Talk about living a dream. In 1998, three games into an improbable National Football League career, Jason Whittle found himself in a New York Giants uniform and about to play his boyhood team, the Dallas Cowboys – all on ABC’s Monday Night Football.

“There’s no way I should have been playing in the NFL,” said Whittle, who … wasn’t recruited heavily by the big-time college football machines out of Camdenton High School … who never made an All-American list in a mid-major conference … who watched the 1998 NFL Draft come and go. And yet …

“I was getting ready to play Dallas, and there’s Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and all of my childhood heroes,” Whittle said. “That was special.”

Little did he know that his own career would be special, too, as he carved out an 11-season NFL career (1998-2008), including as a key part of a Super Bowl team. And that is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Whittle with the Class of 2018.

He spent seven seasons with the Giants (1998-2002, 2004-2005), one year each for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings before ending with two years with the Buffalo Bills.

In New York, he helped the Giants win two NFC East titles (2000, 2005) as well as the NFC Championship in 2000, when they reached the Super Bowl – Whittle was the long-snapper — but lost to the Baltimore Ravens.

In essence, his story is one of perseverance. Of being influenced by the Friday Night Lights of Camdenton Football. Of rolling up sleeves. Of keeping his mouth shut and paying attention.

And, most importantly, of being in the right place at the right time. For instance:

  • As a redshirt sophomore at Missouri State, an injury to good friend Ryan Touhey led to a move from defensive line to offensive tackle.
  • Two years later, having been passed over in the NFL Draft but joining the Giants on a free-agent deal, an ankle sprain to a back-up O-lineman opened the door to significant playing time just before final preseason cuts.

“I got to camp and there were 16 offensive linemen, and I was No. 16 on the depth chart – and fourth string all by myself as a left guard,” Whittle said. “It wasn’t looking good. … If that guy doesn’t sprain an ankle, I’m coaching football back in Missouri.”

Turned out, Whittle stuck around for years. He played in 137 games, including 93 in New York, where he made 35 of his 44 starts. He also helped the Giants to 12-, 10- and 11-win playoff seasons in 2000, 2002 and 2005.

Along the way, he blocked for Giants quarterbacks Kerry Collins, Kurt Warner and Eli Manning, running back Tiki Barber and, with the Bills, then-rookie Marshawn Lynch. He helped Barber earn two Pro Bowl selections.

“The Super Bowl was an unbelievable memory. It was a circus,” said Whittle, who recalled the swarm of international media. “To walk on that field and when the National Anthem was sung, that always got me. It was one of my favorite times of the game, and that’s when it really sank in.”

Sank in, that is, just how far he had traveled.

As the son of a blue-collar sheet metal worker and sixth-grade teacher, Whittle was only 6-3, 155 as a high school sophomore. Yet he was a two-time All-State defensive lineman in 1991 and 1992.

“Coach (Bob) Shore was obviously an amazing coach, who somehow got the most out of every single player he had,” Whittle said. “And Coach (Pappy) Pirch, our O-line coach, gave me a love for playing in the trenches.  Coach Silverwood was ‘The Motivator, the guy who broke chalkboards.”

“I learned a ton about hard work, selflessness and teamwork,” Whittle added.

At Missouri State, he was a four-year letterman and the 1995 Arthur Briggs Award winner as the team’s top scholar athlete.

MSU O-line coach Rick Nelson and D-line coach J.C. Harper had a huge impact on getting Whittle ready for the NFL and life.

Their strategies? Films of linemen coached by Jim McNally, one of the game’s best teachers in O-lineman techniques. Turned out, McNally became Whittle’s position coach for six years in the NFL.

Whittle also had the support of his wife, Natalie, and they are now parents to Claire, Olivia, Annie, Mia, Garrett and Judah.

What. A. Career.

“I look back at football with nothing but fond memories,” Whittle said. “I wouldn’t have changed anything.”