Giant Slayers

An imperfect team won the perfect game. While the superlatives flow freely from all corners to describe this shocking result, I believe the closest word I can find to do this night justice is unfathomable.

Defying all means of reason, logic and — thanks to David Tyree's circus catch — several laws of physics, the 10-6 New York Giants overcame their own glaring flaws and weaknesses, and sent an unblemished and celebrated New England team to a quiet, empty shower. With :35 left on the clock (only one second more than Joe Montana had left some 19 Super Bowls earlier), Eli Manning found an ailing Plaxico Burress and his own chapter in NFL lore in the back of the end zone en route to a 17-14 Giants win that shocked the world along with any other intelligent life that happened to pick up Sunday's FOX broadcast.

At an event where the spectacle often overtakes the sporting element and the hype overshadows the product, the New York Giants' sudden victory over The Artist Formerly Known As 18-0 reminded us just why our culture goes so far out of its way to celebrate the Super Bowl. Even beyond that, this game gave a nation growing increasingly disillusioned with malcontent athletes and asterisks another reminder why we continually come back to sports, and it did so on the grandest stage possible.

Tom Coughlin and the Giants coaching staff came to the desert with a smart clock management gameplan that must have made Bill Parcells briefly thrilled beyond belief before remembering the giant mess he has to work on cleaning up in Miami. The Giants' opening drive of 9:59 that led to a 32-yard Lawrence Tynes field goal meant only three points on the scoreboard, but cutting that deep into the game meant the small lead could not be ignored.

In this bizarre parallel universe, it was formerly maligned Coughlin on top of his game, while hooded mastermind Bill Belichick made boneheaded decisions such as going for it on 4th-and-13, when a 48-yard field goal would have put his team ahead by seven. If it wasn't stupidity that cost New England that possession, then it was most certainly sheer arrogance. The result of the play was no less strange or inept. Tom Brady overthrew the entire field, leaving no chance for a completion.

That was not Brady's only problem, either. The New York defensive line put more heat on Tom Terrific than he had ever felt in any of those previous 18 games. This led to five sacks and countless more hits, body blows, and knockdowns. Despite all this, Brady performed admirably throughout, consistently converting on 3rd-and-long and keeping drives alive.

When the Giants managed to take a stunning 10-7 lead on the younger Manning's first touchdown throw to David Tyree, a bullet fired right by the best cornerback in football by mere inches, the football world was turned on its ear, the complexion of the championship changed. For two full quarters, the score had read 7-3 Patriots with everyone waiting for the other Patriots shoe to drop into the waiting arms of Randy Moss in the end zone and make it 14-3 and put the game away. And yet that never happened.

Instead, the Patriots seemed intent on winning the game much the way they had in their previous three Super victories, with poise and clutch play right down to the wire. Brady's drive following the touchdown to Tyree took 12 plays and showcased New England's offense at their best for the first time all game. Randy Moss made the catch in the end zone on 3rd-and-goal that appeared, as it was in Week 17, to tie the final knot on the undefeated season against the Giants.

Eli Manning was left with 2:42 to score a second touchdown in the quarter against the suddenly-vulnerable Patriots defense. From his own 17, Little Brother took charge. With some help from Brandon Jacobs, whose massive body and outstretched arms proved to be just enough to convert on a do-or-die 4th-and-1, Eli and the Giants reached their own 44 where they faced a 3rd-and-5 that proved to be straight out of a climactic slow-motion movie scene.

As Manning struggled heroically against the three Patriots that grabbed onto his jersey, he seemed to conjure up strength reminiscent of past quarterbacks. Some likened him to another No. 10 on the Giants, Fran Tarkenton. However he also may have looked somewhat like FOX broadcaster Terry Bradshaw once did back in a playoff game in 1972. Bradshaw needed to scramble, bullishly throw defenders off him, and escape in order to buy time and as he put it "cut loose with everything I had" with the game and the season on the line. This is very much what Eli did, as well, and the reception awaiting him, just as with Bradshaw, was a famously immaculate one.

As David Tyree leapt into the air, Manning had put the ball in the perfect spot for Tyree and not safety Rodney Harrison, to make the play. Tyree's difficulty led to him trying to pin the ball against his helmet on the way down. This was made exponentially difficult by Harrison's tackle in which Tyree's horizontal body came down on Rodney's bent knee while the defender body-slammed him to the turf with his arms, the whole time trying to wrestle free David's grip of the ball. And yet neither the ball, nor Tyree ever really hit the ground.

Landing on top of Harrison allowed the unheralded receiver to retain his grip on the ball and keep it from the turf. And while it appeared to the eye that Harrison had administered somewhat of a backbreaker maneuver to Tyree, history will determine it to be quite the other way around.

This unforgettable play took the Giants to the Patriots' 24, and there was still much work to be done. However, Manning advanced the ball in surprisingly easy fashion. On a 3rd-and-11 to Steve Smith on the right side, there was not a Patriot in sight until it was too late, and an ill-advised blitz called by The Hoodie led to Plaxico Burress being single-covered in the end zone on a soft pass from Eli that seemed to float from heaven into his mitts. Suddenly, a 10-6 team was poised to plunder and run off into the Arizona desert with the Lombardi Trophy that was all but engraved with Patriots.

Yet if ever any man could ever put a scare into a team from 84 yards away, it was Tom Brady. The Giants still needed to survive an interminable 3rd-and-20 bomb from Brady's crosshairs to Moss that was simply perfect if not for Giant defender Corey Webster's rubber-glove coverage and ability to deflect the ball away at high speeds without committing a penalty. The symbolism was imminent: on this night, perfection would be foiled by an incredible singular effort.

For fans of both teams who had followed them throughout the season, few could believe the Giants deserved to be in a position to dethrone the mighty Pats. For a team that did not truly earn their stripes until January, and only scored 22 more points than their opponents throughout the season, the final score seemed to make no sense. Super Bowl XLII may very well be remembered by many as the day mediocrity defeated greatness.

For just one year, though, mediocrity comes with a diamond-studded ring.

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