- Tom Friend, ESPN Senior Writer
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But he unofficially joined them in March in the cold Manhattan rain.
Coming off ACL surgery just seven months ago, with no team to supervise his recovery, Bulluck spent most of his spring rehabbing in New York. In the process, he fell back in love with the city of his youth -- and signed Saturday with the Giants, making it the city of his immediate future.
Bulluck's one-year deal is worth about $2.5 million with incentives, a league source told ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk.
"Just walking the streets of New York gave me my edge back," said Bulluck, 33, a former Pro Bowl player who has spent his 10 NFL seasons with the Tennessee Titans. "Some of those walks were tough, man. Like when it's raining or sleeting or it's just cold out. And your knee aches. I wasn't 100 percent at the time.
"But the energy of it all helped me," Bulluck added. "Just the people, the good attitudes, the bad attitudes, just the whole vibe of the metropolitan area. If you're from there or have ever been there, you definitely know what I'm talking about. I'd have to say this is a dream come true."
Bulluck visited with the Arizona Cardinals after his visit with the Giants this week but it didn't take him long to make up his mind on where to play this season.
"He was pretty geeked up about both places," Gary Wichard, Bulluck's agent, said by telephone on Saturday. "Next day he calls me up and he says, 'I've been dreaming about this my whole life. I'm from New York. It's not even close.' It was his dream to play for the Giants. He grew up in New City. Like all kids his age, LT [Lawrence Taylor] was what it is about."
A native of New City, New York -- about 20 miles from the Meadowlands -- Bulluck fills a huge need for the Giants, who released middle linebacker Antonio Pierce in February and were trying to replace him with Jonathan Goff and Chase Blackburn.
But the Giants also fill a huge need for Bulluck, who'd been twisting in the wind ever since he blew out his left knee Dec. 20 -- two weeks before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
"It's just hard when you're a free agent with an injury," he said. "You kind of feel like after all you've done, you're being abandoned."
Bulluck had 108 tackles last season in 14 games before suffering his knee injury. Bulluck had started 127 straight games prior to the injury.
Wichard said Bulluck's knee isn't an issue.
"He is seven months post-operation, he is ready to go," Wichard said. "He didn't want to visit or meet anybody until he could work out for them."
Following the 2009 season, Bulluck was only allowed to rehab at the Titans facility through Feb. 28 -- because, as of March 1, he was no longer a member of the organization. And he left town miffed, because management seemed ambivalent about re-signing him.
"I asked a couple coaches, and I actually asked the general manager what was up with me," Bulluck said. "And I never got any clear answers. So that told me right then and there what was up. And I understand. It's a business thing. They've got to see how I'm going to be in six or seven months when my injury's healed.
"It's easy when you get hurt and you're on a team, and you have a facility to go to. The trainers are going to work with you; you've got everything right there for you. Mind you, I'd never had a major injury before. So this being my first major injury and for me to not be with a team, I felt displaced this whole time. I really felt displaced."
With nowhere else to go, he flew to New York on the final day of February.
"Well, New York -- that's where I'm from," he said. "My second home. New York, that's where I kind of get my football mentality from. You know the song, 'If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.' I consider myself a New Yorker. So, yeah, you've got to go back to where everything started. I was broke down. My body was broke down, so I had to get back to my roots. Go get back around my friends, my family, like the people I probably needed most at the time, and that's where they all were -- in New York."
Through one of those friends, he hooked up with Gary Guerriero, a physical therapist/trainer/strength coach at the U.S. Athletic Training Center. Guerriero looked up Bulluck's stats one day in April and saw that he'd been a Pro Bowl player in 2003, that he'd had 1,057 tackles over 10 Tennessee seasons. Guerriero, a longtime New Yorker, immediately started campaigning for Bulluck to join the Giants.
As many as six teams wanted to bring Bulluck in for a look-see, but neither he nor his agent saw any purpose in it. As part of his plan, he left New York at the start of May to work out with trainer Brett Fischer in Phoenix. Bulluck's periodic training partners were Darrelle Revis, Vincent Jackson and his old Syracuse buddy, Donovan McNabb.
Around July 1, Fischer told Bulluck he was full-go.
Bulluck's first team visit was July 19 at the Meadowlands. He showed up without a knee brace -- a heartening sight just seven months after surgery -- and the Giants staff led him through a series of linebacker drills in sweltering conditions. Head coach Tom Coughlin, a Syracuse alum himself, was one of Bulluck's strongest advocates, but the club wanted to wait a day to see how Bulluck's knee responded. When he woke up Tuesday without swelling, GM Jerry Reese offered him a contract and the starting middle linebacker job.
But the Cardinals were Bulluck fans, too, and convinced the linebacker to fly to Phoenix for a workout on July 21. Bulluck hit it off with head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who also dangled his starting middle linebacker job. The Cardinals had earlier lost inside linebacker Karlos Dansby to free agency and had a definite need. But Bulluck slept on it, mulled over the decision for a day and a half and chose the Giants.
"I'm a New York dude -- no way I can play anyplace else," Bulluck said. "New York's about toughness ... the NFC East. That's where I belong. ...
"I felt like [the Titans] could've signed me at the beginning of last year or halfway through the season if they really wanted me. So they know what's up. They've seen me play, practice, carry myself. Even in big games. They know what type of player I am. So them being my former team now, they don't want to see me on the other sideline, for sure."
But they will see him fairly soon -- the Giants host the Titans on Sept. 26.
"The game changes now that I'm in New York," Bulluck said. "The game totally changes. I think that the energy that the city brings and the excitement and the fans that all the New York sports teams have will definitely help me out a lot. Just as far as stoking the fire that's still burning. I'd love to help bring another championship to New York.
"But I can't just go back there and not be productive. I've still got work to do, and I'm still working towards everything that I need to do for myself individually. I mean, it would've been great to end my career in Tennessee because that's where I started. But it would be great to end my career in New York because that's where it really all started."
Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk contributed to this report.
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