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Giants punter Steve Weatherford survives wreck on NJ Turnpike

New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford speaks to

New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford speaks to reporters after organized team activity in East Rutherford, N.J., Monday, June 1, 2015. Weatherford said he's thankful for being unhurt early Monday after totaling a rented car on the New Jersey Turnpike as he tried to return home for practice from visiting his newborn daughter in California. Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

It was punt day.

That was why Steve Weatherford was so intent on making it to Monday's voluntary OTA at the Giants' facility, why he left his home in San Diego while his wife still was in the hospital after delivering their fourth child, and why, after his flight to New Jersey was diverted to Washington because of poor weather, he rented a car and drove through the middle of the night.

It turned out to be a nearly fatal decision.

Weatherford said he was driving between 68 and 70 mph on the New Jersey Turnpike (the speed limit is 65) when he wrecked the rented car he was driving at about 3:30 a.m. near Exit 8. The car hydroplaned through a puddle, spun several times and smashed into a barrier.

Just after he emerged from the car with some bumps and scratches and a busted lip, another car plowed into the rear of his car after going through the same puddle. That collision knocked the other driver unconscious. Weatherford pulled one of the doors to the other car open, roused the driver and helped him to safety.

The second part was so violent, Weatherford said, that had he been knocked unconscious by the single-car crash and still in the vehicle with his air bags already deployed, he would have been killed.

New Jersey State Police confirmed Weatherford's account of the accident but had no statement. No charges will be filed.

"I have always been an optimistic guy, but after the experience last night, there is no other way to explain it than a blessing," he said Monday, clearly shaken and sporting a bandage on his lip. "I'm very fortunate to be standing here. Very fortunate to be alive . . . It makes you realize how fragile life is."

These are, remember, voluntary workouts. Yet Weatherford -- the punter, the only player on the field whose duties can be replicated by a machine during workouts -- had such a strong (some might say misguided) desire to attend.

"It was a priority for me to be here at practice," he said. "I missed three of them last week. I haven't missed an OTA in 10 years in the NFL."

Coach Tom Coughlin seemed just as shaken as Weatherford.

"It's a difficult thing to talk about," Coughlin said of the near-death experience of one of his players.

It's also juxtaposed with the birth of his daughter only 12 or so hours before the crash. One of life's joys followed so closely by what could have been a tragedy.

"That," Coughlin said, "is the first thing that popped into my mind as well."

Mother, daughter and father are doing fine now.

Weatherford eventually got a lift home to Hoboken from two state troopers. He was at practice and -- because, as he pointed out, it was punt day -- kicked in drills. He took about 30 punts, splitting reps with Robert Malone and the machine that launches footballs on occasion.

Weatherford said he still was sore from the accident, so his punts weren't up to his standards.

"I don't think coach [Tom] Quinn or coach Coughlin were expecting my A-game," he said.

They probably were just happy to see him, given the alternative.

New York Sports