WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 4, 2008) - When the New York Giants upset the New England Patriots' perfect season in the last two minutes of Sunday's Super Bowl, they did it with one of the Army's own as an honorary teammate.
Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, a field-artillery officer with two prosthetic legs, was on the sidelines Sunday after giving a pep talk to the Giants Saturday night.
When Gadson, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, was hit with an improvised-explosive device in Baghdad last May, he almost died from blood loss. Doctors amputated one leg due to infection and he decided to give up the other to improve his quality of life; but believing he could still serve Soldiers, he decided to stay in the Army.
One of Gadson's old football teammates from West Point was Giants wide-receiver coach Mike Sullivan. He visited Gadson at Walter Reed bearing a Giants helmet and jersey with Gadson's old number, which had been signed by Giants' players. When he asked if he could do anything, Gadson had one simple request: he just wanted to go to a game when the Giants came to D.C.
They came to town after a two-game losing streak, and Sullivan wondered if Gadson would mind saying a few words to the team the night before their game against the Washington Redskins. He did and the Giants won after being down 14 points at half time.
"Inspiration is something that's internal and it's impossible for me to measure how I inspire someone or if they feel like I inspire them," Gadson said, reluctant to take credit for inspiring this or any of their wins, although the Giants and media have credited him with providing extra motivation for the team.
At the same time, he acknowledged that something he said must have made a difference: Sullivan would tell him how the Giants players continually asked about him and were eager for him to come to other games.
When they arrived for their first play-off game against Tampa, Gadson was waiting for them in the hotel lobby - standing on prosthetic legs.
"If you could have seen the look on their faces, I knew there was a special bond because I could see it in their face when they saw me standing there. They all either came up and shook my hand or gave me hugs. It was very personal and I really felt very special," he said.
"To see him taking a couple of steps was amazing," cornerback Corey Webster told ESPN.com. "We were so happy for him."
Gadson had to miss the Giants' next play-off game against Dallas because he needed more surgery on his right leg and right arm, which was also injured during the blast. He credits the Giants with helping him get through eight rough days in the hospital.
"I was really struggling," he remembered. "It was hard going back in the hospital because of the memories it brought back and it was pretty painful. And I have to admit, I drew some strength from being around the Giants. I thought about them and some of the things I talked to them about and fighting, and that kind of helped me get through the difficulties I was having in the hospital."
The Giants named Gadson an honorary captain for their final championship against Green Bay, and both Gadson and his 13-year-old son Jaelen were back on the sidelines.
"Everyone was concerned with me being in the weather and they had box seats for me, but I decided that the right place for me to be was on the sideline by my teammates," he said.
When the game went into overtime and Webster intercepted a pass from Brett Favre, he gave the ball to Gadson.
"He's a big motivating factor for me, personally, and the team," Webster told ESPN.
When the Giants invited Gadson and his family to the Super Bowl, they were inviting one of their own. He and his son were at the team practice and meetings, and he spoke to them again Saturday night.
Gadson has declined to say what he talked about that night, saying it's just too personal, but he said he was so proud of them for winning and that he has received far more from the Giants than he has given.
"Last year about this time, I was on my way to Iraq, leading my battalion into Iraq and a year later, I've lost my legs and I'm beginning to put my life back together," he said. "And to be a part of this is absolutely mind-boggling in some respects. The Giants helped me too. They've been inspirational to me. I got a chance to be a part of a team. Being a part of a team is so important to me.
"That's why I enjoyed battalion command so much. It was an honor and privilege to be a battalion commander. I got taken out very suddenly and very quickly and I kind of didn't have a team.
"My focus has been on rehabbing myself, but I'm not a team by myself. The Giants let me be part of their team. I saw them (Monday) morning, they were going 'What's up Champ'' They were calling me a champion. It's hard to tell you how that makes me feel, but I got to be part of a team again. My first team was my battalion back in Iraq and I probably won't rest easy until they get back (in April), but this was a great opportunity and a great blessing."