TERRE HAUTE —
The only three New York Giants players who touched the football on a field goal that propelled their team into Sunday’s Super Bowl against the New England Patriots visited Terre Haute North Vigo High School Tuesday — where a throng of Patriots cheered for the Giants.
For one player, Steve Weatherford, Giants punter and holder, it was a high school reunion, as he returned to the place he lettered in multiple sports, including football, before going to the University of Illinois and then on to pro football.
Joining Weatherford for a pre-Super Bowl pep rally at his alma mater’s high school gym, where he played basketball for the North Patriots, were teammates Lawrence Tynes and Zak DeOssie.
The trio of Giants combined in a memorable final play of the conference championship game on Jan. 22, DeOssie snapped the ball; Weatherford caught, righted and spotted it; and Tynes kicked for the game-winning field goal to defeat the San Francisco ’49ers in overtime.
But Tuesday’s pep rally at North was all about honoring a local sports hero and his friends and wishing them luck.
Weatherford was choked up by strong emotions as he spoke to the enthusiastic gathering at the school from which he graduated in 2001.
“This is a dream come true,” Weatherford told the assembly. “To get to do what I’m doing and do it so close to home in front of so many people that have been there for me along the way. … I just want to thank my mom and dad first off. I love you,” he said hugging his parents, Sam and Lisa Weatherford.
Members of the North football team, seated behind Weatherford and in uniform, performed a chant they developed for the occasion. “We believe New York can win!” they shouted to the three Giants.
Mayor Duke Bennett, reading a proclamation at the pep rally, declared Tuesday Steve Weatherford Day in Terre Haute. And Vigo County Commissioners Paul Mason and Mike Ciolli also welcomed the North grad to town.
Weatherford has generously made donations to help people in the community, the local officials said.
“Steve, we know you’re a good football player, but you’re also a tremendous person,” Mason said.
Dozens of faculty and staff of the Vigo County School Corp. wore No. 5 New York Giants Weatherford jerseys at the rally. At one point, DeOssie even donned a Weatherford jersey in support of his teammate.
“Steve Weatherford is the best punter in the NFL,” DeOssie told the assembly. “Thank you for all of your support — and go Giants,” he said to enthusiastic cheers.
“He’s a great guy,” Tynes told the assembly, speaking of Weatherford. “Thank you guys for accepting us. We’re going to kick a little [New England] Patriot you-know-what on Sunday.”
Plans for the 15-minute pep rally were hatched about 11 p.m. Monday, said Vigo County School Superintendent Danny Tanoos, a longtime friend. Weatherford expressed an interest in visiting Terre Haute, and Tanoos decided nothing could be better than welcoming him to the high school where he was a sports standout.
The three Giants arrived at North Vigo about 3 p.m. in a Vigo County Sheriff’s Department squad car driven by Detective First Sgt. Frank Shahadey, who transported the teammates from Indianapolis to Terre Haute for the end-of-school-day rally. The three players were humble and excited about the pep rally during the drive, Shahadey said.
“When I’m out there playing football, you guys are out there with me and I appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from everybody,” Weatherford told the assembly. “What an amazing gift I’ve been given and opportunity. It’s unbelievable.
“Without the support I’ve had coming from everybody in Terre Haute, it wouldn’t be worth it and it wouldn’t be nearly as special,” Weatherford added. “Hopefully, in about five days, I’ll be back here in Terre Haute showing you guys my Super Bowl ring. So wish me luck.”
Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.