EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It didn’t take long for David Diehl to realize that he wanted to be a member of the New York Giants for his entire NFL career.
Back in 2003, when Diehl was still a rookie offensive lineman out of Illinois, his father had passed away.
“It was still in the first weeks of the season,” Diehl said. “I came back to my locker after practice and I had a message on my locker to see Wellington Mara before I went home.”
Mara — owner of the Giants and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who died two years later — called the rookie into his office and fully welcomed Diehl into the Giants’ family.
“He said to me that he knew how hard it was to lose a father,” Diehl recalled. “He said that from here on out, this is your family. He said that if there was anything he could do to help me, he would do it. That symbolized what the Giants were all about.”
Several years later, not much has changed. So coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season, Diehl could have waited for the Giants to cut him loose from a lofty contract and then seek employment elsewhere, or he could agree to take a gigantic paycut and stay with the Giants.
Remembering Mara, he chose the latter.
“I didn’t know what to expect, coming off the injury,” said Diehl, who underwent knee surgery soon after the season ended last December. “It’s my 11th year in the league. I knew I would have other teams that would have offered me contracts, but this team means more to me than anything financially. I couldn’t see myself in another uniform. I love this place. To me, playing football is not financial.
“It’s about loyalty.”
In restructuring the initial six-year, $31 million contract he signed in 2008, Diehl decided to accept a cut from the $4.85 million he was scheduled to receive this season to a simple base salary of $1 million with no incentives in terms of games played or workout attendance. Not many players would have accepted losing almost $4 million in salary.
Diehl did … and has no regrets. On Thursday, as the Giants completed their fourth day of organized team activities, he was back where he felt he belonged, with New York’s offensive line.
“I feel great,” said Diehl, 32, who made the Pro Bowl in 2009. “Once I had the knee surgery, I was here ever since, working and training hard to get back to top shape, doing what I can to feel right again. It’s only the fourth day, but it looks as if all the hard work has paid off.
“I want to prove that I’m 100 percent healthy.”
Giants coach Tom Coughlin was never worried about Diehl’s dedication or inspiration.
“He’s motivated all the time,” Coughlin said of the versatile lineman, who has started 149 of 153 games in his career, missing the last three of 2012. “There’s never been any problem with that. He’s a full-team player who is anxious to overcome his nicks and get back on the field. He’s the most positive, optimistic guy. He’s very opportunistic and makes the most of his time. I hope that he feels like he has something to prove. It’s a great motivation.
“But everyone has something to prove.”
Diehl endured a tough offseason after pleading guilty to DUI charges in February. That stemmed from an incident in which he crashed his car in Queens in June 2012. But he appears set to push past it.
“I know I’ve been a guy who has been known to be durable prior to last year,” Diehl said. “For the first time in my career, I was hurt, so sure, there are people who are going to doubt you and wonder if maybe you’re done. I’m going to use that to prove people wrong. Year in and year out, I need to continually prove myself. As they say, the NFL stands for ‘not for long.’
“There are no guarantees.”
Unlike some of his other former teammates who were released and not offered the opportunity to restructure deals — running back Ahmad Bradshaw, defensive lineman Chris Canty and linebacker Michael Boley among them — Diehl said he didn’t hesitate when the offer came to him.
“The Giants were always honest and up front with me,” Diehl said. “They told me what they wanted to do and I didn’t even blink. I knew it was business and not personal.”
Diehl restructured his deal so that the Giants could re-sign wide receiver Victor Cruz, but the Pro Bowl standout remains a no-show at OTAs. Cruz was not the only receiver absent Thursday, as Hakeem Nicks also failed to appear. Nicks, who is under contract for 2013, wants a new deal, as well.
“From a coach’s perspective, I can complain all I want, but it’s part of the system,” Coughlin said. “At one point, Hakeem told me he was going to be here. As you know, these are voluntary, but you’d like to have all your guys working together. If a guy is in the program and he’s going to miss, he’d make sure to tell me.”
“If there’s a guy who can step up and take advantage of this, it’s Rueben,” Coughlin said.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning didn’t want to speculate on the receiver situation.
“It’s tough,” Manning said. “You always want everyone there and want them back for practice. I’m not going to say that (OTAs) aren’t important, but I’m working with the guys who are out there.”
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