Brandon Jacobs was born on July 6, 1982 in Napoleonville, Louisiana. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) The only son of a single mother, Janice Jacobs, he was raised by his mom and her sisters. His aunt and uncle, Dianne and Phil Cheavious, later became his legal guardians. He never had a relationship with his father.
Brandon was a big kid and a good athlete as a child. That helped get him noticed in Napoleonville, which is a bayou enclave outside New Orleans with fewer than 1,000 residents. L ike most boys in LSU country, Brandon followed the Tigers football team and dreamed of playing in Baton Rouge one day. His family kept him focused on football throughout his childhood, enabling him to avoid the lure of the streets. He trained by running up the hills that surround the bayou.
In school, Brandon was something less than a model student. As a standout athlete, however, he was allowed to slip through the cracks and essentially never “learned how to learn.” Through grade school and at Assumption High School, he found a way to get by without doing a lot of work.
Brandon played basketball and football for Assumption. He spent his first two seasons on the gridiron primarily as a defensive lineman. He became the star of the Mustangs as a junior in 1999, when he started taking snaps at halfback. Brandon stood well over six feet and weighed more than 200 pounds by this point, yet he had the speed and balance of someone much smaller in size. At the end of many runs, he was dragging two or tacklers behind him. Assumption head coach Don Torres often worried about handing the ball to Brandon in full-contact drills. The teenager was simply too big and powerful for his teammates to handle.
Assumption foes also had their hands full. Brandon rushed for 1,783 yards and 18 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. Even so, he began his junior campaign at fullback. When the Mustangs got off to an 0-3 start, Torres switched Brandon to halfback. The team then ran the table.
Brandon's senior season was absolutely outrageous. He ran for more than 3,000 yards and scored 38 touchdowns. The Mustangs advanced to the state semis before losing, and Brandon collected plenty of hardware, including recognition as a USA Today All-America, Orlando Sentinel All-Southern, Prep Star All-Region and Louisiana Class 4A Most Valuable Offensive Player.
Among the colleges courting Brandon was Auburn. Another larger-than-life back, Bo Jackson, had once starred for the Tigers. When coach Tommy Tuberville offered a scholarship, Brandon accepted. It was at this point that the teenager discovered that the Louisiana school system had failed him. Many years earlier, he had taken a special education class. By state law, this course could not count toward his graduation. And without a diploma, he could not attend Auburn. Brandon was thus relegated to junior college ball.
In 2001, Brandon enrolled at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, a football feeder school. Among the players that Coffeyville hadsent to the pros were Leonard Little, Keith Traylor and Reggie Nelson. The staff for the Ravens got one look at Brandon and tried to make him a lineman. He insisted on playing running back—and on getting his academics squared away. Unlike some JC students, he sucked up knowledge and enjoyed his classwork. In both pursuits, Brandon had an ally in head coach Jeff Leiker. Leiker had once coached Corey Dillon at the community college level. He new exactly how to employ Brandon in his modified I formation.
ON THE RISE
In 10 games as a freshman, Brandon rumbled for 927 yards on 130 carries. He averaged more than seven yards every time he touched the ball. Brandon scored 13 touchdowns in the regular season and added four more in the playoffs, tacking on an additional 422 rushing yards. That was just a prelude to the 2002 season, when Brandon tore through defenses for 1,6238 yards and 17 touchdowns—and added 258 yards and three more scores in the postseason. After two years for Coffeyville, Brandon was the hands-down, no-doubt pick as the top prospect in the junior college ranks.
In 2003, Brandon finally made it to Auburn. He joined a backfield that included Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams—a rushing combinatoin that probably was better than a couple in the NFL. Brandon was relegated to third-string duty much of the year, but he still finished second on the team with 446 yards. He racked on this total on just 72 carries. He also reeled in 11 passes for another 149 yards.
Tacklers in the SEC may have been bigger, faster and stronger, but wrestling Brandon to the ground wasn’t any easier. In the Mississippi State game, Auburn installed him its featured back. He ran 31 times for 182 yards. Ironically, in what should have been Brandon’s headline-grabbing performance, Williams equaled a school record by scoring six times. One week later, playing close to home against LSU, Tuberville gave Brandon a grand total of one carry.
By season’s end, Brandon was effectively pushed out of the backfield rotation. He even practiced at linebacker before the Music City Bowl. Reggie Torber, later a Giants teammate, remembers how strange it was to see him lining up on defense.
Like Brandon, Brown and Williams were both juniors, only both had first-round pick written all over them. When Brandon acknowledged that he didn't figure to see much more playing time in 2004, he set the wheels in motion for a transfer—with help from his old coaches at Coffeyville.
NCAA rules allow players to switch schools without sitting out for a year if they bump down to Division I-AA. Not wanting to be sidetracked further, Brandon accepted a scholarship at Southern Illinois University. The year at Auburn was hardly a wasted one, though. Brandon met his future wife, Kim, at the school. She was working toward a master’s degree in child development.
Not surprisingly, Brandon’s presence transformed the SIU ground attack. In eight games for the Salukies, he carried the ball 150 times for 922 yards and 19 touchdowns. At times when Brandon smashed into enemy tacklers, it just didn’t seem fair. To make matters worse for SIU opponents, the Salukis had two other takented backs in the lineup, Terry Jackson and Arkee Whitlock (who was also a Coffeyville alum). SIU head coach Jerry Kill could barely contain his delight watching these three runners punish opponents. The Salukis finished at 10–2.
For his college career, Brandon amassed 4,003 yards and 52 touchdowns. Including pass receptions and kick returns, he averaged just under seven yards gained every time he touched the football.
Despite his unusually quick feet, balance and explosive speed, Brandon was viewed by pro scouts as a short-yardage, battering-ram type back. In other words, he was looking at an NFL career as a third-stringer. Brandon had a different idea. Given the injury picture in the pros, he sensed he would get a chance to show his stuff if he learned the playbook, kept his mouth shut, and did his job.
When the Giants called Brandon's name in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, he had mixed feelings. Ultra-durable Tiki Barber was the man in New York, so Brandon would definitely have to bide his time. On the other hand, the Giants were no strangers to smash-mouth football, especially around the goal line, where coach Tom Coughlin liked to punch it in with big backs.
And that’s exactly what happened. In the Giants’ opener against the Arizona Cardinals, Brandon got the call and scored on a five-yard run. He carried the ball a total of six times and rolled up 39 yards. It was an encouraging debut, and although this would be his best effort of the '05 campaign, Brandon saw plenty of action. A week later against the New Orleans Saints, for example, he barreled across the goal line from one yard out. Brandon scored five more touchdowns on the year, finishing his rookie season with 99 yards. His longest run was 21 yards. Brandon also proved to be a good player on special teams for New York.
The 2006 season saw Brandon’s touches increase from 38 to 97, as he racked up 432 rushing yards and led the team with nine touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes, including a 43-yarder against the Dallas Cowboys. In three games during the season, Brandon carried the ball 10 times or more. He attributed his development in part to studying films of Eddie George, a 230-pound runner who found success in the NFL. Brandon outweighed the former Heisman Trophy winner by a good 30 pounds, but both men were unusually fast for their size.
Despite the steady progress being made by Eli Manning, the Giants never quite found their rhythm and suffered through a lackluster second half in '06. They were in jeopardy of missing the playoffs when they faced the Redskins in the season finale. In that game, Barber ran for a career-high 250 yards in what he told teammates would be his last as a Giant. New York defeated Washington and squeaked into the postseason. They lost the following week to the Philadelphia Eagles in their Wild Card game.
MAKING HIS MARK
No one could say for sure what the Giants would look like in 2007. With Barber retired and Michael Strahan threatening to do the same, the question of leadership weighed heavily on New York as they gathered for training camp. On the plus side, the Giants had talent and depth at most of their skill positions, as well as a quick and aggressive defensive line and a top defensive coordinator in Steve Spagnola.
The X Factor was Coughlin. He had nearly lost his job in 2006 and was offered a one-year deal in '07 that some saw as insulting. The hard-nosed style that had served Coughlin so well in college and in his first stint in the NFL had worn thin on the Giants. Coughlin himself acknowledged this and vowed to be more communicative with his players.
It took the Giants most of the season to find themselves. Sometimes they looked unbeatable. Other times they beat themselves. They tended to look their best, however, when Brandon was in the game. A knee injury in the opener against Dallas kept him off the field for much of September. He returned with a vengeance in October, spurring a 4–0 run by Big Blue.
Brandon made all the difference. Known to most NFL fans as a situational runner, he carried the load for New York in October. In his first game back from his injury, he rolled up an even 100 yards against the crosstown Jets to reach the century mark for the first time in his career. He went on to tally two more 100-yard games, setting new career highs both times. Brandon finished October with 424 yards—the most in the NFL—and was named Player of the Month. The Giants scored 112 points during those four games and led the league with better than 700 rushing yards.
The formula of Brandon on the ground and Manning throught the air made the Giants a solid postseason possibility, despite their apparent inability to defeat the division-rival Cowboys. Come December, Nw York fans could look forward to a playoff berth, but they were clearly unsure about their team’s chances. Manning still lacked the confidence of a championship quarterback, which the press was all too eager to point out. Brandon, meanwhile, was slowed down by hamstring problems. He missed back-to-back games as the season was drawing to a close.
To this day, the turning point for the Giants is often said to be their narrow loss to the New England Patriots in the final game of the regular season. In truth, their transformation into a championship club came a week earlier against the Buffalo Bills. Needing a win to regain some momentum before their showdown with the undefeated Pats, New York ran the ball down Buffalo’s throat. Brandon logged 24 carries for a career-high 154 yards and a pair of touchdowns. One of his scores came on a 43-yard romp—by far his longest as a pro.
Just as astonishing in the Buffalo game was the performance by running mate Ahmad Bradshaw. The rookie tore it up for 151 yards and a touchdown. It marked the first time in team history that two backs had reached triple-digits in the same contest. Buffalo was no pushover—the Big Blue O-line had found its mojo in a major way.
The Giants followed this triumph by nearly spoiling New England's undefeated campaign. Manning found himself as a leader, and the defense learned a thing or two about the vulnerabilities of the Patriots. Still, New York faced three playoff games on the road before the team would get another crack at Tom Brady & Co. Brandon eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in the 38-35 loss to the Pats, finishing the year with 1,009 in only nine starts. He scored four touchdowns.
In Big Blue's Wild Card game at Tampa Bay, Brandon proved to be a difference maker, scoring twice in a hard-fought 24–14 victory over the Buccaneers. He caught a short pass from Manning for New York's first TD and ran one in from eight yards out for the team’s second score. It marked the first time in history that a Giant had scored on a pass and run in a postseason game.
Against the Cowboys the following week, the Giants avenged their two regular-season losses when Brandon plunged into the end zone late in the fourth quarter to give them a 21–17 lead. Dallas bit back, reaching the red zone with nine seconds to play. The Giants sealed their victory when R.W. McQuarters picked off a Tony Romo pass in the end zone.
In the NFC Championship in Green Bay against the Packers, Brandon reached the end zone again. His one-yard run midway through the third quarter put the Giants ahead 13–10. In the closing moments of regulation, with the score tied 20–20, Bradhsaw made a magnificent touchdown run, apparently sending New York to the Super Bowl. The play was called back on a holding penalty. When Lawrence Tynes missed a field goal, the NFC title game went to overtime for the first time in a decade. At the beginning of the extra period, Corey Webster intercepted a pass from Brett Favre to set up the winning field goal.
Despite their three hard-won road victories, the Giants were still prohibitive underdogs against New England in the Super Bowl. The game was a defensive battle through three periods, with the Pats holding a 7–3 edge. New York scored on a short pass from Manning to David Tyree four minutes into the final quarter. By this time, the Big Blue pass rush was taking its toll on Brady, battering him virtually every time he dropped back to pass. Still, but he managed an 80-yard drive that culminated with a TD pass to Randy Moss.
With time running out and New England leading 14–10, the Giants staged one last desperate drive highlighted by great catches by Steve Smith and Tyree. The winning score came on a pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left. The New York victory went down as one of the greatest upsets in NFL history. Brandon contributed with 42 yards on 14 carries.
In 2008, the Giants beautifully meshed Derrick Ward with Brandon and Bradshaw in what fans began to call the Earth, Wind & Fire attack. (Guess which Brandon was.) The trio was at its best against the Ravens and their vaunted defense in a November game. Ray Lewis and friends looked like children as Brandon shredded Baltimore for 70 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter. That was only six yards less than the Ravens had given up to an entire team on the ground all year.
Brandon was used sparingly after that, as Ward took center stage. He ripped through holes carry after carry during New York's third touchdown drive. Later in the game Bradshaw snapped off a 77-yard run that set up a field goal in an eye-opening 30–10 victory. The Giants finished with 210 yards on the ground.
New York split its final six games of the year to finish at 12–4. Brandon appeared in only three of those contests due to injury suffered against the Ravens. He saw enough action to surpass 1,000 yards, finishing with 1,089. In the season’s next-to-last game, he found the end zone three times against Carolina in a 34-28 overtime win. Two big runs by Ward in the extra period set up Brandon’s game-winning TD. It gave him 15 for the year—second-most in team history.
Unfortunately, the season fell short of expectations. The Giants’ quest to defend their championship ended in the playoffs against Philadelphia. Brandon was one of the few productive players against the Eagles defense with 92 yards on the ground. Big Blue fell 23–11. After the season, the Giants placed the franchise tag on Brandon and wrote him a new $25 million contract.
In 2009, Brandon again played the role of workhorse, logging a career-high 224 carries. He found defenses a little tougher to get through, however, amassing a mere 835 yards and only five TDs. He did not have a 100-yard rushing game, but he did reach the century mark in total offense twice, against the Eagles and Cowboys. It was a less-than-successful season for the entire team, as New York squandered a 5–0 start and won just three more games all season. By the end of the year, Brandon was tired and hurt. A knee injury suffered against the Panthers erased any chance he had of reaching 1,000 yards for the third year in a row.
The 2010 Giants retooled their offense to feature Brandon less and rely more on Manning’s arm. Receivers Hakim Nix, Kevin Boss and Mario Manningham accounted for 25 TDs. Bradshaw got the lion’s share of the carries and produced a superb 1,200-yard season, although he faded toward the end of the schedule.
Brandon had a good season, proving especially useful in the red zone. He battered his way to nine touchdowns and had 823 yards. His two best games came back-to-back against the Minnesota Vikings and then the Eagles in December. He went over 100 yards against both opponents and scored three times.
The Giants finished the year with a 10–6 record, which is normally enough for a playoff bid. But the Eagles had an identical record and were declared NFC East champs by virtue of their two wins over New York. This was particularly galling for Giants fans because the second victory came when Big Blue squandered a 31—10 fourth-quarter lead to lose 38–31.
The 2011 season brought the Giants back to the top of the NFL. Brandon once again played a secondary role. Nicked by injuries and having lost a half-step, he was no longer a 1,000-yard rusher. However, he was still the team’s go-to guy when tough yards were needed. With Bradshaw hurt at times, the Giants’ rushing attack spent most of the season at or near the bottom of the NFC, at least statistically.
Manning, however, has matured into one of the league’s elite quarterbacks, even if people outside of New York didn’t believe. The veteran signal caller enjoyed the best year of his career, throwing for nearly 5,000 yards and 29 touchdowns and posting a 92.9 QB rating. Manning was most dangerous in the fourth quarter. Time and gain, he led the Giants to comeback victories.
Brandon finished the year with 571 yards and seven touchdowns, while missing two October games. The Giants got healthy down the stretch and finished strong, making the playoffs with two clutch wins over the Cowboys. In the first Dallas game, Brandon rumbled for two touchdowns and his only 100-yard game of the season in a dramatic 37–34 victory. Early in that game, he showed his athleticism when he jumped completely over Gerald Sensabaugh, who had crouched low to tackle him.
Brandon was the blunt force object in the team’s opening-round playoff victory against the Falcons. He carried the ball 14 times against Atlanta and seemed to get five yards every time he touched it. He finished with 92 yards in an easy 24–2 win. The Giants disposed of the heavily favored Packers a week later, 37–20. Brandon put the nail in Green Bay’s coffin with a 14-yard touchdown run with the score 30–20 in the fourth quarter. Against the 49ers in the NFC title game, Brandon had five carries and two receptions in a 20–17 win that vaulted the Giants into the Super Bowl. He added 37 yards on nine caries and helped soften up the New England defense for a stirring comeback win, 21–27.
The Giants began thinking "dynasty" at about the time Brandon came on the scene, and that is no coincidence. He helped create a foundation for an offense that maximizes the talents of Manning, who has grown into a team leader and a heroic clutch performer. Two Super Bowls across five seasons may not constitute a dynasty, but when NFL fans look back on the glory years of the New York Giants, Brandon will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the elite corps of stars that brought the team to the promised land with two astonishing victories.
BRANDON THE PLAYER
Brandon has been called everything from a juggernaut to a freak of nature. Truth is, there are few terms that don’t describe him accurately. He is big and fast and nimble. He plays hard and plays smart. He works hard between games to refine his craft and understands his role and value on every page of the playbook.
Brandon is like a sponge. He soaks up knowledge and asks questions. He knows that regardless of how big he is, a lot of the game is still played between the ears. To this end, he has become a good pass-blocker and has modified his upright running style somewhat.
For any big back in the NFL, staying healthy is the key. Because he is so hard to bring down, Brandon regularly takes a pounding. Running closer to the ground and protecting his legs has helped with his durability, but it makes him less effective as a horizontal runner. As he as aged, his best work tends to come between the tackles.
When NFL stars list their least favorite opponents, Brandon's name always comes up. That is partly due to his punishing running style. It's also a comment on his bombastic persona. Brandon is an emotional player who likes to tell defenders exactly what's on his mind. This may grate on opponents, but teammates love Brandon and his offensive line takes great pride in opening holes for him.
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