Q: When is a record of 18 wins in 19 games not good enough?
A: When the one you don’t win is the one that really matters.

In a recent post, I said the following:

Don’t be surprised if the Giants … 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.

On Sunday night, Super Bowl XLII was neither disappointing nor one-sided, producing one of the greatest upsets ever as the New York Giants – 13-point underdogs with some bookmakers – beat the undefeated New England Patriots 17-14 in a game which was every bit as close as the scoreline suggests. The winning touchdown came on an Eli Manning pass to Plaxico Burress with just 35 ticks left on the clock.

It was a great game; not a high-scoring one, but great nonetheless. Yardage and points truly had to be earned the hard way, and both teams traded spectacular catches and bone-jarring hits in equal measure. And, of course, hanging over the proceedings like a fog, was the Patriots’ drive to become only the second team after the 1972 Miami Dolphins to complete a ‘perfect’ undefeated, untied season.

Several images stick in the memory. The Giants’ defense regularly battering Tom Brady, the New England quarterback, to the tune of five sacks and a dozen more knockdowns. Wes Welker, the Patriots’ tiny wide receiver, darting about like a dragonfly in a field of (literally) Giants, fighting for every possible yard. Eli Manning’s miraculous escape from a nailed-on sack on a critical third-and-5; this, the same Manning who has been criticised throughout his career for his tendency to panic under a heavy rush. The resultant soaring, tumbling, overhead catch by David Tyree to set up Burress’s winning score. And, finally, Jay Alford’s crushing sack on Brady on the Patriots’ final desperation drive, a waist-high hit so powerful it seemed to almost slice the quarterback in two.

When all was said and done, the lead had changed hands three times in the fourth quarter, the first time this has ever happened in a Super Bowl. And, against all odds, it was the Giants who rendered the Patriots’ season ultimately imperfect.

In terms of unpredictability, excitement and tension, you can’t ask for more than that.

In the final analysis, the best team in the NFL, the one who set records left, right and centre in the regular season, were only the second-best team in the Super Bowl.

Although Eli Manning was named as MVP (following in brother Peyton’s footsteps), the real stars of the show were the Giants’ defense. For one night, they made Tom Brady, the NFL’s best quarterback, look distinctly ordinary. And, by maintaining constant pressure on Brady, they found a way to stop the supposedly unstoppable New England offense, which had set new NFL benchmarks for total points (nearly 37 per game), touchdown passes (Brady) and touchdown catches (Randy Moss). Uncompromising, physical, smash-mouth defense: this truly was prototypical Giants football.

So the Patriots will return home licking their wounds, having missed out on the chance to achieve the perfect season. Other opportunities are definitely gone forever. Before the game Tom Brady was being talked about as possibly the greatest quarterback of all time, on the brink of matching Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to go 4-0 in Super Bowls. Now that’s not to say he won’t return and record his fourth victory, but his record will be forever imperfect, never four-and-oh.

As for the Giants, they are virtually unrecognisable from the team who splashed their way to an unconvincing 13-10 over the Miami Dolphins – the NFL’s worst team in 2007 – at a soggy, muddy Wembley in October. And it’s equally hard to believe that the Eli Manning who marshalled his team so effectively in the playoffs is the same quarterback who threw 20 regular season interceptions (joint worst in the NFL) and ranked a lowly 25th in passer rating. Maybe, just maybe, we will now see the Eli Manning we all expected when he was selected with the first overall pick of the 2004 draft.

Of course, Super Bowl success does not automatically elevate a quarterback to the status of greatness – Baltimore’s Trent Dilfer springs readily to mind here – but Eli Manning has shown throughout the playoffs, not just on Sunday, that, at long last, he has the potential to be more than merely good. Which Manning shows up at the start of next season – Regular Season Eli or Super Bowl Eli – will go a long way to determining the Giants’ chances of defending their title.

As 70,000-odd people trudged away from Wembley last October, nobody would have suspected that we had just watched the Super Bowl champions-elect. So roll on the New Orleans Saints versus the San Diego Chargers on October 26th. Make a date: maybe Wembley might just play host to the eventual Super Bowl champions for the second year running. Now wouldn’t that be something?


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

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