To date, the United States has 3,940 confirmed deaths in Iraq. Back in May, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, a battalion leader, very nearly found himself on that list. An IED (improvised explosive device) thoroughly shattered his body. Only 70 pints of blood, the exceptional field work of men in his 1st Infantry Division and the skill of doctors saved his life.
His legs weren't so fortunate.
The New York Giants, however, consider themselves blessed to have made this double-amputee's acquaintance. They credit Gadson, who played football at Army with New York wide receivers coach Mike Sullivan, with helping to salvage their season and making it something approaching superb. His stirring pregame speeches and his living example of courage and perseverance have inspired them all the way to Super Bowl XLII.
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Check out Rachel Nichols' report, on Super Bowl Sunday, featuring U.S. Army Lt. Col. Greg Gadson's inspirational impact on the Giants. Sunday Countdown, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN
"I think sometimes I'm given a little too much credit for, quote, being inspirational," Gadson said on Monday in an interview at Walter Reed National Army Medical Center in Washington. "I may be, and if people take inspiration from that I'm glad and I'm grateful. But at the same time, I think I'm just trying to fight, and I'm trying to survive."
Even so, the Giants have won an NFL-record 10 consecutive road games, including three in the playoffs, leading up to Sunday's game against the Patriots. They believe Gadson has been a significant factor in that success.
"Coaches and everybody always want to say football is like war, it's a battle -- no," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce told ESPN's Rachel Nichols last week. "This guy, he lives in the real war, the real battle. He knows what it's like to hear bombs and stuff going off.
"We're playing a kids' game, trying to have fun. He put that in perspective: Enjoy life, enjoy the moment, enjoy what you're doing, because it's rougher out there than what you really think it is."
The story begins at West Point in the summer of 1985, when Gadson first met Sullivan. Gadson was an outside linebacker, viewing his responsibilities in terms of territory; the perimeter could not be exploited. Sullivan was a defensive back.
"Mike was a high-energy guy," recalled Gadson, who was a three-year starter. "He had a great, positive spirit. He's going to pick you up, and that's what I respect and remember [of] him as a teammate."
Over the years, they lost track of each other. After graduating from the U.S. Army Airborne, Ranger and Air Assault schools, Sullivan got into coaching. His first NFL assignment, as a Jacksonville Jaguars defensive assistant, came in 2002, in Tom Coughlin's last season as Jacksonville head coach.
Gadson, meanwhile, was commissioned in time for the Gulf War -- he was a platoon leader in an artillery battalion -- and went on to serve in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
Gadson had been on the ground in Iraq for three months when he returned one night from a memorial service for two soldiers from his sister battalion. His vehicle was hit and with only 15 minutes left in the "golden hour" -- the 60 minutes following a critical injury in which a person's life often can be saved if proper care is administered -- he arrived at the hospital.