(Long Island, NY) Being the underdog is a familiar scenario for the New York Giants. Heading into the 2007 season without Tiki Barber, the team was not expected to qualify for the playoffs. Even when they joined the postseason dance, heading on the road as an NFC wild card entry, they were given little to no chance to make it very far.
Well, even the experts are wrong once in a while, and the Giants proved that by capturing the Vince Lombardi Trophy with a stunning 17-14 win over the previous unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
Eli Manning, the much-maligned former number one draft pick and brother of star Peyton, took home the MVP Award a year after his sibling did the same. Dad Archie, who never had the success of his sons while mostly playing with the woeful New Orleans Saints, must be the proudest father in America.
The youngest of the Manning clan led the Giants on a 12-play, 83-yard drive that culminated in a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left in the contest.
“It feels great. It’s unbelievable,” said Manning in the postgame press conference, standing on a podium similar to what his older brother did practically one year ago in Miami. “It’s the fight on this team. I’m so proud of our players, or coaches, everybody. We’re always believing and having faith in each other and having faith on our team.
“It don’t matter (because) we find a way to win,” Manning added. “We had no doubt. We believed the whole time and we made it happen.”
They made it happen by harassing Pats quarterback Tom Brady all night long with constant pressure from their defensive line. Big Blue finished the game with five sacks (two by Justin Tuck), and pressured him into numerous hurries and hits.
“I think it is their overall defensive scheme,” Brady commented. “They got good coverage guys; they have a good pass rush. They are a good team. I think they are coordinated very well. They are obviously very well coached. They were just more than we could handle tonight.”
For a player like Brady to make that last comment, it means that the defense was more than special and was the reason why the Giants are world champions today. That is attributed to the game plan of Steve Spagnuolo, the Giants defensive coordinator.
“Even when you do blitz, that Patriots are so good at knowing how to pick it up, it still had to come down to somebody beating a block. It wasn’t like we outnumbered anything. We didn’t fool anybody.
“I think the players just made up their mind that they were going to get it done.”
Spagnuolo is on the short list to become a head coach in the league, possibly with the Washington Redskins. If he does leave the Giants, it will be a big loss. Michael Strahan, who waited 15 years to get his ring, lamented on the possibility.
“He made the most incredible adjustments the second and third times that we played teams that we just shut down the best offense in the league and made them look very mediocre. I think that’s a great testament to him and I hope he doesn’t leave us to go someplace else.”
One of the loudest voices heard in the locker room celebration was the veteran Strahan’s. What was a sea of emotions coming from every stall seemed even more special from number 92’s, who held out of training camp and the pre-season, contemplating retirement.
When asked what his future holds, the man known as ‘Stray’ didn’t want to hear it. “Don’t ask that,” he said with a smile. “Let me celebrate today.”
Of all the Giants vindicated by this win, perhaps there was no more than head coach Tom Coughlin, who was nearly fired a year ago. He persevered and is expected to receive a four-year extension, which is well deserved. He toned down his ‘Major Tom’ style a little this season after meeting with the brass and it obviously has paid off.
Winning cures everything, even on a team that was as dysfunctional last season as the Giants were. Barber wrote a book that took shots at Manning and Coughlin, and Strahan followed that up with one of his own that talked about dirty little locker room secrets.
Their regular season had moments of good and bad, and they stuck together and played as a team. When a starter went down with an injury, another player stepped in and picked up the slack. The Giants drafted well and had good depth on their bench.
This translated into getting hot at the right time and believing in yourself. The entire coaching staff put them in a position to win and they took advantage of it. All the way to the championship.