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Thursday, December 14, 2006

NY Giants' Mathias Kiwanuka Performing Well In 2006

Another Great Article By Giants Beatwriter & Blogger Arthur Staple of NEWSDAY-My comments at the end.

Kiwanuka doing more than expected
December 13, 2006

This final season for Ernie Accorsi hasn't exactly gone as he'd planned. He probably figured the Giants would improve on last season's 11-5 record and go deeper into the playoffs before he retired after 36 years in the NFL. Instead, his prized quarterback has been under fire, his Hall of Fame defensive end is injured and his potential Hall of Fame running back is retiring along with Accorsi.

But the season can still be redeemed. And a large part of how the Giants withstood the barrage of injuries and poor play over their four-game losing streak can be traced to a decision Accorsi and his staff made in April, one that was seemingly a head-scratcher at the time.

The Giants traded down in the first round of the draft and selected Mathias Kiwanuka, a long, lean defensive end. "You can never have too many pass rushers," Accorsi said at the time. It sounded like a hollow cliché then: With Pro Bowlers Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora and improving second-year DE Justin Tuck, where would Kiwanuka play?

Accorsi is hardly feeling vindicated now. Just relieved that Kiwanuka not only has played, but done a very solid job for a rookie. For three games, he was the only true pass rusher on the field for the Giants, with Strahan out for five games and counting, Umenyiora out for six and Tuck done for the year.

"He's saved us," Accorsi said yesterday. "It's like a rookie pitcher. You start him off in middle relief to work him in slowly, but he ends up in the rotation. Kiwanuka didn't just end up in the rotation, he was our No. 1 starter for a month."

True, the Giants didn't win in that month, and Kiwanuka figured prominently in two of the losses. His failure to put Vince Young on the ground was one of many costly mistakes in the loss to the Titans. His fumble after an interception gave the Cowboys life in the first quarter when a Giants score could have made things difficult for Dallas.

But Kiwanuka hasn't missed a beat, or a play. He's been on the field for every defensive snap since he took over for Umenyiora against the Bucs seven games ago, and he still has kickoff and punt coverage duties.

That he quickly recovered from both errors - and from having his Cadillac Escalade stolen out of the Giants Stadium parking lot, which would be enough to push you or me over the edge on its own - speaks to the other reason Accorsi drafted Kiwanuka.

"Even after those two unfortunate events, I didn't worry about him the way I would another rookie," Accorsi said. "He's such a serious, mentally strong kid. He's had to do a lot more than we'd have thought this year, and under fire, too. This stuff is only going to help him."

It's helping his wallet, too. According to a person familiar with Kiwanuka's contract, the rookie could earn an extra $150,000 on top of his $275,000 salary for 2006, $50,000 for playing 60 percent of the defensive snaps and having four sacks, which he reached in Charlotte on Sunday, and $100,000 for being named first-team All-Rookie. He and No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams of the Texans seem to be shoo-ins at end. Kiwanuka also can trigger escalators in his 2010 salary with the sack and playing-time numbers this season if he stays on course.

Strahan already is a near-certainty to miss Sunday's game and a real question mark to return before the playoffs. "If we didn't think he was coming back, we'd have put him on IR," Accorsi said. So Kiwanuka will be counted upon to provide Umenyiora with a capable complement the rest of the way.

It's a far cry from April, when Accorsi told his coaching staff that he "wasn't drafting a guy to stand next to me in the tunnel."

You really can't have enough pass rushers.

And my Take: No, you really can't have too many Studs on the D-line. I remember sitting at the draft With Zennie, and Next level Scouting's and now Yahoo Sports' John Murphy and being mildly surprised that The Giants would select another Defensive end except for depth. That was 7+ months ago. Guess Ernie Accorsi thought ahead, knowing that Strahan wouldn't play forever.

My Lamar Hunt Story

As you may know, Kansas City Chiefs Owner Lamar Hunt passed away yesterday at the age of 74 and from complications developing from prostate cancer. What you may now know is that Lamar Hunt is truly a kind man.

Now I'm not passing myself off as his good friend or buddy. Not even close. I'm just an acquaintance. But Mr. Hunt did something I will always remember -- indeed, I have a reminder of it. It's a note from him.

I met Mr. Hunt at my first NFL Owners Meeting as I headed the effort to bring the Super Bowl to Oakland. This meeting was in the fall of 1999, specifically November 1-3rd, and at the Hyatt Regency O'hare. Because the league's business in naming the Houston Texans the 32nd NFL Franchise had been conducted at the previous NFL meeting, the schedule was shortened and the "Super Bowl Policy Committee Meeting" that was to be the destination for the Oakland and Alameda County elected officials involved was moved up one day. Now, only one Oakland representative was in Chicago to be at that meeting.


I presented the case for Oakland to a committee that consisted of then-NFL Chief Operating Officer Neil Austrian, NFL Senior Vice President of Special Events ("Mr. Super Bowl) Jim Steeg, the now late NY Giants Co-Owner Bob Tisch, Indianapolis Colts Owner Jim Irsay, and Mr. Hunt.

After a presentation that Mr. Irsay said was "outstanding" both he and Mr. Hunt were kind enough to just grab my bags and help me pack my equipment. All the while Mr. Hunt said "So where are we going this weekend, Jim?" And basically teasing Irsay about the upcomming game between the Colts and the Chiefs. So there I was being helped by these giants of the league and just plain having a great time talking. Mr. Hunt asked me what I thought about the talent of Peter Warrick (I told him I thought he had other-worldly speed and that he should be gotten if possible.) Then Mr. Hunt gave me his card and told me to keep in touch.

Much later -- in late 2000 after we lost to Jacksonville for the right to host the 2005 Super Bowl -- I got a small envelop in the mail and which contained one 3-by-5 inch note paper with a message scribbled on it. "From The Desk Of Lamar Hunt."

The hand writing was such that I had to read it and re-read it, but Mr. Hunt thanked me for leading Oakland's effort and encouraged me not to give up. Given all that I'd went through, it was more than welcome. But what got me then and now is that the note didn't come from the City of Oakland or the mayor, or any California official, or from anyone connected with the Oakland effort. It came from Lamar Hunt.

For that, Mr. Hunt always has a special place in my heart and memory.

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