INDIANAPOLIS (CBSNewYork/AP) — Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks keep saying all the right things.
They have good memories of the Giants, their fans and their time around New York. They also appreciate where they’ve landed, understanding they can’t allow personal emotions to get in the way of business.
Still, there are moments this week that Bradshaw and Nicks will confide Monday night’s return to MetLife Stadium has a little more significance.
“Any guy in this business who played on a team that let you go, you always look forward to playing them,” said Nicks, now a Colts receiver.
For Bradshaw, his return to the big stage couldn’t come at a better time. He’s averaging 4.9 yards per carry, has eight touchdowns including a career-high six TD receptions and needs only three more TD catches to tie Lenny Moore for the highest single-season total by a running back in Colts’ history.
It’s a stark contrast to the hard-charging, injury-prone running back New York dumped in a roster purge in February 2013 — almost exactly one year to the day after his memorable awkward, backward fall into the end zone beat New England in the 2012 Super Bowl.
Even the Colts weren’t sure if Bradshaw would make it all the way back after he had season-ending neck surgery last October, but they re-signed him in March anyway and he’s been paying big dividends since.
Now Bradshaw is heading back to New York for his first regular season game in a different uniform.
“I’ve looked forward to it all year to be able to go back to New York and play,” said Bradshaw, who has played one preseason game at MetLife in each of the past two seasons. “But like I said, it’s another opponent. As long as we can stay focused this week and prepare right, I think we’ll be fine.”
Until going there last year to face his old team, Bradshaw said he didn’t even know where the visiting locker room was.
This year, he gave Nicks the stadium tour.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson signed the 26-year-old receiver in free agency this past winter, hoping that Nicks would rediscover the form that made him such a key part of New York’s most recent Super Bowl title.
Like Bradshaw, the Giants let him walk away as a free agent, too. But unlike Bradshaw, Nicks’ second chance hasn’t gone quite as well. Through seven games, Nicks has only 18 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns — two more scores than he had last season with New York.
“Hakeem Nicks is a very good friend of mine,” Giants safety Antrel Rolle said Tuesday on WFAN radio. “He’s a phenomenal talent. Hakeem can be as good as Hakeem wants to be, depending on the day. I’m excited to see those boys, Hakeem along with (Ahmad) Bradshaw.”
The sparkle in Nicks’ eyes made it perfectly clear he wants to show the Giants (3-4) they made a mistake.
Nicks and Bradshaw are hardly alone in this locker room or around the league.
“Whenever you play against a former team, there’s a little something extra there, especially when it’s in their house. You want to put on a good show,” said cornerback Darius Butler, who played with New England and Carolina before coming to Indy (5-3).
“Some guys perform better with that edge and some guys have to block it out and treat it like another game.”
Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson will find out what it’s like in December.
That’s when the longtime Browns starter will visit Cleveland. Jackson, like most of his teammates, has repeatedly said he harbors no hard feelings about the Browns. But he is eager to face the team where he spent his first eight NFL seasons.
“I noticed that when the schedule came out,” Jackson said, smiling. “Right now that feels like it’s been so long ago (since Cleveland) and once I get there, the old memories will come back. So it will be a good day for the Colts.”
Nicks and Bradshaw expect their reunion weekend to rekindle some fond memories. They’re just hoping that they — and the AFC South leaders — are the beneficiaries of some good fortune, too.
“Where I’m at now, I like it and I just want to look at this as a game,” Nicks said. “It’s a Monday night game on the big stage, so obviously want to go out there and put forth our best effort and get a ‘W.'”
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