CHASE BLACKBURN: AN UNLIKELY JOURNEY
"He has the kind of personal story that happens to rank-and-file NFL players so
often it's easy to overlook the toll they go through sight unseen. Their sagas
make the agate type, not big headlines. But put yourself in linebacker Chase Blackburn's place for just a minute.
Consider how the longest long shot on this long shot Giants team got back to the
He's only 28 years old, and he has a wife and two infant sons back home. He
was the Giants' special-teams captain, a man well-liked throughout the locker
room for his team-first attitude, sharp grasp of game plans and ability to step
in as a spot starter and impeccably make all the right defensive calls. He was
with the Giants for six good years. Then last summer's NFL lockout ended and all
of a sudden he wasn't.
There was no announcement. No big stir. No formal explanation given for why
the Giants let him walk as a free agent. "And I still haven't asked," he
Like a lot of unsung players, Blackburn just slipped off the radar. He was
gone like a wisp of smoke. Three other NFL teams -- the St. Louis Rams,
Bengals and Detroit Lions --
all brought him in for workouts in subsequent weeks, but they didn't sign him,
either. He was at a crossroads, and he knew it. But this is the part of being a
professional athlete that often goes unnoticed, too: Success is more often
explained by what you do when nobody's looking.
Do you know what Blackburn did as he waited and waited back home in Dublin,
When the Giants went to training camp without him, Blackburn was still
lifting and working out by himself. Every day. And when the regular season began
and injuries began to stack up across the league and he was still without a job,
Blackburn would sit on the sofa each Sunday watching NFL games and literally
call out the defensive signals when the Giants' games happened to be on TV --
predicting to his wife, Megan, what was going to happen next, what this guy
could've done or where that guy should've been.
Even when their second son, Bentley, was born three months ago, Blackburn
just adjusted his schedule if Bentley or his brother Landyn, now just 17 months,
were having a bad day or refused to sleep through the night or his wife needed
help. Sometimes it would be 10 or 11 p.m. before Blackburn could get to Avery
Park near his house, but he always still went and did his pass drops and
footwork drills in the dark. Still always by himself.
Blackburn didn't have an NFL job but he still thought like a pro athlete. His
mindset didn't change. He was all the things -- dedicated, persevering,
hard-minded and tough -- that jocks always talk about being. He controlled what
he could control. Slammed the door on personal doubts and anxieties as best he
could. Flushed disappointments as quickly as they came.
But Blackburn stresses he's a husband and father, too. And he also had enough
humility when he was still out of work by October to be open-minded when a
former youth coach of his who's now a middle school principal approached him
after he gave a little talk to the kids at his school. He asked Blackburn if
he'd be interested in taking a temporary job as an eighth-grade math teacher,
filling in as a permanent sub for a woman due to go on maternity leave.
"It wasn't anything that was said and done, but we were going through the
steps," Blackburn said.
"We kinda said, 'OK, maybe, we need a job. We need to support our kids. This
is good for now,'" Megan said. "But honestly, we didn't think it was the end. It
was hard for me to see him go to those other tryouts and then come back home
disappointed. I was the one who found it nerve-wracking. But seeing how positive
Chase was helped me stay positive, too."
Blackburn was still that guy who had a reputation among the Giants for trying
to do everything right. He kept in touch with numerous players, especially close
buddies like Dave Tollefson and Zak DeOssie, Lawrence Tynes and Justin Tuck. And it mattered that they acted
the way athletes often do, sight unseen, too. The other Giants privately rallied
around Blackburn and supported him, texting with him week after week, telling
him he wasn't forgotten, urging him: "Keep your head up, you'll be somewhere.
You should be somewhere. You still have years left in you."
"That belief meant a lot," Blackburn admitted.
Why Blackburn initially fell through the cracks with the Giants seems simple
when you look at it: The team drafted three linebackers in the offseason with
nice upsides, management already knew what he was and planned to start veterans
Clint Sintim and Jonathan Goff alongside Michael Boley this year. Then Sintim and Goff
both suffered season-ending injuries. But instead of bringing back Blackburn
right away, the Giants at first tried plugging in rookies Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams and Mark Herzlich.
The Giants even got by during their 6-2 start. But the defense was still
having numerous breakdowns for big plays and the Giants were staring at a
murderous stretch run, which began with an upset win in New England, followed by
a very, very bad 49-24 dismantling by the New Orleans
Saints that the Blackburns watched on "Monday Night Football."
A game against then-unbeaten Green Bay lay just six days ahead. Chase was in
the basement at home, playing with Landyn on the floor. Megan was sitting on the
couch, looking on, when Chase's cell phone rang beside her.
"Do you want to answer it?" she asked.
"Nah, don't worry about it, it's just the Giants," Chase joked.
But the phone kept ringing. So Chase asked Megan to toss it to him. And when
he looked at the number he said, "It IS the Giants!"
She still thought he was joking -- until she overheard the conversation.
Kevin Abrams, a Giants assistant general manager, asked Blackburn, "Are you
"Yep," Blackburn said.
"Then let's go -- there's a flight in two hours," Abrams said.
Blackburn hung up and told his wife, "I have practice tomorrow!" He scrambled
up the steps to pack a bag. He texted that middle school principal and told him
thanks, but that eighth-grade teaching job would have to wait. The Blackburns
got one of Chase's buddies to drive their car to New Jersey and Megan and the
boys flew there a couple of days later. They're living now in a rented furnished
apartment not far from MetLife Stadium. And their NFL life has begun --
Blackburn might have even slipped back into the Giants' roster as quietly as
he left if in his first game back he hadn't intercepted Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- one of the few picks Rodgers
gave up all season -- and set up a 12-yard Giants touchdown drive. And then
later, in the NFC divisional playoff, picked up a fumble and rumbled 40 yards to
the Packers' 4-yard line before Rodgers, well … um … caught him.
"Rodgers didn't catch me -- he was in front of me the whole time!" Blackburn
protested with half-shriek and a broad smile Thursday, drawing a lot of laughs
from the reporters at his locker.
"Jordy Nelson [one of Green Bay's fleet
receivers] caught me. But he wouldn't have either if Michael Boley had just
given me a block."
Everyone laughed again. Soon Blackburn was grabbing his game plan out of his
locker and apologizing for cutting the conversation short. He had to run. He was
due at a defensive meeting in two minutes. The next day, he'd have another
practice to go to. And another Super Bowl week to look forward to after
Blackburn is the longest long shot on this long shot Giants team. None of
them were supposed to be in Super Bowl XLVI opposite New England. And like most
of them, Blackburn's attitude right now is why ask why?
"All that matters is I'm here now," he explained. "I always believed."
Megan and their two boys will be at the game in Indianapolis next Sunday. She
and Chase first met in high school and they dated throughout college. They were
together when he first made the Giants as an undrafted free agent out of Akron.
They were married just a few months after the Giants won their Super Bowl
shocker against New England in '08.
So when asked if anything about Chase surprised her during all that time he
was out of the NFL, Megan's answer is what you might expect from the wife of a
man who's always tried to do everything right, and a guy who -- out of all the
messages he might've picked when he walked into a tattoo parlor at the age of 18
-- chose the one that's now on his left shoulder. It reads, "Truly Blessed."
"Was I 'surprised' by how he's handled all this? No," Megan said.
Every once in a while, even the longest long shots come home."