INDIANAPOLIS — I’m walking behind Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka, making the pilgrimage from the Giants’ team hotel to the “NFL Total Access” set at the Indiana Convention Center.
The two players are joined by a handler and flanked by Indiana state troopers on each side. Tuck and Kiwanuka are hard to miss, and not many people do. Fans of all ages call out their names. Some follow along out of curiosity. One man asks me who they are and mouths, “Wow!” when I end his suspense.
It’s not exactly trailing John and Paul at the height of Beatlemania, but the energy is palpable. Thousands of fans populate NFL Experience at the convention center, and Tuck and Kiwanuka — men who could play a huge role in Sunday’s game — are high in demand.
After the pair do a six-minute segment with Rich Eisen, Tuck is whisked away and into a waiting car. Kiwanuka heads off to another engagement, troopers in tow, and I get the chance to ask the Indianapolis native what it’s like to be the main attraction in his hometown this week.
“I think all this stuff, leading up to the moment we get back on the field to practice, it’s all new,” said Kiwanuka, who won a ring with the Giants in 2007, but missed the Super Bowl after breaking his leg that November. “I’ve never experienced any of it before. So I’m just taking it in and enjoying it, but to tell you the truth, I’m looking forward to getting back on that field just to practice, get back to playing the familiar part, which is just playing football.”
Kiwanuka, who’s now in his sixth season, said playing football all his life has helped him understand the game’s popularity.
“I think as you go throughout your career, high school, and college, and being in the league, you start to get a sense of how exactly appreciated we are as football players, not just athletes here in the States,” he said. “This is America’s game, and we have the opportunity to play it at the highest level.”
– Dan Hanzus