The names float above his head like a halo. Carson. Simms. Huff. Strahan. The great Giants leaders of the past are enshrined around the rim of the oval-shaped locker room in which Justin Tuck sits each day. They are reminders of the franchise's rich history, a legacy that has trickled down for more than three-quarters of a century and now pools around the defensive end.
As he faces the names of those men, some of whom he has played with and most of whom he has met and spoken with, what does he draw from them? Whose leadership style does he try to emulate?
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"I don't know if I modeled it after anybody," Tuck said. "I realize and I know the qualities of some great leaders, but you also have to be unique and make it yourself. That's what I try to do. I'm just one of those guys who comes to work every day, does his job, and that's about it. It ain't rocket science to be a leader, it really isn't."
It's more an art than a science, anyway. It's subjective. Not everyone responds to the same kind of leadership. Fiery, in-your-face yelling may be the way to bring out the best in one player, and a gentle pat on the back could work on another.
Now in his second year as captain of the Giants' defense, Tuck has evolved over the years from a third-round pick who learned his craft at the knee of Michael Strahan to become the undisputed leader of the defense. He's become an unofficial spokesman for the squad, so much so that his media interviews during training camp contained a running joke: They were never about him.
Tuck would be bombarded with questions about Osi Umenyiora's contract, Jason Pierre-Paul's development, Terrell Thomas' knee. Once, after he missed a practice with a sore Achilles, he was asked how he was feeling.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "That's not what you want to know."
Inside the locker room, it's the same way. Tuck is the go-to guy. He may have a different approach than Strahan took, but he's no less in charge.
"Michael was a 15-year player, All-Pro, Hall of Fame player," defensive end Dave Tollefson said. "But what is Tuck? He's an All-Pro, Pro Bowl guy. I look to him as I looked to Strahan when he was here."
What the players respect the most about Tuck is his willingness to lead on the field. Is there another veteran defensive end who would have raced down the field to stop a 42-yard screen pass and run by the Bears' Matt Forte by pushing him out of bounds at the 8? After falling down early in the play? In the second preseason game?
"You ask me about that play, I'll just say it was me doing my job," Tuck said. "Wasn't anything special about it."
There didn't always appear to be something special about Tuck's leadership. His captaincy got off to a rocky start last year when Antrel Rolle started making waves early in the season, criticizing everything from the Giants' desire to their travel schedule. It fell to Tuck to deal with the disturbance.
"Yeah, well, that's part of being a captain, I guess," he said. "Everything isn't glitz and glamour."
Tuck's leadership style certainly isn't.
"The way he plays gives him the ability to say whatever he wants as a leader," Tollefson said. "He would never ask anybody to do anything that he wouldn't do himself or hasn't done. You go back six years ago and he was on kickoffs. He's done it all. I trust him to be a leader and I know everybody on this defense does. He plays his [butt] off, which is like 90 percent of being a leader."
Tuck did seem to be a reluctant one, though. After Strahan retired and Antonio Pierce left the team, the responsibilities fell to Tuck almost by default. And everyone -- including Strahan -- weighed in on how he was handling his new responsibilities.
Those who have known Tuck for a while said he never changed, even when they put the C on his uniform. His may not have been the voice of the defense in any official or unofficial capacity, but he's had a voice.
"I would say it just wasn't asked of him before," Mathias Kiwanuka said. "If you're a leader, you always have that in you, it doesn't just come out of nowhere. He's always had that ability, but we've always had good leadership from older guys. Now he's in his seventh year, he's one of the older guys. You're seeing stuff come out of him that you haven't seen before, but it's always been there."
An NFL scout assesses Justin Tuck
What he does well: Very quick off the ball. Uses leverage to his advantage. Has a good bull rush. Strong lower body, which helps his strength. Rarely takes plays off. Good pass rush technique.
Needs to improve: Occasionally misses tackles and sacks by over-pursuing. Can get physically worn down because of his relentless style of play. Doesn’t have flat-out speed to be an edge rusher like a Dwight Freeney, so he must rely more on strength in his pass rush.