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Giants punter Feagles headed to long-awaited trip to Super Bowl

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jeff Feagles is one of the many feel-good stories in the New York Giants' run to the Super Bowl.

After 20 years in the league, the 41-year-old who has played more consecutive games (320) than anyone in NFL history is going to get a chance to play for a championship.

"There are not too many firsts that I haven't done being around as long as I have," Feagles said. "It's like being a rookie all over. I'm happy for it. I'm as giddy as a rookie."

What is even more remarkable is that Feagles nearly missed the opportunity to face the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday.

Two years ago, the man old enough to be a father to many of his teammates was ready to call it quits after 18 seasons. The Giants had just been eliminated by Carolina in the wild-card game and Feagles didn't have the desire to go on.

His right knee hurt, and it didn't seem to be responding to treatment.

It just seemed like time, so Feagles moved his family to Paradise Valley, Ariz. and got ready for life after football.

Coach Tom Coughlin had other thoughts. He had a couple of long heart-to-heart talks with his punter and holder, and it seemed to get Feagles' attention.

"I'm very honest with the guys and I thought Jeff could continue to play," Coughlin said. "Whether he was 38, 39, or whatever, he was in great shape and a very, very good athlete and still performing at a very high level."

The discussions were enlightening for Feagles, giving him a chance to know his coach as more of a person.

"He was encouraging me," Feagles said. "He said: 'This is what you do. What else are you going to be doing if you're not a football player?' He went over those kinds of things and emphasized how important family was, but to do the right thing for your family and your career, and things just worked out."

Surgery cleaned out the scar tissue in the knee. The big break came when doctors diagnosed arthritis in Feagles' knee. He was put on medicine.

"We were able to work our way through it, and I still take the medicine today," Feagles said.

It's ironic that Feagles is facing the Patriots in the Super Bowl. He started his career with New England in 1988. He still has his original helmet.

Feagles scoffed at the idea that it has a single bar, or is made of leather.

"It's like the helmets we have now, expect it's not made as well," Feagles said.

Looking back, Feagles said his job has changed drastically in the past two decades.

"A long time ago, there might have been one or two guys in the league that returned punts well," Feagles said. "Every week now, we're facing a good one."

Strategy also has changed. Punting for field position is a must instead of a second thought.

"On the whole side of football, I think preparation has come a long way, just the technology with how we look at the games. When I started, you showed up for one minicamp and then there was training camp."

In the past week, Feagles has gotten scores of telephone calls and text messages from friends. The common advice has been to enjoy the moment, focus on the job at hand and realize the game is going to be over before you know it.

"That's why I have kept coming back," said Feagles, who will be a free agent after this season. "This is the one thing that I have not accomplished in my career. You have all the personal goals, the Pro Bowl and things like that. This is a team one and I just happen to be a part of this team."

One of the top directional punters in football, Feagles has averaged 40.7 yards in the playoffs with a net of 38.5 yards. Three of his 15 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.

The job Sunday will be to keep Wes Welker from maintaining his nearly 10-yard return average.

"Normally after this many years I don't get too many butterflies," Feagles said. "I know on Sunday I'll have them. But those are the butterflies I have been waiting for for a long, long time."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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