Never have I gotten so much enjoyment out of watching the same ESPN SportsCenter edition air and re-air than I did from late last night to early this morning. By now everyone knows that the New England Patriots were derailed in their attempt to go undefeated and reach sports immortality. For the New York Football Giants were waiting in their path. In Super Bowl XLII the Giants did something that I tried to talk myself into believing was possible, even painted a scenario within my mind that had elements of what actually took place on the field, but never quite believed would happen before the game. For this reason, I am still in shock after the Giants 17-14 victory over the Patriots in last night's Super Bowl.
As a New York Giants fan, I wanted to believe that it was possible for the Giants to win. But as much as I wanted to hope it was a possibility, for the vast majority of that game, there was lingering doubt. Don't get me wrong, just about everything in the first half transpired in a way that I thought was needed if the Giants were to have a chance at this upset. During the very first drive, the Giants controlled the ball for nearly ten minutes and came away with a field goal and a 3-0 lead. Hey, the Patriots offense cannot score any points if they are not on the field, can they? But it was not until after the Patriots scored on their first drive to take a 7-3 lead that the key to the Giants win began to unfold.
Now I've made it no secret to some that I absolutely abhor the whole lionization of Tom Brady. Sure, he is certainly a great quarterback, but I have long thought it was premature to name him as the best quarterback of all time as some have whispered, if not shouted. Heading into last night's Super Bowl, Brady was 3-0 as a Super Bowl starting quarterback, and there were many who seemed to take this to mean that he single handedly won each of those previous championships. People seem to forget what happened in the Patriots' first Super Bowl victory against the St. Louis Rams (XXXVI). Brady's stats in that game were 16/27 for 145 yards and one touchdown (with no interceptions). Those are decent stats, but nothing extraordinary. Essentially, Brady did not make any mistakes and never had to win the game on his own. The defense was what won that game for the Patriots, as the Patriots scored their first seventeen points off of Rams' turnovers, including an interception that was actually returned for a touchdown for the first score. The Patriots won mostly because their defense was able to hold a team that averaged more than thirty-one points per game during the regular season to seventeen points in the Super Bowl. But the legend of Tom Brady has grown to the point where this season there were an enormous amount of people who suggested an utterly foolish theory that Randy Moss's record breaking season was more a function of playing with Tom Brady than was Brady's record breaking season a result of playing with Moss. That notion is completely asinine (as was it asinine to me that Moss got exactly zero league MVP consideration), and for this reason alone I wanted to see Brady get smacked around out there a little bit just to see how everyone's darling golden boy quarterback reacted when things were not going as they should. And this is precisely what happened.
So to get back on topic (and away from my diatribe about Tom Brady), I knew that the Giants' defensive line had to smack Brady in the mouth. And so starting in the second quarter, that's exactly what the defensive line started to do. They abused the Patriots' offensive line and started smacking Tom Brady around. Mr. Dater-of-Actresses-and-Supermodels (okay, I'm not done with my attacks on Brady) could never get comfortable passing as he knew that there was a very good chance that each time he dropped back a ferocious defensive lineman was likely to drop him on his back. The results? Eighty-one yards of total offense from the vaunted Patriots offensive machine. However, the Patriots still carried a 7-3 lead into halftime, and would continue to maintain this lead heading to the fourth quarter.
I felt dejected because the Giants had opportunities, but were failing. This would change as the fourth quarter got underway. One huge forty-five yard pass to backup tight end Kevin Boss got the Giants going offensively in that quarter, setting the stage for wide receiver David Tyree to make the first of his two huge catches in this decisive period. The five-yard touchdown pass Tyree caught put the Giants up 10-7 with just over eleven minutes to play. The two teams then traded scoreless possessions (with the Giants coming agonizingly close on an occasion to completing a big play that might have transformed the complexity of the game entirely), but then the Patriots got the ball back with just under eight minutes to play. The next five minutes plus were crushing. The Patriots methodically moved the ball eighty yards down the field, never facing a pressure down until it was third and goal from the Giants' six yard line. And then, as had happened twenty-three times during the regular season, Tom Brady found Randy Moss in the end zone for a touchdown. Patriots 14, Giants 10 - 2:42 left in the game. The game was over, but at least I still had my silver lining. I would never again have to hear about the last and only perfect team in the NFL, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, popping open bottles of champagne each time the season's last undefeated team fell. And yet, there was a part of me that still hoped and would not completely stop believing.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Giants started their drive at their own seventeen yard line with 2:39 remaining. As the Giants progressed down the field, there were a number of anxious moments. There was a third and ten pass play to Amani Toomer that came up just short of a first down. This necessitated a nervous fourth and one play on which the Giants' Brandon Jacobs edged forward for one yard. A couple of plays later, there was a dangerous pass that was almost picked off for an interception that almost certainly would have ended the game. In retrospect, the fact that that pass went incomplete was certainly a sign of destiny. The Giants had to win this game, but yet, I still did not truly believe. The next play would almost certainly erase my doubt.
The next play will be talked about for as long as there is American football. The next play is already legendary, and its legendary status will only grow in time. Eli Manning, who cemented his own legendary status in this game and throughout the playoffs, was pressured heavily as he went back to pass on this third down and five play. Not one, but two Patriots defensive linemen grasped Manning's jersey on that play. A sack on that play would have been disastrous. It would have set up fourth and very long, necessitating a miracle to keep the Giants' hopes alive. But such a miracle fourth down play was not needed, for the Giants got a miracle on third down and five...two miracles in fact.
Somehow Manning was able to escape the grasps of his foes. He stumbled momentarily, but caught himself before going down. And then he released the pass that may become known as the most famous pass in Super Bowl history. Down the field Manning spotted David Tyree open and lofted the pass in the air. Thirty-two yards down the field, Tyree leapt into the air as the Patriots Rodney Harrison made every effort to break up the pass. Tyree got both hands on the ball momentarily, but due to Harrison's efforts, the left hand slipped off. As Tyree and Harrison fell toward the ground, somehow Tyree maintained his hold of the ball with that right hand as he pinned the ball to his own helmet. And then before returning to Earth, Tyree was able to get that second hand back on the ball. It was the most unbelievable sequence that I have ever seen in any football game. And because it was so unbelievable, this play made me believe that the Giants would win the game.
Two more plays brought up a third down and eleven play. Manning hit rookie wide receiver Steve Smith for twelve yards down the right sideline to bring the Giants to first and ten at the Patriots' thirteen yard line with thirty-nine seconds remaining. The next play was pure magic. Plaxico Burress who had predicted the Giants would win, who had predicted that the mighty Patriots would score only seventeen points when they had averaged nearly thirty-seven points per game during the regular season, was locked up one on one with a Patriots defender. A fake slant move followed by a faded pass to the corner of the end zone and now it wasn't only the Giants fans who were believers. With thirty-five seconds remaining, the Giants led 17-14.
Oh sure, the Patriots had yet to use a timeout that half. They still had three remaining. But it did not matter, the media darling golden boy Tom Brady could not fight destiny. This was not to be his coronation as the greatest quarterback of all time. For the defensive line of the Giants was not done smacking Brady in the mouth. Rookie Jay Alford broke free on second and ten and planted Brady hard on the ground. Third and twenty. Game over. Oh, there was still nineteen seconds left, but it was already clear that it was game over. Two more futile passes down field to the blanketed Randy Moss and the dream of perfection had ended.
The Giants were the champs! Shortly after the game, I received phone calls from both my younger brother and my younger sister. I told each how much I was shaking during those last moments of the game. I was shaking still as I talked to my brother. It was the most pleasantly shocking single moment that I can remember, even though I had almost talked myself into believing this result was possible in the week before.
Later in that evening as I drove out to a fast food place to get something to eat (you see, it had been several hours since I had last eaten, so caught up was I in the game), I was still in a daze. It was one of the most exhilarating feelings that I have ever had, even if I was perfectly aware that I would have to hear about some old men opening champagne bottles for at least one more year.