I had the tremendous honor as a Giants fan today of meeting and chatting with George Martin, who played defensive end in the Giants’ 3-4 alignment from 1977 through 1988.

Martin, a good but not great player, was perhaps the biggest “Johnny on the Spot” in NFL history.  Before Jason Taylor surpassed him in 2006, he held the record for most points scored by a defensive lineman as a defensive lineman, with 42.  In a critical late-season battle against the Broncos in 1986, Martin tipped and intercepted a John Elway pass before rumbling 78 yards to paydirt, one of the most memorable plays of that memorable season.  And in Super Bowl XXI, he sacked John Elway for a safety to shave the Broncos lead to 10-9 before halftime, a portent of the Giants second-half dominance that was to follow.

As narrator Pat Summerall said in the video Giants Among Men about the ’86 season, “Whenever opportunity knocked, Martin seemed to be at the right place at the right time.”

Martin – who now works as an executive for AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company – is back in the news these days.  To raise money for surviving 9/11 first responders who have gotten screwed out of their proper medical benefits, he walked across America in his well-publicized “Journey for 9/11.”  Over the span of 11 months, he traveled 3,003 miles from New York to San Diego, raising $2.7 million in the process.

Now here’s where I come into this story: Martin both kicked off and concluded the journey at this charter school in Williamsburg, which is part of my beat for my job as a local newspaper reporter.  The reason for this is because the original donation he received – of $911,000 – came from a guy named Joe Rich, the aptly-named head of the Beginning with Children foundation, which runs the charter school.

So at the press conference today, I approached Martin, a deeply religious man, and told him the story of the Genesis of my Giants fandom.

It was November 23rd, 1986, and the G-Men were trailing 6-3 in the second quarter to the Denver Broncos, who had driven inside the Giants 20 and appeared on the verge of taking control of the game.  In the Meadowlands crowd that day was a 6-year old named Greg.  Attending his first football game, he nervously watched John Elway drop back to pass and threw a flat-pass in the direction of running back Sammy Winder.

But before it could get there, George Martin stretched out his 6-foot-4 frame and tipped the ball to himself before snaring it out of the air.  From there, he made his way down the left sideline, accompanied by an increasingly large cavalcade of blockers.

Elway himself caught up to Martin, but Martin, while holding the football like a loaf of bread with one hand, rudely dispatched the equine-visaged pretty boy with the other.  From there his path was clear for an exhilarating 78-yard touchdown, which sent the Meadowlands into a frenzy and swung momentum of the game to the G-Men, who would eventually prevail, 19-16, on a last-second field goal by Raul Allegre.

And thus began my relationship with the Giants.

Martin got a huge kick out of the story, smiling and nodding along with me I told it and saying, “You’re kidding me?” when I finished.

For several minutes, we chatted about the Giants and his 9/11 walk.  He was the star of the event so I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, but he never made me feel like I was imposing on him.  He was one of those guys who makes an effort to look you in the eye, but not in a super-intense, neurotic way.  Rather, it was a respectful and warm gesture that conveyed he was interested in what I was saying.

I asked him what the secret to that ’86 team was.  He replied, “Chemistry.  Every unit, whether it was the offensive line, the defensive line, the backs – we all had a lot of pride, and we all wanted to show that we were doing our part to contribute to the team.”

I asked him if it was weird for him, as a devout Christian, to have as teammates hard-partiers and drug users (I didn’t mention LT by name).  His responded that the climate of pro sports gave him an opportunity to show the how genuine and sturdy his beliefs were.

“People would always look to me to see ‘Is this guy for real?’  So I had to show them that I walked the walk,” he said, not intending any puns.

I also expressed amazement that, amidst all the horror stories about ex-football players being mangled for the rest of their lives, the guy could walk at all, let alone walk across the country.

“I was very fortunate to play for 14 years without any injuries or surgeries,” he said.  “I was the exception to the rule.”

And finally, I asked him to show me his Super Bowl ring.  I told him it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

“Aren’t they all?” he replied.