On Monday night at FedEx Field in Maryland, Army Lt. Col. Greg Gadson was back at the place where it all started for him and the New York Giants two years ago. An honorary captain for the Giants during their stunning Super Bowl run two years ago, the wounded warrior was on hand once again to see the team he shares a special bond with beat the Washington Redskins.
In case you were living under a rock (or in Iraq) a couple of years ago, here’s recap of Gadson’s story: In May 2007, while serving as battalion commander for the 2-32 Field Artillery in Iraq, Gadson was seriously wounded in an IED attack. The former West Point linebacker suffered extensive injuries to his legs and an arm, and would eventually have both legs amputated above the knee.
In September 2007, the 0-2 Giants invited Gadson, who was stationed in Virginia while rehabbing his injuries at Walter Reed hospital, to speak with the team the night before a game against the Redskins. The next day, New York rallied from a 17-3 halftime deficit to defeat the Redskins. After catching the game-winning touchdown pass in the 4th quarter, wide receiver Plaxico Burress sprinted to Gadson on the sideline and handed him the football. In the locker room afterward, coach Tom Coughlin would award Gadson a game ball, and the relationship between the team and the soldier was cemented.
Gadson would go on to travel to all the Giants’ playoff games and serve as an inspirational presence on the sidelines. It was a role Gadson took seriously, and he even managed to make the frigid cold NFC Championship game in Green Bay just days after having surgeries on his arm and one of his legs.
Fast forward to Monday night. Just like two years ago, Gadson was on the FedEx sidelines to support a New York squad in desperate need of a win. This time they were battling for a playoff berth. However in this game, no pregame speeches or fourth-quarter heroics were needed. The Giants mauled Washington from the opening kickoff to the final whistle as Gadson watched approvingly from the sidelines.
“They were certainly playing for something,” Gadson said Tuesday.
Gadson still has a special relationship with the Giants, who’ve accepted him as more than just an inspirational figure.
“The players are sort of like my friends,” said Gadson, who praised the Giants organization for its support of military causes, including giving all their money from fines one season to a charity for wounded warriors. He’s traveled to a number of New York games this season, and believes the team is capable of playing at a level to make another a playoff run.
“I think what they’ve shown ability to play with everybody,” Gadson said. “What’s most frustrating is their consistency. They certainly have the talent to accomplish a lot.”
The Giants are not the only team Gadson has forged a bond with.
Gadson gave a pregame speech and served as an honorary captain for the Texas Longhorns football team before their win against Baylor in November. Earlier this month, he supported the Longhorns on sidelines of the Big 12 Championship, wearing a Longhorn jersey as Texas beat Nebraska to reach the national championship. And just like he did two years ago when the Giants went to the Super Bowl, Gadson said he will travel to Pasadena to be on the sidelines as Texas takes on Alabama on Jan. 7 in the Citi BCS National Championship.
The soldier said he’s not sure if he’ll talk to the team before the game, but if so, he’ll be ready.
“I’m always prepared to say something,” Gadson said. “I don’t always do. But I’m prepared to.”
Gadson likens the speeches he gives to teams to the talks he gave soldiers under his command.
“It’s almost like I’m talking to my soldiers. You’re honest and frank with them,” Gadson said. “Maybe you try to put things in context for the opportunities they have. … I was where they were. I’m telling them their opportunities in life, you need to cherish them. Your life can change very quickly.”
Gadson hooked up with the Longhorns through a West Point connection. Texas assistant coach Will Muschamp’s brother is a fellow member of USMA class of 1989. Originally Gadson was supposed to meet the team prior to their Sept. 19 game against Texas Tech. But Gadson’s mother passed away, and he was unable to go. Texas sent Gadson a game ball after the win, an act Gadson called one of the most moving gestures he’s received from a team.
Another connection from Gadson’s playing days has helped him form a relationship with another college football team, the Arizona Wildcats.
Gadson’s position coach at West Point, Tim Kish, currently serves as the Wildcats’ assistant head coach. Gadson was invited speak to the team before their matchup with Stanford in October. The Wildcats won a thriller, gave Gadson a game ball and now he’ll be going to the Holiday Bowl with the team for their Dec. 29 game with Nebraska.