Deon Grant counts his blessings, and the number is up to 185.
The Josey High School alum will start in his 185th consecutive game on Sunday when Grant’s New York Giants face the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional playoffs.
Pretty good run for a guy who was told he would never play a down in the NFL 12 years ago.
“I haven’t missed a game,” said Grant of the 11 consecutive seasons playing safety since he returned from what was supposed to be a career-ending broken hip in his rookie training camp.
Even Grant can’t believe he’s made it this far on the metal plate and screws in his hip that was rebuilt in 2000.
“Especially when that particular day the doctor walked in and told me my career was over with and you’re not going to walk the same,” Grant said. “But you know, with a praying family and the belief that I have with the Man upstairs, he changed those thoughts pretty fast.”
Grant suffered the injury on the practice fields of Wofford College, during his first camp after being drafted in the second round in 2000 by the Carolina Panthers. The injury was so gruesome that Panthers owner Jerry Richardson felt compelled to climb into the ambulance and hold Grant’s hand all the way to the hospital.
Nobody there that day thought they’d ever see Grant in uniform on a football field again, a good bet considering no other NFL player has ever returned from such an injury. But after missing the 2000 season, Grant has been an ironman despite two torn MCLs, wrist surgery, a hole in his labrum and a torn rotator cuff among other dings through the years.
“My pain tolerance is so high,” Grant said. “It’s a physical game that I do and my whole thing is there’s pain that comes with the game. So I don’t really pay it any attention.”
So it came as no surprise to anybody who saw Grant limp off the field in the second quarter of last week’s wild-card game against the Atlanta Falcons that the safety was back roaming the secondary in the second half. A strained quad muscle wasn’t going to keep him out while the Giants’ defense was pitching a shutout against the Falcons.
“It was a crazy strain because I didn’t do it while I was running but when I was pushing a guy out of bounds,” said Grant. “I went in at halftime and taped it up and did what I had to go to come back and finish the game.”
Maybe it’s Grant’s high pain tolerance that had the St. Louis Rams so skeptical earlier this season when he and another Giants teammate were accused of faking injuries to disrupt the Rams’ two-minute offense. The NFL threatened to hand out fines to anyone who faked injury to stop play, and Grant took the accusations personally.
“Nobody’s gonna try me first of all with the softness thing,” he said during a long rant after that game. “But if you wanna talk about this whole toughness and all that, I got the injuries to speak for it.”
The one thing Grant doesn’t have in 12 seasons is a world championship to go with the state title he won at Josey or the national title at Tennessee. He’s been to the playoffs with every team he’s played for – Carolina, Jacksonville, Seattle and New York – and reached the 2004 Super Bowl with the Panthers, but the ring is still his burning goal.
“With those other teams, even though we got there we didn’t win the whole thing,” Grant said. “We have the opportunity to really go all the way and definitely bring the Super Bowl home. I have to say this experience is a a lot hungrier because this is the one that’s at hand.”
The Giants won 10 games last year in Grant’s first season in New York, but failed to reach the playoffs. Then they lost five of six games after the midpoint this season to raise the stakes again.
With every game an elimination threat, the Giants have won three straight heading into Green Bay. Grant thinks critics are underestimating how good they have been all year.
“To be honest, a lot of people forget how we started the season off,” Grant said of the 6-2 first half. “We didn’t just catch fire at the end. We started the season pretty good and we ended it. We won ballgames we had to win. We had a falloff in the middle due to a lot of things – injuries and a lot of young guys playing. Coaches just got to the point of we do what we do and everybody’s got to adjust and go hard and go fast. Just got back to playing our ballgame.”
To reach the Super Bowl, Grant and his secondary mates may have to contend with the NFL’s two most prolific quarterbacks – MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers this week and possibly the record-setting Drew Brees in the championship game. Grant isn’t intimidated.
“I’ve been doing it my whole career,” he said. “I love the challenge. Where I come from and how I grew up and the type of ball I’ve been facing my whole career, I love the competitiveness. As far as those guys, I like to go against the best.”
You shouldn’t insult Grant by asking if he thinks they can beat the teams that beat them in consecutive shootouts right after Thanksgiving.
“Of course – there’s only one way you can answer that,” he said. “I think any player on any team, if he doesn’t believe that he shouldn’t be playing on any level. I definitely think we can beat any team out there. I definitely have the confidence in my team and myself.”
Now Grant hopes he can count his blessings until the confetti falls in game 187 in Indianapolis.