Tom Coughlin has been around football his entire life, and has played alongside or coached some of the toughest guys you'll ever see. The list spans more than half a century and features some of the biggest names in the sport. Lawrence Taylor. Larry Csonka. Phil Simms. Floyd Little. Mark Bavaro. Tony Boselli. Eli Manning. Michael Strahan.
So keep those names in mind when the 66-year-old Coughlin says this about running back Ahmad Bradshaw: "He's as physically tough and competitive as anybody I've ever been around."
Really, there may be no better compliment about a player from a coach whose standards are as exacting and demanding as his personality.
Bradshaw may not have the talent as some of the more noteworthy players Coughlin has crossed paths with, but the diminutive running back has few peers when it comes to his sheer will to succeed. Listed as 5-10 and 214 pounds (and those numbers are probably generous), Bradshaw's punishing style has served him well over five-plus seasons with the Giants, even on those days where the yards don't come so easily.
This time, though, the yards came like never before, and Bradshaw's grit and toughness were combined with machine-like efficiency at a time when the Giants needed them most. The 26-year-old tailback, forced into an even more prominent role after backup Andre Brown went out of the game with a first-quarter concussion, ran for a career-high 200 yards and a touchdown in a 41-27 win over the Browns Sunday.
"Bradshaw is like a pit bull," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "He plays hard. He does all the things you want him to do."
Things didn't start off quite as well as Bradshaw had planned, though. On his first carry, he ran to his right but collided with guard Chris Snee and fumbled. The ball was recovered by the Browns, and rookie running back Trent Richardson scored two plays later. Bradshaw was furious with himself on the sideline, apologizing over the gaffe to teammates who repeatedly tried to reassure him that he'd have opportunities to make up for the mistake.
He held on to that anger, though, using it as motivation the rest of the game. "I just stayed hard on myself and just tried to use it in running," Bradshaw said. "Just use my anger in running, and that's what happened."
Bradshaw beat up on a winless Browns team that failed to contain the run throughout the game. He had 80 yards and a TD by halftime, and then continued his relentless assault on Cleveland's defense with 120 more yards in the second half.
"We had a couple of misdirections where cut their guy down and I was able to just break loose," Bradshaw said.
It was Bradshaw's first triple-digit rushing output in nearly a year; he rushed for 104 yards against the Bills last Oct. 16. Bradshaw became only the fifth running back in franchise history to rush for 200 yards.
"I love this game more than anybody," Bradshaw said. "I put all my heart into it, and I just feel I'm one of the toughest out there on the field."
Bradshaw might as well enjoy this one while he can, because it's highly unlikely he'll come close to those numbers in next week's game against the 49ers, who have one of the NFL's strongest run defenses. But at least Bradshaw gets to see his former backfield mate Brandon Jacobs, who is hoping to be sufficiently recovered from a knee problem to play.
"On and off the field, Brandon's a brother to me," he said. "I can't wait to see him. It's going to be a big game for us."
Big game indeed. Even if the rushing numbers won't be nearly as big for the Giants' tough-guy running back. Then again, the only number he really cares about is the one on the scoreboard.