Jokester Ruegamer has practical side

Grey Ruegamer knew it was a matter of time, because when you arrive at Super Bowl week and begin talking about how you used to castrate lambs with your teeth and how the worst part was getting blood on your mustache, well, you can bet the questions about handling blitz packages and if Eli Manning will ever emerge from big brother’s shadow are going to disappear for a few minutes.

"You can’t imagine the number of texts and phone calls I received," Ruegamer said. "My buddies were like, ‘Dude, we heard that stuff on television!’ "

He has a fondness for practical jokes and a soft spot for making sure children learn to read and realize the importance of helping create a more literate society. His goal is to change things one novel at a time.

It’s also to ensure whatever unsuspecting teammate he chooses at the end of each season doesn’t know all those old toenail clippings and callous shavings have been placed in his wallet until following the last game. More on that weirdness later.

When Ruegamer was a sophomore at Bishop Gorman High, a promising football player who was struggling to remain as focused in the classroom as he was on the field, he was pulled aside one day by a biology teacher who delivered this message:

You have limitless potential. Don’t be an idiot and blow it.

It seems he’s a pretty good listener: Ruegamer is in his 10th NFL season, and the offensive lineman stands three wins from his third Super Bowl ring and second straight with the Giants, who host Philadelphia in an NFC divisional round playoff game Sunday.

Ruegamer also has a ring with the Patriots and started 11 games for the Packers in 2004 on a line that set single-season team records for fewest sacks allowed. It beats grabbing those lambs by the forelegs and pinning them down and biting away and spitting the you-know-whats into a bucket, but, hey, a friend had asked for help and there was free beer involved.

(If you’re interested, Ruegamer has pictures).

But it was in Green Bay where he first established a reading program for elementary school students, one that has made its way here and will again be the beneficiary of a "Bowling for Books" fundraiser April 25 at the Suncoast.

Since 2006, Ruegamer has partnered with Clark County READS to donate books to the libraries of local schools, to make sure the significance of reading is not buried under the dark clouds of overcrowded classrooms and severe budget cuts and a blatant indifference for learning.

"We’re not talking about millions of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars," Ruegamer said. "But Las Vegas grew so fast, the school system in many ways got left behind in Clark County. There are a lot of problems and not enough money to go around, so this is our way to make an effort to hopefully alleviate some of the burden schools are feeling and give a small portion back.

"The goal is to create more well-rounded students, to expose them to different genres. Fiction, nonfiction, biographical, autobiographical, whatever might interest them. If we’re able to change the life of one kid and have a positive impact on that child reading more, it’s all worth it. School can be rough for some kids. It was for me."

It was different for the Giants this season. You don’t beat an 18-0 team in the previous Super Bowl and not be viewed in an elevated manner. You don’t do the impossible and not expect every opponent’s best effort the following year.

But if the expectations of his team created a more intense attitude in the locker room, Ruegamer’s personality remained as quirky as ever. This includes his annual habit of saving those toenail clippings and callous shavings for a teammate to discover while reaching for some money.

Ruegamer doesn’t have an exact grading system to determine which teammate he will torment, only to say he makes a list throughout the season and relies on a sliding scale as to who moves up and down it, crossing off names as weeks pass.

Finally, the last game is finished and Ruegamer and his cup full of disgusting leftovers go in search of someone’s wallet.

"It’s best when they don’t discover it until maybe they are at the airport flying home," he said. "That way, even if they are mad at me, there’s plenty of time to get over it before the next season."

As long as he doesn’t put them in any of those new books. That could turn a kid off to reading for life.

Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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