A Giant Victory: How David Slayed Goliath

Jonathan Lampert

How did the New York football Giants pull off the one of the biggest upsets in sports history? How can a defense that gave up 80 points in the first two games of the season hold the most prolific offense in NFL history to just 14? How did a despised coach waiting for the pink slip pull a formerly divided team together while outclassing and outsmarting the man in the hooded sweatshirt? After being labeled soft by his former running back and general manager, how did the shy younger brother lead the Giants on the two-minute drill of a lifetime? There is not a simple answer to why such a huge underdog can beat one of the greatest teams in NFL history.

However, since the Giants and Pats met in Week 17, the two teams had spiraled in opposite directions until their paths crossed once more in Glendale, Arizona. The Giants did play a great game. They were physical, fast and smart. They might have even outplayed the Patriots. But in terms of pure talent, no doubt the Pats have the edge. Yet since Week 17, the Giants gained karma, momentum and confidence. Furthermore, their play on the field reflected these intangible ideals. Unfortunately for the Pats, how could karma favor a cheating head coach and an arrogant quarterback? There was certainly no momentum with Tom Brady’s injured ankle and shaky playoff performances. Finally, the only thing that counteracts confidence is pressure. Most of the best players and teams in sports history have succumbed to pressure. In this case, all of the pressure lay squarely on New England’s shoulders. Not even the almost-perfect Pats could overcome these odds.

People have used the word karma a lot to account for the Giants victory. Because of Spygate and New England’s propensity to run the score up on teams, people have claimed karma couldn’t be pitted further against them. As for the Giants, the team is a perennial underdog who fought through adversity the whole season. They even risked injury and played their starters the whole game in Week 17 and gave the Pats all they could handle. Many questioned Coughlin’s decision in that regard. As it turned out, this supposedly meaningless loss was the most important game of the regular season. Depending on whether one is superstitious, one can attribute the Giants’ breaks during Super Bowl XLII to karma or not. However, it is impossible to deny that every break went the Giants way. Furthermore, without these fortunate bounces, the Giants would have undoubtedly lost the game. Throughout the contest, the Giants were the beneficiaries of some questionable calls. Wide receiver Amani Toomer should have been flagged for offensive pass interference before his tremendous catch in the second quarter. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw’s fumble should have gone to the Patriots, yet the refs did not blow the play dead, and Bradshaw somehow came up with the ball. However, two plays on the Giants final drive stand out above all the rest. The first was an ill-advised pass that Pats cornerback Asante Samuel should have picked off. Luckily for the G-men, the ball went right through his hands. Finally, on arguably the greatest play in Super Bowl history, quarterback Eli Manning escaped the grasp of two New England linemen and heaved a ball to wide receiver David Tyree, who made an unbelievable catch as he rose above Pats safety Rodney Harrison and trapped the ball against his helmet. The soft quarterback fought off three of the best linemen in the league and heaved a ball to a receiver who had four receptions during the entire regular season. Luck, karma, whatever you want to call it, but that play should have never happened. If it didn’t, the Pats are Super Bowl champions.

Confidence and momentum are largely intertwined, as one usually doesn’t emerge without the other. In the Giants’ case, both surfaced after the first match-up with the Patriots. Success in the NFL often depends on getting hot at the right time. For the Colts and Cowboys, early season success was immaterial due to their late-season failures. Both teams limped into the playoffs with no momentum after deciding to bench their starters at the end of the season. As a result, both were shocked in the playoffs when two teams riding winning streaks into the playoffs simply outplayed them. After the Pats game, the most apparent display of confidence was seen through Eli Manning’s near flawless play throughout the playoffs. Throughout the early season, Manning looked timid, and despite claims from his teammates, he did not appear to be a leader. During the last three minutes of the Super Bowl, when Manning had the game in his hands, Michael Strahan reportedly went up on down the sidelines repeatedly saying 17-14. Strahan believed in Eli. The Giants believed in Eli. And based on Manning’s inspired play in Dallas and then Lambeau, Giants fans believed in Eli. The Giants had won 10 straight road games going in to the Super Bowl. They dominated the class of the NFC East with a decisive win against the Cowboys, and an improbable victory in the frozen tundra that almost slipped away. The team was playing its best football on both sides of the ball at the right time. Furthermore, nobody expected them to do it.

It’s hard for one to not imagine Bill Belichick and Brady succumbing to pressure as they strode off the field a bit too early. I have no idea why Belichick changed his game plan against the Giants. Whether it was Brady’s ankle or respect for the Giants defense, there is still no excuse for abandoning his high octane offense in favor for a game of screen passes. Brady certainly did not seem like his normal self. He under threw Moss on several occasions and certainly didn’t seem like a quarterback who shattered NFL records without a second thought. Only Brady knows how bad his ankle was, but he clearly wasn’t the same. Perhaps he should have considered this when he scoffed at Plaxico Burress before the game, saying that Burress should have predicted that the Patriots would score more than 17 points. As it turned out, the man who caught the game winning touchdown was a bit generous with his prediction.