EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Justin Tuck’s fashion choices have become a theme inside the Giants’ locker room, at least for him and the message he is trying to send.
Last week he donned a T-shirt with the phrase: “My pain; your entertainment,” born out of the Coliseum struggles of Russell Crowe’s Maximus in the movie “Gladiator.”
Out of respect for a real life hero Thursday, Tuck chose to wear an Eric LeGrand shirt, one that honors the 21-year-old former Rutgers football player who currently graces the cover of Sports Illustrated, and continues to inspire with his quest to one day walk again.
The previous afternoon, the Giants and the Jets had gone back and forth with what amounted to meaningless smack talk, slinging insults and observations that will more than likely have little to do with the outcome in the season’s biggest game for both teams.
Instead of jumping into the fray and trading some more barbs with Gang Green, Tuck brought the discussion back to reality by not just praising LeGrand, but revealing the motivation he draws from their friendship.
So much is at stake for Tuck and the Giants, Rex Ryan and the Jets come Saturday when they meet inside MetLife Stadium. The game itself could leave the loser on the outside of the playoffs, and for Big Blue, a defeat could be the first of several dominoes to fall, ultimately causing plenty of off-season changes, including a search for a new head coach.
If anything, Tuck wearing his LeGrand shirt — and on Thursday of all days, considering what had transpired the day before — managed to reset the Meadowlands rivalry back to where it needs to be: this is a football game after all, a meaningful and intense one at that.
“I don’t have time to worry about (the future of the Giants). All I have time to worry about is what I’m going to do today right when I leave you guys,” Tuck said. “The only thing promised to me — (he took a deep breath and exhaled) — is that breath right there. I don’t know if I’m taking another one. I don’t got time to worry about what might happen or is supposed to happen, or whatever that is.
“I’m just going to go out there and play hard, and let the cards fall where they may.”
Tuck has dealt with neck, groin, ankle and toe injuries this season, the totality of which forced him to miss four games, also limiting his production to just three sacks.
“My numbers aren’t going to be what they’ve been in past years,” Tuck said. “But we’ve got two more games here and my focus is making the best out of these two games and forgetting the last 14.”
None of that compares to what LeGrand endures on a daily basis, of course, and Tuck offered that up as a lesson as to why nothing should be taken for granted, and especially not Saturday.
“For a guy to be in the situation he is and to be as upbeat and as encouraged about his future as anybody I know that can walk, I think that’s pretty encouraging,” Tuck said. “It’s hard not to root for a guy like him.”
Asked about the opportunity to earn bragging rights against the Jets, Tuck laughed.
He threw in a joke about wagging his finger in Mark Sanchez’s face at a Manhattan steakhouse this offseason and saying, “We beat you,” provided the Giants can win.
And here’s the best part of the trash talking done Wednesday: The sentiment was spot-on.
The Giants should not fear Darrelle Revis and stay away from his side of the field, because if they do, Eli Manning will be neutralizing his greatest strength, which is spreading teams out. The Giants have enough offensive skill at receiver to test anyone.
Meanwhile, Santonio Holmes’ dig about the Giants’ secondary being poor tacklers and allowing big plays over their heads _ he’s right. They are and they do.
None of the talk will matter at kickoff come 1 p.m. Christmas Eve.
“I could care less about bragging rights,” Tuck added. “The last time I checked, the mayor of New York ran the city … Gov. Christie, he has a lot to say with what goes on in New Jersey. I didn’t see me making rulings on anything. Rex Ryan neither. We’ve got a lot of catching up to get to — what is it, 27 rings now the Yankees got — they run New York if you want to talk about running New York.
“But other than that, man, (this game is about making) the playoffs … The only thing I care about is getting another one of those shiny things on my finger.”
A self-professed Broncos fan, LeGrand will be in the building as an invited guest of the Jets on Saturday. He has ties to both teams, considering Bart Scott’s tremendous support of LeGrand through his foundation: A Son Never Forgets.
“Considering his circumstances, the motivation I get from him is tremendous,” said Tuck, who added he probably feels “better this week than I have all year, so I’ve still got something left.”
There’s no better time for Tuck to prove that than Saturday against the Jets.
If not, the next opportunity to do so for the Giants might not come until next season.