Former New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck knows a thing or two about good NFL defenses, and thinks his old team is on the right path toward getting back to its winning ways.
Tuck, present at the Grand Hyatt New York hotel along with Yankees relief pitcher David Robertson, ex-Yankees Jorge Posada and Carlos Beltran, and Mets infielder T.J. Rivera, was part of a group honored at the annual honored at this year’s annual Thurman Munson Award gala, a recognition that honors the off-field charitable contributions of New York’s sports heroes.
Previous Giants who have earned the Munson Award include receiver Victor Cruz, safety Antrel Rolle, and punter Steve Weatherford.
Tuck has kept abreast of the changes being made to his old team, praising the hirings of head coach Pat Shurmur, general manager Dave Gettleman, and defensive coordinator James Bettcher.
A master of New York defense, picking up 60.5 sacks over nine seasons in blue, Tuck predicted that further changes may be on the way as the Giants adjust to Bettcher’s 3-4 scheme.
“I don’t think (the Giants) have a 3-4 unit yet,” Tuck said. “I wouldn’t say that Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul are 3-4 type of ends. But one thing I know about this coach (Bettcher) is that he’s innovative, and he’ll put something together that benefits the people he has on that team. So I’m excited to see what’s going on. I think change is good, sometimes. Hopefully, the team responds well and we get off the slide of being a 3-13 team. That’s not what I want to see from my Giants.”
Tuck was also happy to see the Giants stick with Eli Manning at quarterback for this year. A firsthand witness to Eli Manning’s Super Bowl mastery, Tuck was one of the most vocal critics of Manning’s December benching which ended his streak of 210 consecutive starts.
Like Gettleman and Shurmur, Tuck endorsed Manning as the Giants’ starter regardless of what the team does with the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft. The Giants former defensive captain also praised Manning’s selflessness after the demotion, pointing out how quick Manning was in working with Geno Smith and Davis Webb to help get them ready for that game against the Raiders.
“I don’t see anyone better than him,” said Tuck, who said Manning should “absolutely” be the Giants’ starter in 2018. “You’re going to get a guy who’s always going to be there at the start of the day, at the end of the day. He’s going to be the first guy in and the last guy out. He’s going to do everything in his power to create an atmosphere for his team to grow.”
Since 2008, Tuck has helped the youth of the New York/New Jersey area, the Bay Area (where Tuck spent the last two years of his career with the Oakland Raiders), and his home of Alabama through Tuck’s R.U.S.H. for Literacy, which he founded with his wife, Lauran.
From simple roots as a book distribution program, the foundation has evolved to create educational opportunities for low-income youth. Working on a mantra of reading, understandings, succeeding, and hoping, the foundation works directly with six schools in New York and New Jersey, and offers tickets to Giants home games as incentive for reading.
“When I think about my legacy, I think I always want it to be about the giving part,” Tuck said. “Not necessarily what I did on the football field, but how I used the platform, being a starter in the NFL, to create that sense of giving back in our community.”
Per Tuck, the organization has raised $3 million, including $750,000 in grants, and serves 100,000 children in the tri-state area.
A Yankee fan growing up, Tuck admitted he was a little starstruck in earning an award bearing a Yankee legend’s name. Munson was a seven-time MLB All-Star who played 11 seasons with the Yankees before a plane crash took his life in 1979. His number 15 has since been retired by the organization and his widow, Diana has kept his memory alive through the foundation;’s honoring of hometown heroes who selflessly give back to the community.
“Being a huge Yankee fan, and a huge Thurman Munson fan, I’m super proud to be among a group of men that are getting this award tonight. That’s a true accomplishment,” Tuck said. “I’m trying not to be a fan, but I’m a huge Yankee fan and I’ve had some great years watching all those Yankees set the tone for how one should conduct himself on and off the field of play.”