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Fullback is following in family's footsteps

The Giants' Greg Comella doesn't get many carries or much glory, but loves what he does.

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2001


TAMPA -- Perhaps it is no surprise that Greg Comella comes from a football family. His dad played college football, a route also followed by his two younger brothers.

But the Giants fullback has a hard time explaining how everyone ended up at the same position.

"It's very unusual," said Comella, whose primary duty is to knock defenders out of the way for running backs Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne. "The only thing I know is we all grew up in a very competitive environment. From early on, our parents were always very supportive of us in whatever endeavor we took on. How we all ended up fullbacks ... I'm not really sure."

Gene Comella, a restaurant owner from Wellesley, Mass., who played fullback at Boston College from 1966-70, chuckles at the idea as well.

"Some families spawn doctors, some lawyers, others football players. Comellas spawn fullbacks," he said. "It's been great. I think of my kids as athletes playing football. They're not the quintessential fullback type. ... Nonetheless, you still have to play, regardless of your size."

Gene Comella is in town for the Super Bowl, as are his other fullback-playing sons, ready to enjoy themselves in an RV parked in the Raymond James Stadium lot. Matt just graduated from Northeastern and hopes to get an NFL tryout this spring, just as Greg did out of college. John Paul will be a redshirt sophomore at Boston College this fall.

Athleticism runs in the family. Comella's mother, Brianne, and sister, Erin, are training for the Boston Marathon.

"Fullback is an unselfish position," Matt Comella said. "Blocking is Greg's passion, as well as mine and John Paul's. We grew up as kids and always played backyard tackle football. There was always stuff going on out in the yard, trying to kill each other. The fullback's job is to block and then receive the ball and lastly to carry the ball. Blocking to us is just as good as scoring a touchdown."

But scoring is nice, too. Comella, 25, a third-year player who was signed by the Giants as a free agent in 1998, caught an 18-yard pass from quarterback Kerry Collins in the NFC Championship Game to put the Giants up 14-0. It was his first NFL touchdown. During the regular season, he caught 36 passes, fourth best on the team, for 274 yards. He started 12 games but carried the ball just 10 times for 45 yards.

That didn't keep him from earning the distinction of being one of the hardest-working players on the team. While at Stanford, he worked out in the off-season with San Francisco 49ers receiver Jerry Rice. He found a steep, 21/2-mile incline called "The Hill" at Ramapo State Park in New Jersey. Comella would run the hill three times a week -- and got Barber to tag along once in a while.

"Greg is obsessed with working out hard," Barber said. "He'd say to me, "Tiki, no one else is doing this. The reason we're going to be successful is because we're out here. No one else is putting their minds and bodies through this.' "

Barber was rewarded with a career-high 1,006 yards and eight touchdowns. Comella was rewarded with a starting job and, now, a spot in the Super Bowl.

"It's a feeling of being stunned," Comella said. "You don't realize what's hit you. The best way I can describe it is it's one of those great dreams you had, but you always wake up too soon. You say, "Why did I have to wake up?' I'm in a situation where I haven't woke up yet. Hopefully I still won't wake up."

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