It’s not very often that a football team’s punter is one of the most popular players on the squad.

However, the current wearer of #5 for the New York Football Giants, punter Steve Weatherford, is exactly that.

Steve spent his first two and half years in the league with the New Orleans Saints where he was good, but not great. He was cut seven games into the 2008 season and bounced around from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Jacksonville Jaguars for the rest of the season. In 2009, it looked like he finally found a home with the Giants hometown rivals, the New York Jets.

Under the tutelage of famed Jets special teams’ coordinator, Mike Westhoff, Weatherford had his two best seasons — up until that point — in 2009 & 2010. Curiously, the Jets released Weatherford after the 2010 season, which ended up working out perfectly for the New York Giants who just went through a disastrous 2010 campaign with rookie punter, Matt Dodge.

Giants’ fans who had to put up with Dodge’s horrendous punting, and the drastic DeSean Jackson punt return to cap off the meltdown in the Meadowlands, instantly warmed to Weatherford, even if he had come from the hated Jets. Despite Dodge’s terrible year, Giants GM Jerry Reese still wanted to give his draft pick a fighting chance and Weatherford went through a tough battle in camp that year to win the job. My ulcers are thankful that the Giants brass made the correct choice in selecting Steve Weatherford.

On the field, Steve Weatherford has been simply fantastic for the Giants. In fact, I truly believe the Giants would not have won Super Bowl 46 without him. He constantly kept the Patriots pinned deep in their zone with tremendous directional punting. It was his opening punt which forced the Patriots to their own six yard line, eventually resulting in Tom Brady getting flagged for intentional grounding in his own end-zone which gave the Giants an early 2-0 lead.

He also gave Giants’ fans one of my personal favorite memories during this Super Bowl run with his in the moment celebration after the field goal kick against the 49ers that sent the Giants to the Super Bowl. Although many in the media were critical of the language he used in the celebration, I absolutely loved the pure emotion he showed which genuinely reflected how myself, and many other Giants’ fans, also felt in that exact moment.

Despite all of his accolades on the field during his tenure with the Giants, it is off the field where Steve truly shines, and why he has quickly become a favorite amongst Giants’ fans. Whether it’s going to prom with a young Giants’ fan who asks him, interacting with fans on Twitter, or setting aside time to take “selfies” with fans while signing autographs after practice — something I have personally witnessed him do on multiple occasions — he clearly enjoys reciprocating the Giants’ fans love for him.

While others players might go through these after practice autograph sessions as quickly as possible, you can see the joy Weatherford has in giving back to his loyal Giants’ fans. He takes time to stop and talk to fans, not just quickly sign anything that is put in front of him. He will take pictures, he will flex his tremendous biceps (okay, okay, I admit I asked him to do this), and generally seems like he is having as good a time as the fans out there.

Speaking of these autograph sessions there is one specific story that I feel I need to tell from last year during a practice I attended. For the signing sessions after practices the Giants organization designates a separate area for fans with special needs. Long after most of the players signing on this specific day had already left to go back to the locker room, Steve was still out there signing autographs for all of the fans who hung around (most fans had left after Eli Manning stopped signing).

I had nowhere to be, so I decided to stay around until the very end to capture everything going on. When Steve got to the special needs section, he not only went out of his way to have long conversations with the fans there, he actually picked up one such fan and posed for a picture while holding the disabled child. To see the joy in this kid’s face was absolutely priceless, and something I was glad I was able to witness first hand.

What an honor it was to meet Brandon today! It was hot as heck out there at practice. Thank you for coming out and cheering on #BigBlue!!! #SuperFan

In sports nowadays some of these professional athletes can seem disconnected from the average fan. They make millions of dollars, while most fans are just trying to get by month to month. However, sometimes there are players who just get it. Players who appreciate that although they may have worked very hard to be in the position they are in now, that without the fans there would be no profession such as the one that allows them to make the amount of money they do. While most fans appreciate and love Steve for what he has done on the field or for his incredible physique, the moment I witnessed last year will always be the reason why he is one of my personal favorite Giants’ players.

I can honestly say that Steve Weatherford has worn that #5 Giants’ with pride, dignity, and respect.

This Sunday, the New York Football Giants are taking on the Buffalo Bills in Canton, Ohio at the annual Hall of Fame Game. Steve Weatherford likely won’t make it into the Hall of Fame for his punting accolades in the NFL, but you can rest assured that if there was a Hall of Fame for great attitudes and respect for fellow humanity, Steve Weatherford would have his smiling bust there. In fact, his bust might be the only one taking a “selfie” with a fan.

The Hall of Fame game is in just five days, Giants Nation. FIVE, for Steve Weatherford.

by James Pennisi