Grant overcomes trauma, pounds the tundra for Packers

Two weeks ago, former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber was preparing for his current duties as a television football analyst by watching highlights of the Green Bay Packers' 34-0 romp of the Minnesota Vikings.

The star of that game was a reserve running back named Ryan Grant, who rushed for 119 yards and 30-yard touchdown. Even though Grant had rushed for 104 yards in a Packers victory over Denver on Oct. 29, Barber's NBC colleagues kept asking, "Who is Ryan Grant?"

Barber sat back and laughed, because he saw this breakout show coming long ago.

After two years of languishing on the Giants' bench, Grant joined the Packers after a September trade. The former Notre Dame star slowly has emerged as a major reason why the Packers could have the inside position on homefield advantage throughout the playoffs should they defeat the host Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night. Both teams are 10-1.

Barber was Grant's mentor when he was with the Giants in 2005 and 2006. Barber gave Grant advice on how to perform on the field and how to carry himself off it. He remembers when Grant, who turns 25 in December, fell asleep at a team meeting. Barber did not wake Grant up -- the Giants don't cut rookies that kind of slack -- and he was chastised by Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

"He said to me, 'You got me once, but you will not get me again,'" Barber said of Grant. "I kept insisting that this guy needed an opportunity to play and he would show people how good he was. We just had too many running backs in New York."

Said Grant: "Tiki taught me how to be a professional. He taught me the importance of a game plan and how studying film could make it a lot easier for you. He taught me the importance of taking care of your body and he showed me a lot of little things. "

I was bleeding profusely.I severed my artery, nerve and tendon. For a while after my injury, I could not move my hand. The bleeding was so bad that stitches were not enough. I needed surgery.

--Ryan Grant on his 2006 accident

Overcoming obstacles has been a staple of Grant's career. Grant needed forearm surgery after he slipped on a wet floor and his left arm went though a glass table at a party in early 2006. Grant almost bled to death. According to his agent, Alan Herman, Grant made it to the hospital just in the nick of time. Herman says that first there was some doubt about whether Grant would live, then came the worry that he would never play football again because he would lose feeling in his hand.

"I was bleeding profusely," Grant said. "I severed my artery, nerve and tendon. For a while after my injury, I could not move my hand. The bleeding was so bad that stitches were not enough. I needed surgery."

Grant prefers not to say more about the injury because of a lawsuit. According to Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, Grant's former roommate, Notre Dame teammate and close friend, the injury caused Grant to slow down and live a more secluded life.

Grant stayed with Tuck during his rehab. He missed the entire 2006 season and was forced to cut back on his social life partly because he lost a year's pay (the accident was a non-football-related injury). He rarely went out and belonged to what Herman referred to as a low-end gym.

To regain feeling in his hand, Grant spent most of his day squeezing therapeutic putty and hand therapy balls. He had to learn how to hold a fork and spoon again, all the while wondering if he would be able to hold a football again.

"We had few friends visit, but we just stayed in the house for most of the day," said Tuck, who still has some of Grant's putty lying around his house. "It was tough for him, but I told Ryan if he needed anything he could lean on me."

It took six or seven months before Grant felt like himself again. Herman and the Giants were stunned by his progress when he worked out with the team this past spring. Grant was in the best shape of his life.

But even without the now-retired Barber, the Giants realized they had too many running backs. On Labor Day weekend, they traded Grant to the Packers for an undisclosed draft choice.

Grant met the trade with mixed emotions. The former New Jersey high school star was thankful that the Giants did not cut him after his injury, but he was excited about the chance to earn more playing time.

Even as the Packers struggled to find a consistent running back to complement their passing game,
Grant had only six carries for 27 yards in the first six games.

But injuries helped Grant move up the depth chart. He has been the leading rusher in the Packers' last five games. Grant has rushed for more than 100 yards three times and had 88 yards against the Carolina Panthers. His breakout game came in his first start on "Monday Night Football" against the Broncos. He rushed for 104 yards and the Packers won 19-13 in overtime. Even with his recent success, Grant has retained his modesty.

"That is the most amazing thing about Ryan," Herman said. "The telephones are ringing off the hooks for interview requests and Ryan has remained level-headed about the whole thing. He takes it one game at a time."

Grant's next big game comes opposite a former teammate and rival, Julius Jones.

As a sophomore at Notre Dame, Grant rushed for more than 1,000 yards. He then lost his starting job to Jones, who will be on the opposite sideline in Texas Stadium Thursday, and rushed for little more than 500 yards his junior and senior years.

An undrafted free agent, Grant signed with the Giants. He spent the 2005 season on their practice squad and the 2006 season on injured reserve.

Getting Grant to talk about his past difficulties might be exercise in futility.

He will describe his life story in one sentence and likes to say that everything happens for a reason. Barber jokes that Grant, an easygoing person, is not the type of guy who will give you a lot of color.

While the 6-foot, 1-inch, 218-pound Grant might shy away from the limelight, he's great at finding daylight.

"What makes Ryan so good is that he is able to get beyond the first cut and stretch the play so he can make a second cut. This allows him to get extra yards," Packers fullback Korey Hall said.

Hall has been impressed with Grant's intelligence. The newcomer learned the Packers' playbook in a matter of weeks.

"When he first came from Notre Dame he was kind of unheralded," Barber said. "Immediately you could tell he was a hard worker. He got it mentally. The hardest part about this game is can you comprehend all the stuff they throw at you. Ryan is the type of kid who if you say go run through a wall, he will do it."

William Bendetson covers pro football for ESPN.com.