EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The text message that popped up on Rich Baird's phone brought a smile to his face.
The principal of Ohio's Dublin Sells Middle School would have to find someone else to replace a math teacher going on maternity leave. Chase Blackburn was heading back to the NFL.
In six seasons with the Giants, Blackburn, 28, was a standout on special teams and a Super Bowl champ. Yet the linebacker was watching games from his couch, waiting and hoping for a chance to resume his career.
Finally, after 12 weeks, the Giants called.
Blackburn's first game back came Dec. 4 against the Packers. His interception of Aaron Rodgers is one of just six this season for the All-Pro quarterback.
In Sunday's 24-2 NFC wild-card victory over the Falcons, Blackburn tied for the team high with nine tackles. So how was he not on the Giants roster — or any roster for that matter — for three months?
"I have no idea," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "But we're lucky in the fact that we were able to get him late. He's pretty healthy, fresh."
Blackburn had a workout with the Giants just before the season, after two linebackers sustained season-ending injuries. But general manager Jerry Reese put his faith in rookies rather than sign a veteran such as him.
He worked out for the Lions, Bengals and Rams. Nothing materialized until Giants linebackers Michael Boley and Mark Herzlich got hurt Nov. 28 against New Orleans.
And a day after Drew Brees carved up New York's defense, Blackburn got the call.
"For whatever reason, I was overlooked and things weren't in the cards for me at the time," Blackburn said. "Playing with a chip on my shoulder? Yes, but I'm just trying to make this team a better team and help them win."
Coach Tom Coughlin gave Blackburn special recognition at Monday's team meeting.
"For anyone to put on this type of performance basically right off the street is unbelievable," said Zak DeOssie, who played on special teams with Blackburn as the long snapper. But I'm not going to tell you I'm surprised. Chase has always been capable of performing at the highest level. What surprised me was how he wasn't picked up anywhere else."