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Eric LeGrand returns to field where he had tragic injury

Paralyzed former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand on the

Paralyzed former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand on the field before a game between the Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Sept. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

As a retired member of the Buccaneers, Eric LeGrand proudly wore a red Tampa Bay home jersey when he drove his motorized wheelchair to midfield Sunday at MetLife Stadium for the pregame coin toss.

LeGrand was the special guest of Bucs coach Greg Schiano, who was his coach two years ago at Rutgers when LeGrand suffered a life-altering spinal cord injury on this same field. The Bucs symbolically signed LeGrand in May.

Despite his colors, this was anything but a hostile environment for LeGrand. Giants captain Justin Tuck rushed to midfield to speak to him.

"Justin Tuck told me I would look better in blue," LeGrand said later in the luxury box where he watched the Giants' thrilling 41-34 victory.

Giants co-owner John Mara spoke with LeGrand, Bucs defensive lineman Gerald McCoy kissed him on the forehead and the fans offered their support.

"Seeing the fans cheer for me meant a lot," LeGrand said. "It touched my heart."

This wasn't LeGrand's first visit to the scene of his personal tragedy, but it was the first time back for his mother, Karen, and many relatives who were in attendance Oct. 16, 2010, when he was paralyzed from the neck down while making a tackle against Army.

In the past, LeGrand couldn't bring himself to even think about the spot where he was injured because it was "too upsetting."

But as he came out of the tunnel with Sandy Montag -- a senior vice president for IMG, which represents LeGrand -- he faced up to it.

"Today was the first time I actually realized where I got hurt at," LeGrand said. "I said to Sandy, 'This is where I was.' . . . I drove by it, but I didn't go exactly to it."

When Montag heard LeGrand had broadcasting aspirations, the IMG executive told him, "I'll help you get in the broadcast business. We're going to change your life."

Montag also put LeGrand in touch with the New York-based Alan T. Brown Foundation to Cure Spinal Paralysis.

"I talk to Alan three or four times a week," LeGrand said.

LeGrand's book titled "Believe" will be published later this month, and he expects to graduate next summer from Rutgers. Despite his terrible break, LeGrand has met every challenge with good spirits.

"Honestly, it's the people who are around me every day," said LeGrand, referring to his family, therapists, fellow spinal cord injury patients and all the fans he meets in public and via social media. "They're all showing support.

"There's really no negativity in my life."

New York Sports