Surprising Star Turn for Role Player

New York Times
By Mark Viera

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — On most days, Kevin Boss strolls around the Giants’ practice center wearing a plain blue sweatshirt that has frayed from frequent use, a dependable, indispensable part of his wardrobe. It could be a metaphor.

Kevin Boss
Barton Silverman/The New York Times Kevin Boss scored the go-ahead points last Sunday against the Jaguars. He has three touchdown receptions this season.

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Kevin Boss scored the go-ahead points last Sunday against the Jaguars. He has three touchdown receptions this season.

Boss has been a reliable, steadying presence for the Giants in the four seasons since he was drafted to back up the outspoken tight end Jeremy Shockey. The starter since Shockey’s departure before the 2008 season, Boss has come through for the Giants on third-and-long situations and in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. He has been battered senseless while making receptions across the middle. But he has done it all with a plainspoken easiness that has not drawn much attention.

“He makes big plays for us,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “He might not get a fast start; he might not have a catch until the fourth quarter. But he’s dependable.”

Last week, Boss reclined in a chair after practice while considering the notion that he had established himself as a playmaker in a playmakers’ league. Then he shrugged.

Boss does not have the bombast or the flowing blond mane of Shockey, who now plays for New Orleans. He does not have the statistics of the former Giants great Mark Bavaro, who like Boss wore No. 89. But Boss’s contribution has been important, particularly this season.

In the Giants’ offense, the tight end is not typically a frequent receiver, and Boss has been valuable as a blocker. With receivers Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith sidelined, Boss and his backup Travis Beckum have assumed heightened roles as the Giants (7-4) host the Washington Redskins (5-6) on Sunday.

But Boss’s emergence as the Giants’ at-the-ready receiver over the past four seasons has not fully registered with him.

“It’s not something I really think about,” said Boss, who is in the final season of a four-year contract. “It’s maybe brought to my attention from a fan. They might tell me the play in the Super Bowl is clutch. But it’s not really something I’ve thought about, I guess.”

When Boss arrived in 2007, he felt unsure about his new life. He grew up in Oregon and played at Western Oregon University. Before the Giants drafted him in the fifth round, Boss had never been farther east than Michigan, his father’s home state.

But Boss received his opportunity after Shockey broke his leg in Week 15. The Giants went from a boldface-name All-Pro at tight end to a little-known rookie out of Division II.

Boss had two touchdowns in the final three regular-season games of 2007, starting two of them. Then, in the Super Bowl against the unbeaten New England Patriots, he had perhaps his biggest professional moment, one that fans mention when they meet him.

Boss’s 45-yard reception early in the fourth quarter helped turn around the game. Boss beat Patriots safety Rodney Harrison inside on a beautifully executed post pattern on first down, then streaked downfield before Harrison caught him. The Giants scored five plays later to take a 10-7 lead. The Giants won, 17-14.

Last Sunday, Boss’s 32-yard touchdown reception with 3 minutes 15 seconds left represented the go-ahead score in the Giants’ 24-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. For Boss, it was the latest big play on a growing résumé.

On third down, Manning and Boss noticed that the middle and strongside linebackers were blitzing and that no safety was deep in coverage, so they changed the play at the line of scrimmage. The Giants called an audible known as a looky, in which Manning and Boss simply look at each other to change Boss’s route when they recognize a blitz is coming. Manning said Boss “talks the same language at you” when they are on the field.

The result last Sunday: Manning hit Boss after a short drop, and Boss sloughed off a defender on his way to the end zone.

“Twinkle toes,” Coach Tom Coughlin said afterward.

Boss has burnished his reputation for over-the-middle toughness. He described his willingness to make plays where others might cower as the product of a focus on the ball, which allows him to zone out the consequences of the impact that usually follows.

But Boss’s repeated exposure on those routes has taken a toll on his body.

Boss said his back was still sore from a hard landing in a loss to theDallas Cowboys on Nov. 14. Perhaps more troubling, in a victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 12, Boss sustained his third concussion since 2008, on a helmet-to-helmet hit by safety Sherrod Martin, who was later fined.

Boss did not play against the Minnesota Vikings in the season finale in 2008 because of a concussion. Last year, he sustained a concussion against the Denver Broncos on Thanksgiving, and he received two other helmet-to-helmet hits that did not result in concussions for which defenders were fined.

Boss joked about “a thin line between being brave and stupid” when he makes such plays. But he also knocked on a wooden desk when speaking about avoiding another concussion and said he lay awake at night the week after he sustained the concussion against the Panthers.

“There are times you think about your future and you realize there is life after football,” Boss said. “But once you get back out on the field, it’s really the last thing I’m thinking about.”

Boss, who is known for sinking hours into film study, has not thought much about his growing profile.

He embraces fans who recognize him when he and his wife visit Manhattan, but he is sometimes uncomfortable with the attention. His workmanlike humility is true of his personality inside and outside the locker room.

Last week, before slipping into his Cadillac Escalade on his way to a Devils game after Giants practice, Boss predicted that cameras would eventually find him in a suite and display his image on the scoreboard at Prudential Center in Newark.

Then he shrugged.

“I love the fans, but I would choose to go under the radar if I could,” Boss said. “I love going home just because nobody knows who I am.”

Boss may never embrace becoming Mr. Popular, but he has made himself the Giants’ Mr. Clutch.

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