Ex-Giant Grant makes Packers' running game go

Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant

Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant was on the Giants' roster until just before opening day this year. (MCT Photo / January 12, 2008)

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At the time, the transaction barely made a ripple in the news cycle: Last Sept. 1, a few hours before the opening day roster was completed, the Giants traded running back Ryan Grant to the Packers for a sixth-round pick in the 2008 draft.

No big deal, right? After all, the guy hadn't played football in three years.

As it turns out, the trade might mean the difference between the Giants going to the Super Bowl or seeing their unlikely playoff run end in Green Bay in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.

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OK, it's a little more complicated than that, and when the deal was made, no one could have envisioned that we'd be talking about its significance in the NFC title game. But here we are, one step from the Super Bowl, and Grant's dizzying run to star status has turned into one of the game's most compelling story lines.

And a second-guesser's dream.

We set the scene: The Packers were looking for depth at running back, having bid adieu to Ahman Green in the offseason and cast their lot with rookies DeShawn Wynn and Brandon Jackson. Packers general manager Ted Thompson knew the Giants had a surplus at tailback, and he remembered scouting Grant at Notre Dame, where he last played in 2004.

"We liked him a lot in college," Thompson said. "And he was having a good preseason. We knew the Giants were strong at the position, so we had several conversations."

The Packers initially offered a seventh-round pick, but Giants GM Jerry Reese believed Grant could be worth more. Reese had assured Grant he would make the Giants' final roster, based on his work in the preseason and his recovery from an arm injury he suffered the year before.

Grant nearly bled to death after being cut by broken glass during an incident in a New York nightclub in March 2006. He had emergency surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery, and doctors feared he might not regain full use of his right arm.

"He had a really good preseason, and even though we had a lot of backs and it would create some roster problems at other positions, we were going to keep him," Reese said.

The Giants already had Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, who was having a breakout season before he fractured a fibula against the Bears on Dec. 2. Reuben Droughns, who has two 1,000-yard seasons on his resume, was acquired in a trade with the Browns. And the Giants had drafted Ahmad Bradshaw in the seventh round.

Once Thompson sweetened the offer to a sixth-round pick, Reese made the deal. "We felt the value of a sixth-round pick for a free agent was worth it," Reese said.

Little did Reese know - or Thompson, or even Grant, for that matter - what would happen next. When injuries further depleted the Packers' running game, Grant became the starter and revived it. Grant, who had 956 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 regular-season games, 10 of them starts, ran for 201 yards, a Packers playoff record, and three TDs in a 42-20 win over the Seahawks on Saturday in snowy Green Bay. This after his two early fumbles helped put Seattle ahead 14-0.

Any regrets from the Giants' GM?

"No, not at all," Reese said. "The deal made sense at the time. We had four good runners in Brandon, Derrick, Reuben and Ahmad. It was the right thing for us to do."

As it turned out, the Giants have gotten significant contributions from all four. Only Droughns, used mostly as a short-yardage back, has been somewhat of a disappointment.

Even so, Reese won't second-guess himself. Nor should he. Nor should anyone else. The Giants' running back situation turned out just fine - even better than expected - with the four he kept. If the Giants had fallen apart in the post-Tiki Barber era, that would be one thing, but their running game has been just as good, if not better, with the guys they have.

And really, who could have imagined Grant turning out to be this good? He grew up in Nanuet, N.Y., about a half-hour north of Giants Stadium, and starred for Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J. He was an undrafted free agent in 2005 and spent that season on the Giants' practice squad. As a result of his arm injury, he spent the 2006 season on the non-football injury list.

Reese said he was delighted, not distraught, to see Grant's performance Saturday. "I was really happy for him," Reese said. "Now I just hope we can tackle him."

Controlling Grant will be one of the keys for the Giants. If they can limit his effectiveness, their chances of containing future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre will be that much better. "It's going to be huge for us to stop Ryan," Reese said.

It could mean all the difference. Four months after he left New York for Green Bay, the Giants' Super Bowl hopes might rest in Grant's hands.

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