INDIANAPOLIS - Four years ago, he was at his Springboro, Ohio home with his parents, watching the Giants shock New England in Super Bowl XLII.
Four years later, Jake Ballard is playing for the G-men and starting tonight's Super Bowl.
"It's surreal. It's kind of like it's not true," Ballard said last week during the frenzy of media day in Lucas Oil Stadium. "When I was (back there) four years ago, I would never have dreamed I would be playing in this game for the Giants and playing against the same team."
New York Giants' Jake Ballard answers questions during a news conference last Wednesday in Indianapolis.
Not only is that the case, Ballard envisions his number (85) being called on more than one occasion. "I think my role in this game could be huge," he speculated. "Yeah, New England is going to key on our three wideouts, but that's going to be hard. You can't really double three guys," he added, referring to Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, three of the league's most productive receivers.
"No matter how you look at it, people are going to get open and guys are going to have their chances. So, when our numbers are called, we have to make plays."
During his playing days at Ohio State, Ballard doubled as a physical blocker and a short yardage pass-catching specialist. At 6-6, 275, he was an easy target for then-Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
In fact, Ballard is credited with making one of the most critical plays for OSU in the 2010 Rose Bowl. Facing third and 13 and clinging to a 19-17 lead over Oregon, Ballard went high to pull in a Pryor aerial. The play went for 24 yards and a first down. Moments later, the Bucks scored a game-clinching TD and a 26-17 victory.
Signed as a rookie free agent by the Giants in April of 2010, Ballard was later waived after suffering a hamstring injury. But he later resigned and was placed on the active roster.
Ballard has since proven a serviceable player for the Giants, making 38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns this season.
"I would not say it was a breakout season or anything," Ballard remarked. "I played well and was happy to help the team out anyway I could. When (ex-Giants' tight end) Kevin Boss left, I knew there was a big void. I considered it the opportunity of a lifetime and I tried to take advantage of it."
With each rep, Ballard became more comfortable in the Giants' scheme. "Luckily, I was able to earn (QB) Eli Manning's trust and he got me the ball. Really, though, I don't care if I make a single catch (in the Super Bowl), just as long as we win. I'll just block all day long if that's what it takes."
Ballard is also pumped a contingent of family and friends are here for tonight's game. "I think I have about 10 or 12 people coming," he indicated. "My dad is very excited. He might be more excited than anyone on the team. He loves football. He grew up playing it, then coaching it."
Ballard also referenced Giants' center Jim Cordle, another ex-Buckeye who was on the inactive list for the NFC Championship Game at San Francisco.
"Jimmy worked extremely hard and has made great progress," Ballard related. "He started out on the practice squad but did play in 11 games. I'm happy to see where he's at."
The idea Ballard could be celebrating a Super Bowl victory tonight is a little difficult to fathom. "Well, we're one win away. What else could you ask for? These opportunities obviously don't come around often. We just need to go out, play to the best of our ability, and hope that's enough."
Gibson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org