A Provocateur and a Role Model
There's Never a Dull Moment Around Seubert, the Giants' Veteran Guard and Ultimate NFL Survivor
By ADITI KINKHABWALA | WALL STREET JOURNAL
Rich Seubert claims he used to not talk, that he was in fact once shy.
Hearing that, Giants right tackle Kareem McKenzie raises an eyebrow. Left tackle David Diehl tries to say he might be able to buy it, but tackle/guard Shawn Andrews starts guffawing before his linemate can summon any concrete words to complete the thought.
"The only time I don't hear Rich is when Coach is talking," Mr. Andrews says. "But as soon as there's a pause, there's something going on with Rich."
Always. It could be a biting poke. It could be the prompt for a fight or a cable-worthy punchline. It'll definitely be something, coach Tom Coughlin said, "to stir it up."
"The guys call me 'Rhino' because Rich said I look like a rhinoceros when I run," rookie guard Mitch Petrus said matter-of-factly. He mimicked the noise Mr. Seubert makes when he runs, a presumed rhinoceros grunt that no string of letters could properly convey, shrugged and said, "He's right, though. I do run kind of weird."
This is Mr. Seubert, providing constant comic relief, but also constantly telling it like it is.
He is the Giants' longest-tenured player, a onetime underdog who briefly became a cult hero when he served as a blocking tight end.
He will always have one of the NFL's most stirring comeback stories, and now, 10 years after coming here as an undrafted rookie out of little Western Illinois, he's still starting on an offensive line that expects to return to its rank among the league's best.
"Every year someone says he's getting too old, he's getting too beat up," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "But what do I always say? I would never bet against him."
Well, he can't. Because Mr. Seubert's likely to make whatever the payback much worse.
"Those are the rules with Richie," Mr. Diehl said, pleading the fifth to storytelling on Mr. Seubert.
He needles and he teases. He has put blue dye in Mr. Diehl's towel. He's scrappy on the field, and even Mr. Coughlin had to admit, when it comes to mixing things up, "he's good at it."
That's why defensive end Justin Tuck said Mr. Seubert is "the best teammate." Why defensive tackle Barry Cofield said he "always knows what the team needs to get excited." And why both said they wouldn't feel near the same if they had to face him.
"He's probably annoying," Mr. Cofield said.
In some ways, Mr. Seubert (pronounced SIGH-bert) has earned the right. This month marks the seventh anniversary of the Eagles' N.D. Kalu stepping on his leg and subsequently shattering the fibula, tibia and ankle.
He spent months in the hospital, underwent five surgeries and still has a gruesome scar snaking up his right calf that time hasn't erased.
He spent the entire 2004 season on the sidelines, rehabbing. He wouldn't cop to it then, and this many years later, Mr. Seubert still insists that he never once considered walking away from the game—or that he wouldn't heal properly.
"I hadn't accomplished anything yet," he said. "I told my wife, 'Honey, I want to come back,' and she gave me full support."
He was a player with no pedigree, one who was undersized and ostensibly replaceable, and he sat inactive through the first 10 games of 2005. And yet, the Giants never cut him loose.
He started again later in 2005, he played in 14 games the next year and then officially regained his starting job full-time in 2007.
He says he has not looked back or taken time to reflect on the enormity of that return. It's not his style, and besides, he's too busy facing today's challenges.
The Giants drafted left tackle Will Beatty last spring to this year take Mr. Diehl's job and push Mr. Diehl to left guard, Mr. Seubert's spot. Mr. Seubert broke his hand—wife Jodi said he texted her a photo of the broken bone with the message "by the way"—and still proved he was one of the top five linemen in camp.
Then the Giants brought in Mr. Andrews, a former Pro Bowl guard, on the last day of camp, to push Mr. Seubert. Mr. Beatty broke his leg, Mr. Andrews moved to tackle and Mr. Seubert's still the starting left guard.
"That's what football is, it's competition," he says. "I know what I can do and I know how hard I work to do what I do."
And that's where the seriousness belies some of the fun. Yes, Mrs. Seubert jokes, coaches often come up to her, look at her husband and say, "I'm sorry." Yes, he lumbers around the locker room, sticking his scruffy beard into conversations here and there. He is the Giant who most frequently bequeaths nicknames, and he's the most free in bestowing identities too. Like to right guard Chris Snee, who is apparently "the grumpy old troll."
("My rookie year I wanted to fight him every day," Mr. Snee says, looking over at the player he now calls his best friend.)
But at Mr. Seubert's core, he's rooted in the small-town Wisconsin world in which he grew up. He's pragmatic and plain-spoken, like when he talked about manning center Wednesday, when both Shaun O'Hara and Adam Koets were sidelined.
Or about the spots he has filmed in conjunction with New York Presbyterian Hospital, exhorting people to sign up as organ donors, or the money he's raising in his grandmother Claire's name.
He was in grammar school when she needed a heart transplant. His grandparents and parents jointly owned a restaurant, and it was Grandma Claire who taught him to play cards and kept him by her side when she managed the till.
Three years ago, he committed to raising $1 million for an endowment for research at the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin. He's $160,000 away.
"It's important for people to think about if something happens and they're not here, why not save lives?" he says of organ donation. "People die on the waiting list every day."
It's a sobering and serious tone, but it won't carry over when talk turns to his own football mortality.
He tutors Mr. Petrus after most practices and he was the first lineman to give Mr. Andrews his number, telling him to call at any time, with any questions, be they about the playbook or living in New Jersey. Neither means he's readying the road for a replacement.
He still comes in a bit after 6 a.m. most days, an hour before lift time. He's a savvy veteran, although offensive line isn't baseball, where Pedro Martinez can use his wiles when his fastball's slowed.
No, it's his technique, Mr. Gilbride says, that's flawless. And his strength, Mr. Petrus said, that's harnessed perfectly.
"If we were in a bench contest, yeah, I can bench more than he does," the 23-year old said. "But he takes what he can bench and he translates that on a football field better than I do."
That's why the 31-year old Mr. Seubert won't entertain any questions on the close of his career. He has two sons at home, 5½-year-old Hunter and 3½-year-old Isaac, whom he reads to every night. His life has changed, but not his passion for this game, or his teammates. "I love football," he says. "This is what I love to do. This is my life."
Which, in the end, is why Mr. Petrus offers Mr. Seubert the sort of sincere praise that might quiet him. Maybe. For a minute..
"The way he just keeps on trucking, he's an inspiration to me," the rookie said. "He's a friend, but he's also my hero on the team. He's the type of player I want to be."