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Arm’s reach of desire

The corporate behemoth which is Coca-Cola once expressed its vision as ‘arm’s reach of desire’, but it is a slogan which could apply equally to either of Super Bowl XLII‘s participants, the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.

The Patriots showed uncharacteristic vulnerability in last Sunday’s stumbling 21-12 AFC Conference Championship victory over the San Diego Chargers, but they nonetheless punched their ticket for the big show in two weeks’ time, and in doing so recorded the first 18-win season in NFL history. Not only do they stand one win away from completing the first ‘perfect’ season since the NFL moved to a 16-game schedule (and only the second ever), but victory over the Giants in Arizona will mark their fourth Super Bowl win in seven years, elevating them to the level of the great Pittsburgh and San Francisco teams of the 70s and 80s.

But New England’s ascension to the pantheon of the NFL elite is by no means a foregone conclusion. The Giants will have taken comfort from watching the Patriots’ star-studded offense huff and puff against the Chargers. Tom Brady threw just eight interceptions throughout the regular season; on Sunday alone he tossed three. Randy Moss caught 98 passes for an NFL record 23 touchdowns in the regular season; in two postseason games he has just 2 catches and no TDs. And no team has scored as many points against New England this season as the Giants did in a thrilling 38-35 loss in week 17.

The battle-hardened Giants will certainly be no pushovers. They are a far cry from the team who UK fans watched labour to a 13-10 win over the 1-15 Miami Dolphins at a sodden Wembley back in October. In successive weeks, they have won on the road against the NFC’s number one and two seeds, first dispatching the Dallas Cowboys – to whom they had lost twice during the regular season – and then, even more impressively, beating the Green Bay Packers in the third coldest game in NFL history (minus-18 degrees C, with a wind chill of minus-31). All this without their biggest offensive weapon, tight end Jeremy Shockey.

For Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning, he is now within arm’s reach of his deepest desire: to escape from the shadow of his elder brother, Peyton. Both were selected with the first overall pick of the draft (Peyton in 1998, Eli in 2004), with all the weight of expectation which goes with that. But whereas Peyton quickly established himself as one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, even though it took him nine seasons to reach (and win) his first Super Bowl last year, Eli has struggled to excel and has been much maligned throughout his four years in the league. 20 interceptions and middling reviews during the 2007 season have done little to alter the perception of Manning Jr as a passer who is merely competent rather than great: more Carrie Bradshaw than Terry Bradshaw.

However, in the postseason, Eli has been outstanding, completing 62% of his passes and throwing for four touchdowns without interception – stats which compare favourably with the more illustrious Brady. Against all expectations – mine included – he has looked every inch a Super Bowl quarterback, and perhaps for the first time has started to justify his status as a number one overall pick. Now, winning the Super Bowl will not suddenly transform Eli Manning from an ugly duckling into a swan, but it will certainly allow him to hold his head up high and elevate him into the exclusive club of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. That’s not bad for starters.

Come February 3rd, the Patriots will enter Super Bowl XLII as overwhelming favourites to complete their perfect season. But don’t be surprised if the Giants have failed to read the script and produce their own fairy tale ending. Many of the previous 41 Super Bowls have been disappointingly one-sided games – I have a sneaky feeling this one won’t be.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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