Mathias Kiwanuka said it is "a little bittersweet" to be one of the last men standing from the Giants' 2007 Super Bowl team (he, Eli Manning and Zak DeOssie are the only ones even though Kiwanuka was injured and did not play in the game). He did not, however, see it as the end of an era.
"Those are great times we shared with a lot of great players," Kiwanuka said, "but the positive thing is still here, we still have another chance to do it here in New York, and that's what I am looking forward to."
The defensive end said he does feel a burden to carry on a tradition that, for him, began with Michael Strahan. When Kiwanuka was a first-round pick in 2006, Strahan was the established star of the team. Kiwanuka still wants to emulate Strahan, and while he probably won't be walking into Canton behind him someday, there are some footsteps he would like to trace.
"It's in that same vein of when I leave this building, wanting to be proud of what I did," Kiwanuka said. "I know he's proud of what he did and we're all proud of him, but I want to continue that legacy. And there is a lot of pressure. There's pressure from him, there's pressure from everybody who came before him especially based on what we did -- and didn't -- do last year."
Besides being one of three players remaining on the Giants' roster with two Super Bowl rings, Kiwanuka is the second-longest tenured player on the team behind Manning. And he is the only defensive player who was a teammate of Strahan's. All of which is to say that he has had a long and distinguished career, having played eight seasons for one franchise.
But there is something that he had never done until this year.
For the first time ever, Kiwanuka came into a training camp as a starting defensive end. There have been years in the past where he was playing with the starters because of an injury or contract situation with another player, but generally he was holding the spot for Jason Pierre-Paul or Osi Umenyiora. And in 2008 he came into camp as a starter, but at outside linebacker.
Even Kiwanuka himself seemed surprised when that nugget of information was presented to him.
"We've always been a group that rotated a lot," Kiwanuka said. "Being a starter is a badge of honor that you want to carry into the season, but for me it's all about getting on the field, getting reps and making a play when it counted."
And, as Kiwanuka added: "You have to earn it. The job's not there yet."