On six previous occasions in my lifetime, one of my three favorite professional sports teams finished its season as the last one standing. The last three of the Islanders' four straight Stanley Cup wins occurred after my birth, but the last of those was in 1983 - barely two weeks after my second birthday. I have a single vague memory of celebrating the Mets' 1986 World Series win, and I don't have any recollection of the Giants' Super Bowl XXI triumph the following January. I was sent to bed during the second half of Super Bowl XXV; not until the next morning did I learn of Scott Norwood missing wide right. Since then, the Mets and Giants again went to their finals less than four months apart - this time, each lost. The Giants have sputtered since 2000; the Mets came so close to the World Series in 2006, and tore our hearts out last year; and the Isles haven't been out of the first round in fifteen years.
I've mentioned the Giants many times over the course of this 2007 season. Here's a sampling of quotes:
September 17, 2007: The Giants lost 35-14 to the Packers, dropping them to 0-2 and leaving serious doubts about their ability to contend for even a playoff spot. Though Manning played well, but if these first two games are any indication, he'll have to elevate his game a few more levels to compensate for what's happening on the other side of the ball.
October 8, 2007: ...the Giants came back from ten down at the half to beat the Jets 35-24 and win their third straight. I'm really not sure what to make of this. I wrote off Big Blue following the week two loss to the Packers, and now they're back above .500. The one thing that sticks in the back of my mind is that this team has had late losing streaks in two of the last four years.
October 28, 2007: The Giants didn't look particularly great this afternoon in London, but they did pull out the win to get to 6-2 ahead of the bye week and the showdown with Dallas in the Meadowlands two weeks hence. The Patriots, on the other hand, are on another level.
November 12, 2007: The Giants didn't deserve to win yesterday's big game against the Cowboys; they allowed costly penalties to be their undoing.
November 18, 2007: I watched the Giants improve to 7-3 by escaping Detroit with a close victory, and tonight I'll watch the Patriots attempt to up their record to 10-0.
November 27, 2007: The crow [after losing to the Vikings] tasted foul on the way down. I have the strange feeling that we're just getting started on another typical Giants second-half skid.
December 4, 2007: The Giants totally got away with one in Chicago; with a quarter of the season left, they appear to be well positioned for another first round playoff loss.
December 9, 2007: It seems the Patriots have righted their ship; I'm slightly less optimistic about the Giants' chances of derailing their perfect season in Week 17.
January 10, 2008: Sunday was spent watching playoff football; I paid much more attention to the Giants' win than to the San Diego-Tennessee game. Despite Big Blue's gaudy road record, I'm not overly optimistic about their chances of beating the Cowboys this Sunday.
January 27, 2008: The New York (Football) Giants will be playing in Super Bowl XLII one week from tonight, rematching against the (still undefeated) New England Patriots. I'm sticking with the pessimism that preceded the previous two playoff games; hopefully it'll work, but in all seriousness, these Pats may have too much for anyone to take them down.
As you can see, I had an outlook of realism throughout the season - and by that, I really mean "outright pessimism." This feeling was sustained throughout the weekend. In Wal-Mart Sunday afternoon, wearing my Giants jacket, one of the innumerable Pats fans wished their opponents luck - and I replied, "we're going to need more than luck." On the Sunday before last, I said I'd probably be heading for Sports Fan War prior to the game - and it was indeed that way, as I cooked and ate dinner, and then sat down to watch, wearing my Giants long-sleeve tee and with my Giants blanket over me. I cracked a beer - the first of many - as the game kicked off, hoping it'd settle me down - and it did, but not as much as that opening ten-minute Giants drive. Even as the drive stalled deep in Patriots territory, I looked at the cutaway to Tom Brady on the sideline, and thought, "That's exactly where we want him to be." Little did I know then that we'd repeatedly put him somewhere even more favorable - onto the University of Phoenix Stadium turf. After the Giants' field goal and the Patriots' answering touchdown, the teams traded punts, field position, and a turnover apiece; the more time ticked off the clock, the more the momentum shifted to the Giants. As the teams went to the locker room with New England leading 7-3, I was upbeat, telling myself, "we are in this game."
The opening minutes of the second half are usually a crucial period in a football game - and this one was no exception. Four minutes in, the Giants had a break go against them, with Bill Belichick correctly challenging that the Giants had twelve men on the field as the Patriots punted. That let New England take over four more minutes off the clock, at which time they faced fourth and thirteen at the Giants' 31. For the life of me, I can't understand why Belichick and McDaniels decided to go for it. Was it overconfidence? Perhaps a Rick James moment ("I'm Tom Brady, bitch! Enjoy this fourth-down conversion!") led the Pats to think there was no way they'd be kept from the end zone. Or were the Patriots scared? Did they think that they absolutely needed seven at that point in the game? The stadium's roof was closed; weather wouldn't be a factor in a field goal attempt. The announcers said Stephen Gostkowski wasn't injured, so did they really not think he could hit from forty-nine yards? We may never know.
After Eli Manning hit David Tyree for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, I really began to feel that the Giants could pull out the win. But then, it seemed as though the real Patriots arrived. They were downright clinical as they drove eighty yards to take a 14-10 lead with 2:42 left. As the final six-yard strike was thrown - Brady to (who else?) Randy Moss - my head fell into my hands, thinking that my team would come up short again. But I remembered that one hundred sixty-two seconds is a long time in football - nearly an eternity when you have three timeouts and a two-minute warning. So I regrouped and steeled myself for a Giants drive that, for better or worse, would be forever memorable.
And it was. Manning only completed five of his nine passes, but he and the rest of the Giants came up big every time they needed to. Eli got the Giants to within one yard of the sticks on third and ten, and Brandon Jacobs barely banged it across on fourth down. After a scramble and an incompletion came the defining play of both the game and the season - for now, I'll call it "The Great Escape." On the verge of a sack, Eli pulled free, heaved the ball down the field, and somehow, Tyree trapped it against his helmet and held on. A smart play by rookie Steve Smith put the ball just inside the 14-yard line. On the ensuing first and ten, Plaxico "I Guarantee It" Burress beat Ellis Hobbs, and Manning lobbed the football right into his arms. Tynes knocks the PAT through, and we're 17-14 with 35 seconds left.
The Patriots got the ball back on their 26, but on their second play, Brady was sacked for a ten-yard loss. Brady tried for Moss deep twice, but as it had all night, the Giants defense stood fast, and Big Blue took over on downs. The field had to be cleared so Eli could kneel down one last time, and the Giants had won. Let me repeat that with emphasis: the New York Giants won the Super Bowl. They are the World Champions, and they spoiled the quest for a perfect season - at nearly the last possible moment. Simply typing those words is making me emotional. For the first time in my life, I'd seen one of my teams win it all.
I pulled on my jacket and pulled out my camera, handing it to Ray. I walked out into the middle of my apartment complex, and held my hands high - first with a single finger extended, and then with closed fists. The pictures of these poses aren't great, but at least I have them. I walked back inside and called Mom. As an aside, this act also made history - it's the first time I've ever drunk-dialed either of my parents. Normally I wouldn't, but I just had to share this moment. We talked for about fifteen minutes, reminiscing about the Giants' win seventeen years ago and how the Giants kept hanging around and kept coming back this year. After we hung up, I called Jacob, my best friend from college, with whom I watched the horror of Super Bowl XXXV seven years ago. I left him a message, and I spent the next hour and a half on the computer, sending out messages, posting into the blog, and finally falling asleep to the live stream of WFAN.
Now that I've had two days to reflect on the Super Bowl, and to read and digest some of the post-game commentary, I can say much more than I could even if I were stone-cold sober on Sunday night. First, I want to talk about celebrating a championship while living in the home territory of the runner-up. I love the fact that New England is most likely the most sports-mad place in the United States. The people here rally around their teams with such a passionate fervor. New York is so big that it somewhat diffuses the energy, and the multiple teams in each sport prevent any single one of them from truly captivating a city and a region as Boston's teams do. New Englanders live and die for the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins - especially for the former two of those teams. That said, it was that much sweeter to be a Giants fan in New England yesterday and today, as the collective mourning drags on. Yesterday morning, we were talking about a piece of test gear, and I said, "It's funny - the gear works eighteen straight times, but the nineteenth time, when you really need it, it fails." Most of the people at the shipyard were gracious, but somber at the same time, realizing that their team had lost not only a championship, but a chance to be remembered for all time. One of our junior officers is a Giants season-ticket holder; as fate would have it, he and I both had duty yesterday, and we took it upon ourselves to publicly mention the Super Bowl result at least once every hour.
Was this the greatest upset of all time? I don't think so. I don't think it was even the greatest upset in the history of the Super Bowl. That distinction still belongs to Super Bowl III; the Jets' victory over the Colts proved the AFL was equal in stature to the NFL and helped smooth the path to the two leagues' merger. Bill Simmons, in his post-mortem, drew comparisons to Super Bowl XXXVI, in which the Patriots upset the heavily favored Rams. I don't think any of these Super Bowls rises to the magnitude of "USA 4, USSR 3" - the Miracle on Ice. While the Patriots have been a force in the NFL over the last seven years, the USSR dominated world hockey for nearly two decades coming into Lake Placid. There was one stark similarity between that hockey game and this football game - the reaction of the favored team near the end, as the upset was about to be finalized. From today's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column:
The Giants were just better prepared for the pressure when the Super Bowl went down to the closing seconds -- whereas you could see a "How can this be happening?" look on the faces of Patriots players and coaches.Reading that reminded me of the scene near the end of "Miracle," when the Soviet Union doesn't pull its goaltender for a sixth skater. Craig Patrick wonders why, and Herb Brooks replies, "He [Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov] doesn't know what to do!" Neither did the Patriots on Sunday night. While Belichick did shake Tom Coughlin's hand during the mess with a second left to play, he wouldn't even stay around for the end of the game. The nature of that final drive, and especially the Great Escape, might lead this to be dubbed the "Miracle on a Sliding Tray of Grass." Then again, maybe not.
This seemingly impossible ride has given me a high that'll last for a good bit longer. I'm celebrating the beginning of a "five-year grace period" - for example, even if the Giants completely bungle the draft in April, I can think to myself, "it's all right, they delivered a championship." Portsmouth, New Hampshire now holds a particularly special significance for me. So will the Kanye West song "Stronger," which was played as the Giants took the field. Last week, I was considering re-routing my Post-Navy Roadtrip through Phoenix - after the events of Sunday night, I almost certainly will. That long-sleeve T-shirt and winter jacket will be carefully tracked every time I move to a new residence - they can't be lost after this. And I may even have to give serious consideration to getting a high definition television - watching this big game in HD made this famous win look that much better.
One final point: Simmons, in his column, related the experience of hearing delirious Giants fans chanting "eighteen and one!" Of those words, he said:
I can still hear them. I will always hear them.They could be heard in Glendale just after 10 p.m. Eastern time. They could be heard today, amongst the roar in the Canyon of Heroes on Broadway. In fact, the only thing more deafening was what you heard on Boylston and Tremont Streets this afternoon - silence.