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Julio Cortez, Associated Press
New York Giants middle linebacker Chase Blackburn (93) runs with teammates during NFL football practice, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers in the NFC championship game.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — A little less than two months ago, Chase Blackburn was considering a career as a substitute middle-school math teacher.

Out of work for four months and with a recently born second child, Blackburn was ready to move on. Playing middle linebacker in the NFL would be replaced by teaching algebra to teens and pre-teens in that limbo between grammar school and high school.

Reality had set in and a second career was about to begin — that is until the New York Giants called and told him to grab his bags and get back to New Jersey.

Blackburn not only got back, he earned the starting job on a defense that has helped propel the Giants (11-7) into Sunday's NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers.