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Justin Tuck is an all-time great New York Giant and more

When you cover pro sports for 20-plus years, it's rare to find players with whom you feel any kind of real connection. These guys make $1 million, $5 million, $20 million a year and have been unassailable stars since they were in high school. They operate in a different world than the one in which you and I live, even if I get to visit a small part of that world every day and ask them how it's going.

But Justin Tuck, the former New York Giants defensive end who announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday, always seemed like a different sort of guy.

Tuck was unquestionably a great player. You don't need me to remind you that he sacked Tom Brady four times in two Super Bowls, or that he's sixth in Giants history in sacks, or that Michael Strahan looks at him as an equal or that Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Khalil Mack (among others) look at him as a mentor. Tuck is a two-time Super Bowl champion and a surefire Giants Ring of Honor member -- one of the most significant figures in the history of a franchise studded with them.

To me, though, Tuck the human being was always more interesting. He always seemed self-aware, which is a rare enough trait for high-profile pro athletes. But more than that, Tuck was -- and still is -- a player who's aware of the world around him, his place in it and the effect he has on it. He knew why the Giants put Pierre-Paul's locker next to his, and he took that responsibility seriously. He understood the jobs of those of us who walked around the locker room with notebooks and microphones, why we were there, what we needed and how we planned to use the insight and information with which he has always been so generous.

Bigger than all of that is the fact that Tuck and his wife have devoted such a significant chunk of their time to helping kids learn how to read. Go look up Tuck's R.U.S.H for Literacy and understand that this isn't just some charity at which Tuck has thrown his money or his name -- he spends his real time and energy on it to a stunning extent. If nothing else, Monday's announcement means even more hands-on time and effort from Tuck himself in helping children read. That's worth all of your admiration no matter how many sacks he had.

Tuck the player is worth celebrating. Tuck the person is even more fascinating. He could end up being a coach, a talk-show host like his man Strahan or a TV colleague of mine at ESPN and be great at any and all of it. I'm eager to see what he has planned next, after a well-deserved rest.

Meantime, if you're a Giants fan, Tuck is a representative of your team's latest glory days -- and a player and a person of whom you can be proud to be a fan. Congratulations to him on his career and his retirement. He has been the best of what you want in the players you root for.