Even with a few days to let the idea sink in, former USF linebacker Jacquian Williams is still getting used to the thought of actually playing in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
"It's unbelievable," Williams said. "I even asked myself, 'Am I really going?' I'm still shook up about it."
To simply be a part of a Super Bowl team would be a thrill. But Williams played a huge role in the Giants' 20-17 win Sunday in the NFC title game against the 49ers, forcing a fumble on a punt return that set up Lawrence Tynes' field goal in overtime.
"It was a battle between offense and defense, and somebody needed to make a play," the graduate of Riverview High said. "I had the opportunity to knock the ball out of his hands."
Williams, 23, nearly let 49ers returner Kyle Williams past him.
But the 6-foot-2, 224-pounder dived and reached his right hand out, poking the ball out of Williams' hands and into the arms of teammate Devin Thomas.
"He gave me a good move, and as he was passing me, I saw the ball and stuck my hand out," Williams said. "I'm lucky to have long arms. I saw D.T. just catch it. It was fast. I didn't know what was going on for a split second, but I started celebrating."
The forced fumble put the rookie in the national spotlight, but the sixth-round pick has been making plays all season for New York. His 78 tackles were, among NFL rookies, behind only Bucs linebacker Mason Foster. His three fumble recoveries were the most of any first-year player. And in the entire league, only Vikings defensive end Jared Allen had more with four.
Williams entered the lockout-shortened training camp uncertain of a roster spot. Seeing the returning veterans on the Giants defense, he knew special teams was the easiest way to make a name for himself. He filled in with two starts at linebacker but said it was fitting his biggest play would come on kickoff coverage.
"I take a lot of pride in special teams," he said. "A lot of games, including our game, you win or lose on special teams."
Williams learned a lot from another Giants rookie, assistant special teams coach Larry Izzo. Izzo collected 275 special teams tackles during a 14-year career that included three Pro Bowls and three Super Bowl rings with New England.
Williams, having grown up and played high school and college football in Tampa, knows he has a fan base rooting for him and fellow former Bull Jason Pierre-Paul next week against the Patriots. He said he won't forget the calls and text messages that came after Sunday's win.
"Tampa always showed me a lot of love, but now that's a true blessing from my hometown," he said.
Sunday's win came at the expense of former USF coach Jim Leavitt, another NFL rookie as 49ers linebackers coach. Leavitt first used Williams on special teams during the player's first season with the Bulls, in 2009, and Williams was grateful to see his former coach before and after the game.
Williams said he's excited about bringing his mother, Theolanda, from Tampa, and other family members to Indianapolis for another chance at football history.
"That," he said, "would be special."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected]m.