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The line was built piece by piece. Seubert, 29, arrived first, in 2001, an undrafted free agent from Western Illinois. He became a starter in '02, but six games into the following season he broke his right ankle, fibula and tibia and wouldn't become a full-time starter again for another four years. Seubert still has a steel rod running from his ankle to his knee. Diehl, 28, was drafted in '03 from Illinois and has missed one practice in six years. Snee, 26, was drafted in the second round from Boston College in '04, started 11 games as a rookie and married Coughlin's daughter, Kate. O'Hara, 31, once a walk-on at nearby Rutgers, was signed as a free agent from Cleveland in '04; McKenzie, 29, was a free-agent pickup a year later, after he had spent four seasons with the Jets.
This group started its first game together in December 2005; none has made a Pro Bowl. Their work is difficult for a layman to evaluate, taking place in 60 scrums every game. "This is no miracle," says retired NFL offensive line coach Jim McNally, who was with the Giants from 1999 through 2003 and helped draft Seubert and Snee. "You have four or five really tremendous athletes up there." It's true: Seubert ran a 4.92-second 40 in college, O'Hara was high school all-conference in basketball and Diehl says he has "always been able to move, even though I was bigger than everybody else."
McNally says, "Defensive linemen are always better athletes than offensive linemen. But with these guys, they give you a fighting chance."
The line's collective athleticism allows the Giants' coaches to be more creative than most in setting blocking schemes. Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich of the 49ers, who lost to New York 29--17 in Week 7, says, "They do some things I've never seen before: They pull the front side guard and the back side guard; both jab step and both come around. They have enough athletic ability to do stuff like that."
The offense, like any effective attack, comprises complementary parts. "Jacobs will get you two or three yards if you don't block anybody," says Arizona defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, whose Cardinals lost at home to the Giants 37--29 on Nov. 23. Burress, now out of the mix, gave Manning a quick outlet against most blitzes. Amani Toomer provides sure hands and a deep threat, and Domenik Hixon is emerging as a capable possession receiver. But most of all the Giants' hogs cover up each other's mistakes. "You know what the guy next to you is going to do," says McKenzie. "That comes from all the time you spend together."
With this group, that extends to time off the field. They eat meals together, lift weights together, even on occasion tailgate in the stadium parking lot after games. They prank each other and their teammates, like frat boys run amok. Following an October pig roast at the stadium, O'Hara stuffed the carcass's head into a trash bag and buried it in Seubert's locker. As a unit, they stalk the locker room, stealing equipment and car keys and, says O'Hara, "changing the characters on cellphones to Chinese."
Teammates respond. The offensive linemen's cleats were painted purple before the Super Bowl, and during training camp a thick layer of Vaseline was applied to Seubert's car's windshield. Evidence points in one direction. "The quarterbacks," says Seubert. "I asked a witness. I'm sure that's who it was."
Manning demurs, like a mobster on trial. "Somebody did those things," he says, "but that's all I know."
McKenzie discourages pranks with his response. "I come back at a higher level," he says. "You throw a roll of prewrap at me, I'll throw real tape at you." (Or worse: "You hit Kareem in the [crotch], he'll grab yours," says backup lineman Grey Ruegamer.)
All of the nonsense has a purpose. "This is our job. This is our livelihood," says Diehl. "But it's football. And we're together all the time. It's got to be fun."