As most of you who read me regularly know, I am not a New York Giants fan. I have nothing against the Giants, mind you. I bear them no ill will, and I don't root against them, but I don't root for them, either. I report on them impartially for those of you who are Giants fans, and for anyone else who may wander by from time to time looking for information on the Giants.
However, I have said many times that if I were a Giants fan, David Diehl would be one of my favorite players.
Diehl announced his retirement Friday after an 11-year Giants career that included two Super Bowl titles. He was the only player still on the roster who predated Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning's arrival in 2004. And while his late-career decline led to criticism from analysts (this one included, as he has pointed out to me) and some unjustified scorn from fans, I think the totality of Diehl's career makes him an all-time Giant and is worthy of a few positive thoughts this weekend.
Diehl was a fifth-round draft pick out of Illinois in 2003 who started every game the Giants played for the first seven years of his career. He played right guard, right tackle and left guard for the first four years before settling in as the regular left tackle on that famous Giants line that included him, Rich Seubert, Shaun O'Hara, Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie and started 38 straight games together from 2007-09.
For his career, Diehl started 75 games at left tackle, 43 at left guard, 26 at right tackle and 27 at right guard. His versatility was one of the things the Giants always loved about him, but more important than that was the manner in which he embraced every request he ever received to change positions to fit the team's needs. He always did it with a smile on his face, an upbeat assertion that he could handle it and was proud of his versatility, and a sincere claim that all he cared about was what was best for the Giants.
That's a cliché you hear from players a lot, but Diehl actually lived it. He was Mr. Giant, to the point where it sounded corny until you realized he had the facts to back it up. He slid inside to left guard at the start of the 2011 season when the team decided Will Beatty was ready to be the starting left tackle, and he worked to make Beatty better. When Beatty got hurt in the middle of that season, Diehl slid right back out to left tackle and played it up to and through the second Super Bowl title of his career.
This past year, with Diehl slated to be the starting right tackle, the Giants drafted Justin Pugh in the first round. While the old adage is that you never want your team to draft someone who plays your position, Diehl took Pugh under his wing from the first day. The two of them could be seen daily, throughout training camp, walking off the field together at the end of practices, Diehl talking and Pugh listening. Diehl was training the man who would take his job, and he knew it, and he didn't care. He believed that if Pugh were truly better than he was and won the job, that would make the team better. Diehl got hurt in the preseason and lost the job to Pugh only to return and play right guard after an early-season injury to Snee.
There was a time when Diehl was great, and a time late in his career when he was a hard worker who'd lost a step. But if you're a fan of a sports team, one of the things that bothers you the most is when you feel like the players on the team don't seem to care about it as much as you do. With Diehl, you got the complete opposite of that, all the time.
For 11 years, Diehl has lived for the Giants and poured every ounce of energy, every public comment, every minute of practice and classroom time into an effort to make the Giants better. It's impossible not to respect and appreciate what Diehl has delivered in terms of effort, passion and sincerity. The two Super Bowl titles he helped deliver are the icing on the cake, but this is a guy who showed up for work and gave you every single ounce of everything he had for 11 years. If you're a Giants fan, David Diehl has been everything you could ever have wanted in a player and more.
I wish him well on his retirement, and I imagine most of you who are reading this do too. If you're a Giants fan, Diehl is someone to hold dear in your memory for a long time.