In February 2008, Jake Ballard watched the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl from the comfort of his home in Springboro. Ohio State teammate Jim Cordle did the same at the apartment of teammate Dexter Larimore.
Four years later, the two former Buckeye players find it somewhat hard to believe that they’ll be taking part in the Super Bowl XLVI rematch between those two squads Sunday in Indianapolis.
“If you would have told me (then) I was going to be playing for the Giants in the Super Bowl vs. the Patriots, I’d have been like, ‘We’ll see about that,’ ” Ballard said.
But that’s exactly the situation Ballard and Cordle are in as second-year players for Big Blue. Ballard, the team’s starting tight end, and Cordle, a reserve offensive lineman, have gone from Buckeye stalwarts to living the ultimate dream of any football player.
“You never even dream about that when you’re sitting there watching it (like in 2008),” Cordle said. “At that point it was my first year starting at Ohio State. It was like, ‘That’s where I want to get, to the NFL,’ but to actually be in this game is pretty crazy.”
The Giants will be hoping to reprise that 2008 victory, a 17-14 victory over the Patriots in Glendale, Ariz., in which Eli Manning hit Plaxico Burress for the game-winning score with 35 seconds left that spoiled the Pats’ bid for an undefeated season.
The fact that New York is in its second Super Bowl in five seasons isn’t a surprise to both Cordle and Ballard, who described the Giants as a championship organization.
“It reminds me a lot of Ohio State and the whole Woody Hayes slogan, ‘You win with people,’ ” Ballard said. “We’re surrounded by hard-working people who love their jobs, love working for the Giants. It just makes the work environment really easy to be a part of when you have coaches who’ve won the Super Bowl and know what it takes. A lot of the roster was there in ’07. It’s a good combination of all those aspects, I think.”
But it didn’t look for a while like the Giants would even be in the playoffs, let alone competing for the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl and eighth NFL title. New York lost four straight games after a 6-2 start, leaving its playoff aspirations in question. The Giants turned things around though, starting with a Dec. 11 win at Dallas on a blocked field goal in the final seconds.
After a stumble against Washington, the Giants finished strong, beating the New York Jets to get to 8-7 and then capturing a winner-take-all meeting with the Cowboys on New Year’s Day to win the NFC East and make the playoffs. Playoff wins against Atlanta, Green Bay and San Francisco followed to clinch the Super Bowl berth.
The result was that the overtime win against the 49ers – clinched when Devin Thomas forced a fumble on a punt return, setting up a game-winning field goal by Lawrence Tynes – seemed almost inevitable to Ballard.
“We’ve almost had like five playoff games because we had to beat the Jets to stay alive and then we had to beat the Cowboys to get in,” Ballard said. “Just the whole week and even flying out (to San Francisco) until right before the game, I just couldn’t imagine us not beating them to go to the Super Bowl.
The Giants have won via a team effort in that time. Manning has proven he’s among the best in the game while hooking up with top targets Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, while the team’s dominating defensive line has made it hard for opponents to move the ball.
“This team is pretty special in a lot of ways,” Cordle said. “It’s a veteran team, and a lot of the guys have been there before and won that Super Bowl, so in the bad times we stayed together and just kept working and hoped that it would come together, and it did.”
The two Buckeyes on the squad have done their fair share to help the Giants win. Ballard has been the bigger name, taking over the starting tight end job and becoming a dynamic target in the passing game. He finished fourth on the team with 38 catches during the regular season, totaling 604 yards and four touchdowns including the game-winning score with 15 seconds left Nov. 6 as the Giants beat the Patriots.
“I’m not surprised at how much I’ve developed,” he said. “I guess it comes with opportunity. I saw a chance and I earned Eli’s trust and he continues to throw the ball to me. It’s nice being involved in the passing game.”
Cordle, meanwhile, has moved up from the practice squad this year. He played in 12 games, mostly as the sixth offensive lineman, though he also worked as the team’s long snapper and played some right guard in the team’s Oct. 9 loss against Seattle.
“You work so hard,” Cordle said. “Coming out of Ohio State I had injury issues and didn’t get drafted, but I got an opportunity here and just went to work and did everything I could to make the team. I think I took advantage of the opportunity and have been able to stay on the roster all year and ended up contributing in more games. To be along for this playoff run is kind of a dream come true.”
Cordle hasn’t dressed in a playoff game yet, though he is charting plays on the sideline and helping the Giants offensive assistants during games. He did get some TV time, too, as he was shown celebrating after Tynes’ kick went through the uprights. Ballard, meanwhile, has three catches for 33 yards in the postseason.
The two have been happy to go through their journey – one that will lead them to the biggest stage in American sports – together.
“It has been great,” Cordle said. “We were both undrafted guys so we helped each other out. We were roommates and just to have that guy for some extra support, a guy that you know and love and trust, it was a blessing to have him.”