Ahmad Bradshaw inspires Big Blue

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Ask Ahmad Bradshaw how he's feeling and he will always say that his feet feel fine and he is ready to go.

But Victor Cruz gets an idea of how Bradshaw must be truly feeling when he sees the running back walk into the Giants' practice facility each morning.

It's then when Cruz realizes just how painful it must be to be a running back with a cracked bone in his right foot.

"He never lets you know, man," Cruz said of how much pain Bradshaw endures. "He's always the same Ahmad, running around and playing around in the locker room. You never really know how much pain he's really in unless you see him in the training room or early in the morning when he comes stumbling in."

Cruz says when Bradshaw arrives in the morning, he heads straight for the training room.

"You could just tell he's in some pain," Cruz said. "All the [trainers] come in and start working on him immediately. So he's definitely in pain."

If Eli Manning is the team's toughest player, as evidenced most recently by his gutsy performance in San Francisco, Bradshaw may have the biggest heart.

And it will be hard to find a Giant who disputes that.

"One of the DBs from San Francisco said Ahmad is a power back in a scatback's body," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "Ahmad isn't the biggest of running backs but he runs with a lot of heart and a lot of determination, and I always told him he has one of the biggest hearts on the football team considering what he has went through with the injuries to his feet."

"He is not healthy right now but he still continues to go out there and work his butt off every Sunday," Tuck continued. "For players on this team that know what he went through this year with his body, it is very inspirational to watch."

Bradshaw said he feels "great" and that he is ready to go against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI next Sunday. He practiced Friday to work on the team's third-down packages and pass protection against New England's blitzes.

"I feel great," he said. "No problems, no setbacks. I am ready to go."

He did not play against the Patriots when the Giants won in New England in November. He cracked a bone in his foot the week before against Miami and missed four straight games.

But Bradshaw has played in the eight games since, and his fight-for-every-yard approach inspires his teammates almost every time he carries the ball.

He ran for 659 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season, and has pounded out 200 yards on 46 carries in the playoffs.

During the 20-17 win in San Francisco, Bradshaw gained 74 tough yards against the Niners' top-ranked run defense. He gained 28 yards in overtime, 18 of which came on the final drive to get the Giants from the 49ers' 24 to the Niners' 6 and move Lawrence Tynes into closer field goal range for the game winner.

As the Giants celebrated in the locker room afterward, Bradshaw sat and watched with a big smile on his face. All the pain he has endured was worth this moment.

The 5-9, 214-pound running back has seemingly had more surgeries than the Six Million Dollar Man.

Due to his violent bow-legged running style, Bradshaw puts a lot of pressure on the outside of his feet. He already had ankle problems while in college at Marshall. And he developed a crack in the fifth metatarsal bone of each foot in 2009 but played through the pain before having screws inserted in each foot and surgery to repair bone spurs in his right ankle.

When Bradshaw suffered his foot injury in October, he initially said the head of a screw in his right fifth metatarsal from surgery two years ago was aggravating his foot.

The 25-year-old running back insists he does not need offseason surgery on his foot, saying all he needs is "just rest."

"No surgeries," he says. "I am tired of surgeries, man."

But Bradshaw is unable to remember the last time he ran completely pain-free.

The running back, who re-signed with the team for a four-year deal worth $18 million with $9 million guaranteed, admits that he probably won't ever be able to run as a pro without some sort of pain.

"I pray for it every day," he said. "Being a running back in this league, I don't think I will ever be that healthy again. That is the nature of the game."

What could ease the pain would be another Super Bowl ring. As a rookie in Super Bowl XLII, he rushed for 45 yards on nine carries.

He's hoping for more yards this time around.

"When I was a rookie, I was just out there trying to use my talents and be ready to play," he said. "Now I know what I can do and I feel comfortable."

Well, he may never truly be comfortable and pain-free, but Bradshaw won't stop churning his legs and surgically repaired feet in an attempt to inflict some pain on opposing tacklers.

And the Giants never stop appreciating the heart of one of their smallest but toughest players.

"Even if it's not yardage that we want, he's still forcing people to pay a price just to tackle him," head coach Tom Coughlin said. "He's a physical force. He has a toughness about him that everyone on our team recognizes."