Watch CBSN Live

Wounded Iraq Vet A Can-Do Spirit Giant

This story originally aired Jan. 30, 2008. The New York Giants went on to beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

When Lt. Col. Greg Gadson lost both legs to an improvised explosive device on a battlefield in Iraq in May, he had no way of knowing it was the beginning of an unlikely journey to a very different kind of battlefield --the site of the Super Bowl this Sunday.

As CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor reported on The Early Show Wednesday, Gadson became an inspirational leader of the New York Giants as they marched to their upcoming showdown with the New England Patriots.

He's even been named an honorary Giants captain -- and will be in Arizona Sunday, cheering on "Big Blue" as they try to keep the Patriots from an undefeated season.

Glor says many Giants players and fans see Gadson as the source of magic that took their team to this year's NFL pinnacle.

It began when the former West Point football player was wounded in Iraq. His old teammates rallied 'round him one-by-one as word spread.

Among them: Mike Sullivan, the Giant's wide receivers' coach.

Sensing Gadson's brave and courageous attitude, Sullivan asked him to address the team, which Gadson did the night before the season's third game, against the Washington Redskins.

The Giants had lost their first two contests, and appeared to be headed in the wrong direction, but pulled out game three in its late stages to begin their trail to the Super Bowl.

Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin awarded Gadson the ceremonial game ball.

What does he think of when he looks at it now, Glor asked him.

"This really kind of represents the beginning of the Giants' season," Gadson responded.

But his other team, Glor points out, is the 400-strong battalion of men and women he led in combat in Iraq.

When wounded, he says he "asked God -- I said, 'I don't want to die here in this country.' "

Gadson is the first to tell you he's not a hero, just a soldier doing his job, in Afghanistan, Operation Desert Storm, and Bosnia, "from a platoon leader, to a battery commander, to a battalion commander -- building a team," as Gadson put it.

The story about how a professional football team's hopes and dreams came to rest partially on Gadson's broad shoulders has its roots two decades ago, Glor notes, on the playing field at West Point. As the team's top defensive lineman, he played much larger than his five-foot-eleven-inch, 195-pound frame.

In 1988, when Gadson was a senior at the academy, his Army team played one game at Giants stadium. At the time, no one could have predicted that, almost 20 years later, his life would intersect with the Giants once again.

"When men devote their emotional input, and they put all of their energies into something that's greater than them, you forge a bond that will last a lifetime," Gadson told Glor.

After his injury in Iraq, one-by-one. his football brothers rallied around their fallen comrade. "It's incredible how, without hesitation, these guys have been there for me," Gadson marvels.

Within hours, Will Huff was at Gadson's side, from a Baghdad hospital all the way to Landstuhl, Germany. Chuck Schretzman was there after Gadson landed at Andrews Air Force Base.

And Mike Sullivan -- the Giants' receivers coach -- visited Gadson at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the Washington, D.C. area.

"Those bonds that you talk about almost go beyond words, beyond description," Glor remarked.

"They are," Gadson agreed.

That's when Sullivan asked Gadson if he wanted to address the 0-2 Giants.

In that speech, Gadson says, he reminded the Giants that, "It's the soldiers that are out there with you, your brothers, that's who you're really fighting for -- you're fighting for that guy on your left and you're fighting for that guy on your right."

"How he expressed it," Sullivan says, "there's really no way to do it justice, because it was so moving. It was from the heart, and it was very, very powerful."

Down 17-to-3 at the half, the Giants stormed back in the fourth quarter for their first win.

One of the Giants who formed a special bond that night was star wide receiver Plaxico Burress.

"When somebody of his magnitude and caliber, what he's been through, for him to look up to us, that just says a lot about him and means more to us."

And Coughlin drew loud cheers from the team when he announced to the team in the locker room that Gadson was getting that game ball.

Standing proudly on prosthetic legs, Gadson met the Giants eye-to-eye at their first playoff game, in Tampa.

His role as honorary captain is now part of football legend, Glor says, but Gadson is continuing his mission on another playing field, encouraging and inspiring fellow wounded vets.

"If you keep focus on your goal, then it'll come. I promise you that," he told one.

"We had a saying in our locker room (in West Point) on a board that we used to touch every time that we left our locker room," Gadson recalled to Glor. Now it hangs above the door to his kitchen. It says, "I lay me down for to bleed awhile, and I will rise to fight with you again."

View CBS News In