CHANDLER, Ariz. - It is as if his pro football life had been authored by Theodor Seuss Geisel.
Right guard, right tackle. Left guard, left tackle.
Only the script has come not from the children's author but from New York Giants coaches and management. They have constantly kept David Diehl on the move along the offensive line, and he has consistently nodded his head.
"I'm a team guy. It's the way I was brought up," said the fifth-year offensive lineman whose versatility has helped forge a wall of protection in front of quarterback Eli Manning.
During a six-game winning streak that began in Week 3 and turned the team's fortunes around, the Giants' offensive line gave up just six sacks. For the season, New York yielded just 28 to rank 12th in the NFL, and preseason concerns about a line that for the first time since 1998 was without left tackle Luke Petitgout appear as distant in the rearview mirror as a Tucker Fredrickson catch and run.
No left tackle? No worries. Just slide Diehl over from right tackle.
The support for such a move was initiated by Jerry Reese, who took over as general manager Jan. 16, 2007. Some 27 days later, Reese made his first bold decision: He cut Petitgout, whose 2006 season had been cut short by a broken leg. Reese felt Diehl could handle the job and flamed the controversy by reportedly criticizing Petitgout's play. Throw in the fact that Pro Bowl running back Tiki Barber had announced his retirement and Giants followers were openly wondering if the team's Achilles' would be the offensive line - specifically left tackle - and the ground game.
Back-to-back losses to open the season and a 17-3 halftime deficit in Week 3 didn't provide much encouragement, especially with five sacks allowed in just 10 quarters. Still, people on the outside couldn't see inside the team's locker room midway through that Sept. 23 game.
"I'm not saying we were thinking we'd be in the Super Bowl," said Diehl, a strapping 6-foot-5-inch, 319-pounder from Chicago who played at the University of Illinois. "But I'm telling you, we believed in ourselves. That's all I'll say."
Inside University of Phoenix Stadium amid the circus-like atmosphere that is Super Bowl Media Day, Diehl stood calmly, quietly, and indeed, that's about all he wanted to say. The ship was righted in the second half of that Washington game. The Giants rallied to win to touch off the six-game winning streak, which went a long way toward vaulting them to 10-6 and into the playoffs. But Diehl isn't about to stick out his chest at the critics. Even a rousing sweep of Tampa Bay, Dallas, and Green Bay in the postseason and a trip to Super Bowl XLII isn't fuel for an "I-told-you-so" mentality.
Diehl is here only to do what he does best, which is play . . . and play . . . and play. He has started all 16 games for all five NFL seasons since being drafted in the fifth round in 2003, and if you factor in the postseason, that gives Diehl perfect attendance for all 85 games of his Giants career. While you can chalk up part of that to his refusal to accept sick days as part of the employee compensation package, Diehl said it goes beyond his control.
"Every NFL player takes care of themselves and tries to eat right, go in the cold tub as much as possible. I have a massage on my neck and acupuncture once a week," he said. "Every athlete does everything to his body to the best of his ability. But a lot of time, it's luck. It's a tough game, a tough sport. Injuries happen. A lot of time, it's being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and fortunately, knock on wood, for me it hasn't happened."
Instead, what has unfolded is a fascinating study of versatility and focus. Installed as the right guard for the 2003 season, Diehl became the first rookie since Mark Bavaro to start all 16 games for the Giants.
The only thing is, when the Giants drafted Chris Snee out of Boston College and moved him into right guard, Diehl was asked in 2004 to switch to right tackle.
Presumably, however, Diehl didn't become too attached to the right tackle position, because when Kareem McKenzie came aboard as a free agent in 2005, guess which position was his? Correct, right tackle. Would you mind moving to left guard, Mr. Diehl?
Done deal, which is pretty much what Diehl said in the days after Petitgout was released and the decision was made to move him into the left tackle spot. Thus for his fifth season did Diehl have a fourth position to learn. Just don't extend any praise to him. He simply considers it part of his job, though if you press him on the issue, Diehl will volunteer that he doubts you'll see him complete the entire offensive line by playing center.
"Every position but center. I can snap and block, but not at the same time," said Diehl. "That rules out center for me. We've got a good center in Shaun O'Hara so that's definitely not going to be in my future."
O'Hara agrees it won't happen, "because he's too tall and would block the quarterback's view downfield." But in the next breath, O'Hara praises Diehl's lunch-pail mentality and lack of ego.
"I've been able to fight through the little nicks and cracks and stay out there, because it's something I definitely pride myself on," said Diehl. "I'm a guy who's accountable. Guys look at me in the huddle and they know I'm going to be out there for 60 minutes giving everything I've got and doing everything to help our football team win."
That meant playing through a rather awkward situation in the NFC Championship game in Green Bay. Battling flu-like symptoms all week, Diehl at one point got nauseated. The next part was where things got, well, a bit disconcerting, because Diehl vomited, with most of it getting stuck in his facemask. Had it not been so cold, he could have cleaned it off. Now there've been plenty of times when players have looked through facemasks covered with mud and grass, but Diehl's dilemma? That, he conceded, was unique and not something he really wanted to talk about.
"Yeah, yeah, I had [flu-like symptoms]," he said. "I was sick, but what are you going to do? You've got to play."
And in his case, you've got to play . . . and play . . . and play.
Jim McCabe can be reached at email@example.com.