one of the reasons I made the decision to try to stay here is because there's a lot of upside to this football team,'' he explained.

He is part of the team, even though in the first four games he was inactive twice and played sparingly with the regular defense. His spot in the starting lineup has been taken by Corey Webster and that is not likely to change unless there's an injury. Early last season, Webster lost his starting job alongside Madison to Aaron Ross but Webster is now a fixture in the lineup.

"It was very rewarding for me to see a guy like Corey Webster, who was supposed to be the starting corner on the opposing side for a couple of years and still wasn't there, to come in during the playoffs when I was injured, to stay focused and still stay hungry and want to learn and just listen to a guy like me,'' Madison said. "He could have shied away from me and not took me in and we wouldn't be in the situation we're in today, Super Bowl champions.''

Webster listened because they all listen. Ross, Webster, Kevin Dockery, rookie Terrell Thomas. Madison has the gift of gab, he's frequently flapping his gums but what comes out of his mouth is not trash. He fills the role of a player-coach without any official title because it comes naturally for him.

No player gives more of himself to his teammates than Madison, a Pied Piper defensive back who has a handful of followers. Even though Webster replaced him in the starting lineup, Madison every day tries to make him a more prepared player. Madison has an engaging personality; he's bright and funny and takes seriously the mentor role he's embraced. The attitude Tom Coughlin preaches and hearkens back to when considering how glory in Super Bowl XLII was achieved is exactly what Madison brings to the table.

"Seeing the young guys grow and finally believe in the system and the things I've shown them and [defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] has implemented as a defense, it's very rewarding,'' Madison said.

Do not take this as a player content to stand on the sideline. The sports hernia that short-circuited his effectiveness last season left him unprepared for the rigors of training camp. He made the team but took a while to get back into prime shape.

"Very frustrating,'' Madison said. "After coming back and finally playing in the system I've known for years and been able to produce 60-something tackles, come up with four interceptions and making some pretty good plays and not being able to compete in camp and have an opportunity to fight for a starting job has been very frustrating.''

He hasn't let it get him down. Madison did not play at all in the opener and got in sparingly in the second game. He expected more of the same against the Bengals in game No. 3 but when Ross went out with a shoulder problem, Madison was called on once again.

"It shows the younger guys behind me and the rest of the guys on this team your number can be called at any given time, you have to go in and be prepared,'' Madison said.

That's easy to say, much harder to do. Yet Madison saved the Giants in overtime of a tougher-than-expected battle. Tied at 23, the Giants got the ball first in OT and did nothing with it. The defense was unable to stop the Bengals down the stretch of regulation and here they came again, but on third down Madison burst in front of receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh to bat away Carson Palmer's pass. The Giants got the ball back and Eli Manning led them on the winning drive.

"The young guys helped me just like I helped them,'' Madison said. "One hand's always washing the other. Like I always told them at any given time anything can happen so always be ready, not thinking to myself that Aaron's going to go down in the third week and I'm going go have to go in, in an overtime game and have to make a play.''

He made a play. Perhaps the time will come when he's asked to make another. Until then, Madison will continue to contribute in his own way.

"I always tell guys anything can happen,'' Madison said. "My main focus is always winning, no matter what we have to do and who's doing it.''

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