EAST RUTHERFORD, N. J. - Castrating a lamb with your teeth is a pretty simple procedure, really. Grey Ruegamer knows. “You grab the forelegs and pin them to the ground, and then you grab the back legs and throw them on their back,” Ruegamer said.
And when the, uh, target area is exposed, “away you go. It’s the way the Basques do it.”
Ruegamer, a former Arizona State All-American who will return for Super Bowl XLII with the New York Giants, became a practitioner when a family friend, who is Basque, asked for extra help on her working sheep and cattle ranch outside Las Vegas, Nev., where Ruegamer grew up.
A good number of Basques have settled in Nevada — there once was legalized gambling on jai alai, a sport played almost exclusively by Basques, in Las Vegas — and the rancher had about 200 head of young sheep that needed attention.
“I was hesitant,” Ruegamer said with a laugh. “But it is what it is. She needed help. There was beer. Good times. It was worth it.”
As for the procedure itself, “you pull them out with your teeth, spit them in a bucket, next one.
“There was other work that had to get done, so we had to hurry with that and move onto the next thing. It’s just a little lamb. It’s not a big animal. I have pictures.
“The blood on your mustache is the worst part.”
Ruegamer is the only Giant who has played in a winning Super Bowl, courtesy of his 2001 season with New England — New York’s heavily favored Super Bowl opponent in Glendale on Feb. 3.
He must be the only player in the NFL with his specialized veterinary skills, a testament to a why-not? streak that also manifested itself during his career as a four-year starting offensive lineman at ASU.
Ruegamer, 6-foot-4 and 299 pounds, started at both center and left tackle for Bruce Snyder’s Sun Devils from 1995-98 and was a Walter Camp All-American and a Lombardi Award finalist as a senior center.
He was a valuable component on the 1996 Rose Bowl team and a fast friend of Jake Plummer, Keith Poole and Pat Tillman, among others.
And if he rode a bicycle naked in the dressing room after a victory or showed up at a Friday walkthrough in what Snyder described as a Halloween costume, that was just Grey being Grey.
“Grey could look at something that was conventional and he may not do it that way. He has enough freedom and confidence to do it that way. He’s a prankster. He loved humor, even if he were the butt of it,” Snyder said.
“The fact that he was such a good friend to Pat Tillman says a lot. For him to assign a strong value to you, you needed to be honest with yourself. You couldn’t b.s.”
Ruegamer is looking forward to his return, saying “it will be great to get back home to Arizona.
“I had fun in my four years. I had a good career. I was real happy with the time. There was very little left undone between me and the offensive linemen and Plummer and Poole. There are a lot of things that happened that weren’t very printable.”
He has continued his zaniness with the Giants, keeping his teammates loose and wary at the same time.
“Grey is not somebody you want to mess with,” Giants center and captain Shaun O’Hara said.
“He keeps all of his toenail clippings and callous shavings all season long in a cup, and if anybody wrongs him and he deems it necessary, he will dump that cup in a personal belonging of theirs. He’s known for that.”
Not to be lost in his antics, however, is Ruegamer’s dedication on the field.
Ruegamer, in his second season with the Giants in a nine-year NFL career, has made his value felt in the playoffs, filling in seamlessly when injuries sprung up on the offensive line.
He started at center in a 24-14 first-round victory over Tampa Bay when O’Hara was out with a knee injury suffered in the regular-season finale against New England.
Ruegamer played left guard in the fourth quarter in the 23-20 NFC championship game victory over Green Bay after Rich Seubert went out an injury. He also has played tight end in the Giants’ short-yardage package.
“I don’t think how many people realize what a luxury it is to have Grey on our team,” O’Hara said. “They didn’t miss me at all. That’s just a testament to him, being a consummate pro and always being ready to step in. That’s the toughest thing to do, to be ready when you are not starting.”
Although Seubert is expected to start the Super Bowl, Ruegamer is on alert.
“It’s the old cliché, you are only a play away, so you have to make sure that you know your assignments and everything,” Ruegamer said. “It’s helped me stay in the league. Position flexibility has been a key.”
Ruegamer has made 19 NFL starts, mostly at center but at least once at both guard spots, in a career that began in Miami in 1999 and included three seasons with New England and Green Bay.
His aggressiveness and physical play showed up as early as Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High, where he also was an undefeated heavyweight wrestler as a senior.
“He was really unappreciated by outside people,” Snyder said. “He made very few assignment errors. He was just so smart that he could play a lot of positions, and that kind of guy is really valuable.
“He was very aggressive. He showed up sometimes knocking people down. He had fun playing. He could take one right on the chin and get up and laugh and say 'Nice shot.’
“He’s an unforgettable character.”