Giants thwart perfection in upset |

Giants thwart perfection in upset

Barry Wilner
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is doused by his player Madison Hedgecock after the Giants beat the New England Patriots 17-14 in the Super Bowl XLII football game on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2008, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

GLENDALE, Ariz. ” Oh, well, nobody’s perfect. Except maybe Eli Manning.

A masterful magician when the stakes were highest, Manning engineered one of the best drives in Super Bowl history Sunday to help the New York Giants squash the New England Patriots’ run at history-making perfection with a 17-14 victory.

In a game, and a finish, that showed precisely why the Super Bowl has become America’s favorite spectacle, Manning led the Giants 83 yards in just more than two minutes. He capped it with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left, to win what easily could go down as the best Super Bowl ever.

“An unbelievable game and an unbelievable feeling,” Manning said.

“The greatest victory in the history of this franchise, without a question,” said owner John Mara.

It was a scintillating closing chapter to a crazy week that seemed to have everything: the perfect team; the upstart underdogs; the cover boy quarterback in Tom Brady; the kid brother in Manning.

America loves an underdog, and the Giants, with their stirring victory, etched themselves as one of the best this game ” or any sport ” has ever seen.

The star was Manning, the scruffy younger brother of Peyton, who won his own Super Bowl last year, and sat in the corner of a skybox for this one, squirming and agonizing over every play.

Now both Mannings have a championship and a Super Bowl MVP to their names and Brady ” well, he’s still got the looks, the supermodel girlfriend, Gisele Bundchen, and three Super Bowl titles of his own.

With the loss, New England finishes 18-1, and the 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the only team to go undefeated from the start of the season through the Super Bowl.

Their coach, Don Shula, was on hand, ready to congratulate the Patriots. Instead, he figured to be sipping champagne, continuing a tradition the Dolphins have enjoyed every year when the last undefeated team finally gets its first loss.

“What a great football game this was,” Shula said. “What I learned today was how tough it is to go undefeated.”

His Dolphins remain alone thanks to Manning, whose 13-yard game-winner came four plays after he escaped a cadre of Patriots engulfing him, threw the ball up for grabs ” how, exactly, did he do that? ” and watched receiver David Tyree jump and somehow pin it between his hands and his helmet for the 32-yard reception.

That kept the drive going, and it will be Manning’s mastery that everyone remembers ” not Brady’s coolly efficient 80-yard touchdown drive moments earlier.

This game was such a back-and-forth stomach-turner that it seems a great bet to break the record for Super Bowl viewership (94.08 million) and give the advertisers their money’s worth on the $2.7 million they spent for each 30-second spot.

It might even force the watercooler conversation Monday to be about football, not commercials or halftime shows.

For the record, Tom Petty did a four-song halftime set, closing, appropriately, with “Runnin’ Down A Dream.”

Some highlights on the commercial side included Shaquille O’Neal as a winning jockey in a big horse race, Richard Simmons barely avoiding being squished on the highway and Will Ferrell playing a ” well ” not-so-fit pro basketball player who also likes beer.

Funny as those were, the best show was on the field.

It was a tight, taut defensive battle for three-plus quarters ” yet anything but boring.

Then it was taken over by two quarterbacks ” one already a star, the other yearning to escape the shadow his father, Archie, and big brother, Peyton have cast over the family, and the sport, for many years now.

Earlier in the week, Eli said it was flattering being compared to Peyton because “he’s at the top of his game, and I’m still trying to get my game up to his level.”

“I never thought about them even playing college ball, much less pro football, much less winning Super Bowls or MVPs,” Archie Manning said. “It wasn’t in the plan. We tried to raise kids. We raised kids just like other parents raised their kids.”

Eli Manning’s dazzling final drive capped a four-week stretch of nearly flawless playoff football during which the Giants were underdogs in every game they played, but won them all.

They were 12-point underdogs for this one, not as big as the New York Jets when they stunned Baltimore in 1969 to make good on Joe Namath’s guarantee ” or the Patriots when they won their first title in 2002 against the Rams.

But how to argue with the magnitude of this upset?

All year, the Patriots were unbeatable, even when these same Giants gave them their toughest test of all in the last game of the regular season, a 38-35 final that gave New York the confidence it needed.

Looking for something to pick on, New England’s critics went to “Spygate,” the Week 1 plot devised by coach Bill Belichick to videotape Jets defensive coaches as they signaled to players on the field. The NFL fined the coach $500,000 and the team $250,000 and a first-round draft pick, and the pundits said the Patriots might be forever remembered as cheaters.

The subject came up frequently this week, including Sunday, when Sen. Arlen Specter reiterated he’s considering Senate hearings to get to the bottom of the matter.

Will he care now that it’s the Giants, not the Patriots, holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy?

Instead of sourpuss Belichick ” this time in a red sweatshirt instead of gray ” dissecting another victory, it was the Giants’ Tom Coughlin at the winning coach’s lectern.

An interesting subplot all week was how his change in attitude ” less yelling, more listening ” helped turn this team around.

The plan worked.

“We had to battle hard to get this thing,” Coughlin said. “But I told them last night, ‘Other than family, the greatest feeling in the world is when, all of the sudden, you realize you’re the world champion.'”

“It’s the greatest feeling in professional sports,” Burress said before bursting into tears.

“That’s a position you want to be in,” said Manning, who followed older brother Peyton’s MVP performance last year with one of his own. “You can’t write a better script. There were so many big plays on that drive.”

And now the 1972 Miami Dolphins can pop another bottle of champagne in celebration of a record still intact, the only perfect season in the Super Bowl era.

The Patriots were done in not so much by the pressure of the first unbeaten season in 35 years as by the pressure of a smothering Giants pass rush. Tom Brady, the league’s Most Valuable Player and winner of his first three Super Bowl, was sacked five times, hurried a dozen more and at one point wound up on his knees, his hands on his hips following one of many poor throws in New England’s lowest scoring game of the season.

“They played well,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “They made some plays. We made some plays. They just made a few more. We played as hard as we could. We just couldn’t make enough plays.”

Hardly a familiar position for the record-setting Patriots and their megastar quarterback. This time, it wasn’t the Patriots but the Giants making the game-winning rally. This time, the unflappable quarterback making the clutch play wasn’t Brady but Manning, who had been booed by Giants fans for most of his four seasons for a lack of emotion.

Oddly, it was a loss to the Patriots that sparked New York’s stunning run to its third Super Bowl and sixth NFL title. New England won 38-35 in Week 17 as the Patriots became the first team in 35 years to go spotless through the regular season. But by playing hard in a meaningless game for them, the Giants (14-6) gained something of a swagger and Manning found his footing.

Their growing confidence carried them through playoff victories at Tampa, Dallas and Green Bay, and then past the mightiest opponent of all.

Not that the Patriots were very mighty this day. They even conceded with 1 second on the clock as coach Bill Belichick ran across the field to shake the hand of jubilant Giants coach Tom Coughlin, then headed to the locker room, ignoring the final kneeldown.

That it was Manning taking that knee was stunning. He not only matched his brother’s achievement of last year with the Indianapolis Colts, but he showed the brilliant precision late in the game usually associated with, well, Brady.

Peyton Manning was seen in a luxury box jumping up and pumping both fists when Burress, who didn’t practice all week because of injuries, caught the winning score.

“We just hung in there on offense, kept executing,” said Burress, who wasn’t far off on the 23-17 prediction he made a few days ago. “It came down to one play and we made it.”

The Giants became the first NFC wild card team to win a Super Bowl; four AFC teams have done it. They also are the second wild-card champions in three years, following the Pittsburgh Steelers after the 2005 season.

The upset also could be viewed as a source of revenge not only for the Giants, but for the other NFL teams over Spygate back in September. That cheating scandal made headlines again late in Super Bowl week, and could have placed an infinite cloud over New England’s perfection.

Until the frantic fourth quarter, the only scoring came on the game’s first two drives.

The Giants did almost exactly what they sought with the opening kickoff, using up nearly 10 minutes to go 63 yards. Almost exactly, but not quite, because they settled for a 32-yard field goal after converting four third downs on the 16-play series. The 9:59 drive was the longest in Super Bowl history.

That 3-0 lead lasted for the rest of the quarter, but only because the Patriots were stopped at New York’s 1 as the period expired. On the next play, Laurence Maroney scored.

New England’s 12-play drive was aided by a 16-yard pass interference penalty on linebacker Antonio Pierce in the end zone. It began with Maroney’s 43-yard kickoff runback.

It was the fewest possessions in the first quarter of a Super Bowl.

New York’s first series of the second quarter looked dangerous after Amani Toomer’s lunging sideline catch for 38 yards. But rookie Steve Smith mishandled Manning’s throw at the New England 10, Ellis Hobbs intercepted and returned it 23 yards.

Those are opportunities teams can’t waste against a strong opponent, let alone the Patriots. It was Manning’s first interception of the postseason, albeit entirely not his fault; the last was by Hobbs in the season finale.

The Giants survived rookie Ahmad Bradshaw’s fumble, which he recovered, on their next series, because their league-leading pass rush came alive when the Patriots got the ball back. New York sacked Brady on successive plays, forcing a punt, but the Giants’ were hurt by an illegal batting of the ball penalty on Bradshaw after reaching the New England 25.

Justin Tuck’s second sack, in the final seconds of the half, forced a fumble recovered by New York teammate Osi Umenyiora. The Giants’ celebrated defensive line controlled much of the half, holding the most prolific offense in NFL history to a measly 81 yards and seven points. New England had the ball only 10:33.

But New York’s mistakes left it with just three ” and there are no moral victories in Super Bowls.

So the Giants got a real one as the maturing Manning hung in to find Tyree for a 5-yard touchdown to cap an 80-yard drive for a 10-7 lead.

Pressed unlike they are accustomed to, the Patriots responded with their own 80-yard march as Brady finally got some time. Randy Moss, who caught a record 23 of Brady’s record 50 TD throws this year, took a 6-yard pass when cornerback Corey Webster fell, and with a mere 2:42 remaining, the first 19-0 season was right there.

Eli and the Giants snatched it away.

Support Local Journalism