UI alum, Giant guard to start Super Bowl

By Jason Grodsky

Sunday’s Super Bowl will be the fourth in franchise history for the New York Giants, but it will be the first for former Illinois offensive lineman Dave Diehl.

Diehl and the Giants braved the bitter cold two weeks ago in Green Bay to earn the team’s first Super Bowl appearance since 2001, and the wait for a trip to Glendale, Ariz., was well worth it.

“I’ve never played in any kind of weather like that in my life, but it was worth the reward,” Diehl said in a teleconference last week.

The Giants’ left tackle lettered at Illinois from 1999-2002 and played a key role in helping the Illini capture the Big Ten Title in 2001 and a berth in the 2002 Sugar Bowl.

Diehl was a second team All-Big Ten Conference selection as a senior in 2002 and the winner of the Wright Commitment to Excellence Award, presented to the Illinois player who has dedicated himself to academic excellence despite obstacles faced during his collegiate career.

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He started every game at left offensive guard that season, registering 91 knockdowns for an offense that featured its first 1,000-yard rusher (Antoineo Harris) and 1,000-yard receiver (Brandon Lloyd) in the same season since 1984.

“Going to the University of Illinois was an unbelievable experience,” Diehl said. “If I were to go back in time I wouldn’t change anything about it. The friendships I’ve made I’ll have for the rest of my life.”

The Chicago native was selected by the Giants in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft with the 160th overall pick. Since then, he’s been in a Giants uniform and has started in all 80 games of his career on the offensive line, making him the first Giants rookie since 1985 to start in every game he’s played.

Diehl said playing under then-head coach Ron Turner was one of the best things that could have prepared him for the NFL and the offenses he would be learning.

“Playing in Coach Turner’s NFL system was really helpful because it was the basic offense that we run in the NFL,” Diehl said. “Everything was the same, but some of the terminology was just a little different that I had to pick up on.”

Diehl has played four of the five offensive line positions, with the exception being center, since he’s put on a Giants jersey. This was his first year playing left tackle and he feels more comfortable and confident playing there everyday.

“Since college I’ve always been a player that’s versatile and can play a number of positions,” he said. “I feel comfortable and have grown more confident at left tackle. I’m always working harder to make myself a better player and now I feel I’ve found my position.”

Diehl will play a big role in keeping the pressure off quarterback Eli Manning against a New England defense that finished the season fourth in the NFL in yards allowed.

The Patriots beat the Giants 38-35 in the final week of the regular season and are hoping to end the postseason in the same fashion, but Diehl is confident that his team will be prepared to handle what the Patriots throw at them.

“We played them four weeks ago, and we’re still familiar with them and with that game,” Diehl said. “It gives us confidence. If we didn’t play them at all we wouldn’t know what to expect, but we understand it’s going to take all sides of our team to play well and win.”