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Patience pays off for Prince Amukamara and the Giants

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Prince Amukamara's teammates tried to bullying him with the usual excuse of toughening him up. It didn't work. Instead, his handling of it made the locker room a more stable place and the Giants a better team.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The New York Giants spar with the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night in the kind of division-spiced, backyard-brawl that has long made this rivalry delicious and the NFL tasty. The Giants have been making this scoot to Philadelphia since 1933, so they know the way and they embrace the combat.

The Giants are 3-2 and the Eagles are 4-1, atop the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys. Washington is 1-4 and grasping for division merit.

"The way I see it,'' said Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, "every game in our division is always an event. And every year the biggest rivalry game within the division is against the team that leads the division or is closest to us when we lead it. They have the wins. They are the target. That's how the biggest rival thing in the division goes.''

An NFL team has to get its house - and particularly its locker room - in order before it can be successful in such prime-time, high-flung summits.

This is the kind of game where the Giants are looking for nastiness from within to color their play. The kind of game where they want to fully let the dogs out.

They had been looking for the "dog'' in cornerback Prince Amukamara since he was drafted in 2011. In his first three seasons, several of his teammates had been riding him and, yes, bullying him, in hopes of creating a beast.

When he experienced his version of the Ice Bucket Challenge in late August 2012 well before the actual national phenomena took hold, when he was dumped into a tub of ice water by teammate Jason Pierre-Paul with other teammates whooping it up and one - punter Steve Weatherford - taping it and posting it on Twitter, it unleashed a national discussion on what goes on in NFL locker rooms, how culpable are teams for it and when lines are crossed into bullying.

Initially, the Giants seemed most upset that Weatherford taped and posted it.

Initially, the league said it was "a club internal matter.''

But much of what followed in NFL scourges -- among the sampling the Miami Dolphins Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito bullying case, the New England Patriots Aaron Hernandez murder charges, the Ray Rice domestic abuse charges and string of more around the league and the Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson child abuse charges -- has forced everyone in the NFL to more intently focus on player conduct. Conduct in the locker room. Conduct beyond it.

The Giants are fortunate their Amukamara situation did not escalate publicly beyond bad judgement, poor taste and stupid locker room tricks.

They say they travel to Philadelphia a united bunch. They can thank Amukamara for taking the high road and for helping to lift this entire locker room and franchise to a more stable place.

And thank Amukamara - in the midst of his finest NFL season - for finding his own `dog'.

Photo via Chris Trotman - Getty Images

Amukamara came to the Giants from Nebraska as a first-round pick, the No. 19 overall selection. He arrived a man of faith, a man of celibacy, a man who had never had an alcoholic drink.

Some of his teammates started calling him "The Black Tim Tebow.''

Many of them with more rowdy lifestyles found it difficult to identify with him. Others viewed him as soft.

They rode him hard, especially former Giants cornerback Corey Webster.

"It started as soon as I got here,'' Akmukamara said. "Corey and Antrel (Rolle, the Giants current strong safety) were really hard on me. I knew they were trying to make me a pro. But I would walk on eggshells around them.

"I looked at Corey as an older brother. But at times he crossed the line. Once I forgot to bring Popeyes (chicken). And after that I found my shirt cut up in my locker. Sometimes it got real personal. When you start talking about people's appearance ... Sometimes it got really bad. But I learned to give it back. I tried to fit in with what was happening.''

The signature incident in Amukamara's continued  "dog building'' by his teammates occurred in training camp in Albany in late August 2012 as he was preparing for his second NFL season.

"We had just won the Super Bowl and winning it as a rookie was special,'' Amukamara said. "I went to get on the elevator at camp. The guys on it wouldn't let me in. I had a water bottle in my hand. I motioned like I was going to throw it at them. I didn't. The door closed. I took the steps. When I got to my locker, they blocked me from getting to it. Then they came after me. It wasn't just Jason. It was eight to 10 veterans involved. They told me, "Prince, don't fight it.'' And that was when I was carried and thrown into the tub of ice water.''

Once Giants ownership, management and coaches began to finally understand what was really happening with Amukamara, how deep and flawed their no-look locker room stance was allowing a festering problem, they acted with their own punch.

"Yeah, it got serious fast,'' Kiwanuka said. ``We got some stern messages delivered to us about potential injury, hazing, taping, team chemistry and a lot more after that happened to Prince. We got it all from the top down laid down to us.

"There is a fine line in the locker room between being thick-skinned and it being too much. Growing up as a kid, you kicked the helmet from underneath a player who was leaning on his on the field until you learned he could fall on his elbow or arm and break it. You learned from that. You might be running next to a teammate and as a kid yank him back by pulling his jersey and run ahead of him. But then you learned he might pull a hamstring from something you didn't mean. We did try to toughen him (Amukamara) up. He would be challenged and he would always have something to say. We wanted to see what was behind his words. Everybody was forced to think about the methods of what we were trying to accomplish in a new light. If you keep doing something, and it's not what you mean, but people have a problem with it, it's a problem. You can have the best intentions in the world, but when you are wrong, you are wrong.''

If Amukamara had ever stormed away from the facility like Martin rightfully did, if he had hired a lawyer and discussed bullying in pure terms like Martin rightfully did, if he had not continued to find a way to fit in while assisting the Giants in their attempt to finally gain control and set new locker room polices and demands, we would have a completely different Giants narrative then and now.

It took some "dog'' for him to endure. Take the high road for his team and his franchise. Work within. Be patient.

Accomplish a bigger goal through strife and win over brainless bullying.

"It's night and day from when I got here,'' he said.

And so is his play.

Photo via Joe Robbins - Getty Images

Amukamara leads the Giants in solo tackles (19) and is tied for the lead in total tackles with linebacker Jacquian Williams (25). He leads in passes defended (seven). He has two interceptions. He has helped lead a defense that ranks first in the NFC in limiting opponent's third-down conversions (32.8 percent allowed).

He is getting in and staying in receivers' faces. He is following through in his coverage until the play is complete. He is getting his hands on the ball. He is playing with an onerous streak in his run support.

Rolle recently said that Amukamara's marriage and new sex life have created his new "swagger.'' Amukamara this week took a photo with teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie along with an Eagles fan with both players signaling a zero indicating the number of Super Bowls the Eagles have won.

He is finding the spotlight and it is finding him.

"I don't know, I mean, it's the fourth year for me now as a player and I think things just begin to happen more when you start to play to your potential,'' he said. "I certainly didn't mean anything by taking that photo with the fan, it was just an innocent thing where we were having fun at a signing. Coach Coughlin talked to me about it. He told me to be smarter.''

Coughlin's mantra is always to be humble enough to prepare and confident enough to perform. To always speak on the field by letting your play do the talking.

Amukamara is age 25.

He is a Nigerian and is from royal descent.

Patience has marked his life.

"My wife, Pilar, is from Sacramento,'' he said. "After we beat the Packers in the playoffs in my rookie season, we came back, I wasn't going to go out, but I decided why not celebrate? I went with some teammates. I saw her at this New York club. I asked her, `Are you waiting for someone?' She said, `Yes.' I didn't have a line after that. I walked off. It was Corey and (former Giant) Aaron Ross who went to her and told her, `Go talk to him!' She comes up. We talked. She said she was in town visiting. I told her I was from Arizona. I told her I was unemployed. I got her email address and sent her two messages before she got back with me. We spent the next two days hanging out and then we had our playoff game coming up in San Francisco. I knew I had to come clean if I was going to get the chance to see her out there.

"I told her I had lied. I apologized. I told her I played for the Giants. And she asked me, `The San Francisco Giants?' She didn't know much about football and was thinking about the teams in California where she was from. We talked for six months. Then I asked her to be my girlfriend in June. By July 2013 we were engaged. On Oct. 29 last year we were married. It has been very special. She is amazing.''

Patience.

And Amukamara remembers that it was a couple of Giants teammates who helped lead him to one of the greatest gifts of his life.

"Prince is very patient in the way he plays,'' Giants receiver Rueben Randle said of Amukamara, who is 6-feet, 207 pounds. "When I practice against him, he is physical. He knows how to use his size. He may not be as big as some cornerbacks, but he is stronger than most of them.''

Amukamura is happier. He is more settled within the Giants workplace.

In his own way, he is more "dog.''

"I think to become a better player in the NFL I needed more killer instinct,'' Amukamara said. "The guys call it being `That Dog'. I see it as coming with being comfortable, being confident, having experience, with not just letting a receiver catch the ball but being ready always to go get the ball. I hope the nation gets a chance to see some of that on Sunday night in Philadelphia. It's a great opportunity for all of us.

"I think what has happened is that you come into the NFL and there are all of these great players,'' he said. "There are great receivers like Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson. You just can't think of them as greater than you are . You have to elevate against those guys. And then, when you play against other guys nowhere near as good as them, you really get after it. You really impose on them like those great receivers try to impose on everyone. Where you place your confidence in this game goes a long way.''