Between the lines

Good buddies Tuck, Grant prepare to battle against each other on field

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – On April 12, Justin Tuck will marry his longtime girlfriend, Lauren Williamson, in Birmingham, Ala.

But the Giants standout defensive lineman is having second thoughts. No, not about the wedding itself – Lauren need not worry. Tuck is wondering if he needs to make a substitution in his wedding party. One of his groomsmen is Ryan Grant, a close friend who was a teammate of Tuck's at Notre Dame and with the Giants. But Grant now plays for the Green Bay Packers. And on Sunday, the Giants and Packers will meet in the NFC Championship Game in Lambeau Field.

"I might have to kick him out," Tuck said of the wedding. "It depends on what he does against us on Sunday."

It will take more than a football game to pull Tuck and Grant apart. They became close friends as Notre Dame freshmen in 2001. Four years later, they came to the Giants, Tuck as a third-round draft choice and Grant as a free agent. They lived together for two years in New Jersey. Last season, they boosted each other's spirits when both were unable play, Tuck because of foot surgery, Grant because of arm surgery after a fall at a nightclub.

On Sept. 1, Grant was traded to Green Bay for a draft choice. Ironically, considering how close they are, the careers of both players took off once they separated. Tuck finished the season with 10.0 sacks, second on the team to Pro Bowler Osi Umenyiora. Since entering the starting lineup at Kansas City on Nov. 4, Grant has been one of the NFL's most productive running backs. He finished the regular season with 956 yards and eight touchdowns and last week plowed through the Seattle Seahawks for 201 yards and three scores in Green Bay's Divisional Playoff Game route of the Seahawks.

"(Grant's success) doesn't surprise me at all," Tuck said. "I think he exceeded people's expectations, because they hadn't seen him. The only thing surprising to me is that this is his first chance of getting it. I know what kind of back he is, his work ethic and the things he does to prepare himself. That's the only thing that surprises me – not that he's out here doing what he's doing.

"We always went to war with each other. We were in the same situation last year, being hurt together. He was living with me, so we worked out together. It's a credit to him to continue to do what he was doing, working out every day and keeping his head straight. He got an opportunity and made the best of it and I'm happy for him."

The mutual admiration society will go on a three-hour hiatus Sunday as their teams play for the right to advance to Super Bowl XLII. Despite their friendship, both players are looking forward to the encounter on the field. Indeed, they use the same phrase to explain why they can set aside their friendship to try to beat each other.

"We're competitors," Grant said. "I'm looking forward to it, and even though they are my friends and we know it's nothing personal, we want to win and we're competitors, and I expect that out of them. They're professionals also, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity. I'm excited about it and I can't wait."

Defensive tackle Justin Tuck
AP Photo
"We're competitors," Tuck echoed. "I know he's going to do everything in his power to win this football game for his team and I'm going to do the same for mine. This is our first time playing each other in this capacity. Each of us wants to have bragging rights."

Some Giants fans have used hindsight to question why the team traded Grant. At the time they had a surplus of running backs in Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, Reuben Droughns and rookie Ahmad Bradshaw. Grant, who spent the 2005 season on the practice squad and never got to training camp the following season because of his surgery, had never carried the ball in a regular season game.

"I think that it is never an easy decision when you have a player that you really think is going to be a good football player," Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said. "We were fortunate that we did have a large number of people at that position that we thought could play in the National Football League. So therein was the decision maker of itself. And as I recall the incident … that is the reason for the decision."

Running back Ryan Grant
AP Photo
Green Bay's offense was very pass - and Brett Favre - oriented before Grant stepped into the backfield. He helped give the Packers a more balanced attack by becoming the feature back the team had lacked.

"He did the same thing at Notre Dame he's doing right now," Tuck said. "He's not doing anything different. I knew when he got his opportunity he was going to make the best of it, and that's exactly what he did this year."

Grant is reluctant to talk about his newfound fame.

"He's the type of guy, he doesn't want to glorify his accomplishments any more than any other guy," Tuck said. "He's a very humble individual. You can give him all the accolades you want to, that guy is not going to change. He's still going to be Ryan Grant from Nyack (N.Y.). That's not going to change at all."

Tuck and Grant met on a recruiting trip to Notre Dame. Tuck played high school football at Central Coosa County High School in Kellyton, Ala. Grant was a star at Don Bosco Prep, a long punt from Giants Stadium. Both young men are outgoing, friendly and thoughtful and they immediately hit it off. On Sunday, Tuck will try to hit Grant, period.

"I look forward to it," Tuck said. "Neither one of us is a trash talker, but I'm sure we'll say something to each other.

"I haven't had the opportunity to actually hit him. I guess this will be a first. I'm sure if he sees me in the hole he's going to try to avoid me. And when he has an opportunity to run me over he's going to do it. And he knows when I see him I'm going to try to take his head off, it's as simple as that."

Should make for some interesting conversation at the wedding.

Michael Eisen is a member of New York Giants media relations department.

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