The 2007 Giants: Overcoming All Odds

Jonathan Lampert

When Vegas set the spread for Sunday’s big game at 14 points, perhaps nobody was happier than Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin. His team shared his happiness as they gazed menacingly at the number on the team bulletin board the next day. The Giants will take the field in Glendale, Arizona as one of the biggest underdogs in Super Bowl history, and the team’s underdog attitude, which has helped propel them on this improbable run to greatness, has buoyed many teams before. One of these squads happens to come from the first year of this Patriots Dynasty.

With an undefeated record, eight Pro-Bowlers and one of the highest payrolls in the league, not even Bill Belichick can find a way to play the underdog card that has been so successful for him in years past. This was the attitude that the 2001 Patriots took to the Superdome for Super Bowl XXXVI in an eerily similar situation to that which the Football Giants find themselves in now. In 2001, the Patriots entered the big game as fourteen-point underdogs to the St. Louis Rams. The Greatest Show on Turf is still considered one the best offenses in NFL history. MVP Kurt Warner led an offense that included two of the most talented receivers in the league, Issac Bruce and Tory Holt, as well as the ideal slot man, Az-Zahir Hakim. Marshall Faulk was one of the most versatile running backs in the league; his immense talent easily overlooked due to the Rams high-flying passing game. As for the defense, the Rams ranked third in the league in total yards. It was anchored by a stout defensive line, a veteran group of linebackers led by the man in the middle, London Fletcher and an extremely talented secondary that mixed veteran leadership (Aaneas Williams) with energetic youth (Dre Bly.) Does this team ring any bells?

The Greatest Show in Turf has been relegated at least to the second spot by none other than this year’s Patriots. Replace MVP Kurt Warner with MVP Tom Brady. Take out the trio of Holt, Bruce, and Hakim and switch in Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth. Finally, swap future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk with the up-and-coming star Laurence Maroney. Moving on to the defensive side of the ball, substitute Richard Seymour and Ty Warren with Leonard Little and Grant Wistrom. Place Tedy Bruschi and his trio of wily veterans with London Fletcher and his crew. Finally allow Rodney Harrison and Asante Samuel to replace the combination of leadership and youth that Aaneas Williams and Dre Bly previously assumed. Overall, take the Rams third-ranked defense, and switch in the Patriots fourt- ranked defense. The similarities between the two teams are stunning. The biggest difference perhaps lies in the coaches-one might say Mike Martz is slightly more emotional than Bill Belichick.

This Giants team is certainly not as talented as this year’s Patriots. Yet similar to the 2001 Pats, the Giants are playing with house money. When Bledsoe went down after the Patriots lost their first two games, no one predicted the team to make the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. Just like the 2001 Pats, the G-Men also began the season 0-2. Many in the media were calling for Eli Manning to be benched. Plaxico was getting blasted in the media for not practicing despite a high ankle sprain that would have sidelined most players for months. Furthermore, the running back tandem that has sparked the Giants in the playoffs is comprised of their fourth and seventh round picks of the last two years. These are the same two players, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, who were written off before the season because nobody thought they would come close to filling the shoes of the suddenly reticent Tiki Barber. On defense, Pro-Bowler Michael Strahan and the unquestioned field general Antonio Pierce lead the once-maligned unit. Yet it is not the highly touted front seven that has guided the team through the first three rounds of the playoffs. Rather, it is the oft-criticized secondary, which despite being devastated by injuries, has stepped up and refused to break against the potent offenses led by Romo and Favre.

Few expected the Giants to go into Dallas and beat the Cowboys, and even fewer prognosticators predicted the team to charge into the Frozen Tundra and steal Brett Favre’s shot at immortality. The pressure is squarely on the Patriots’ shoulders to complete their perfect season. Granted, there is no better coach to steer the team through this pressure than Belichick. However, as the Patriots attempt to meet the lofty expectations set by NFL experts, the Giants are striving to defy these same experts who didn’t even expect the team to reach the playoffs.

Despite the overwhelming odds, the underdog Patriots defied their critics with a 20-17 victory over the Rams in 2001. The Pats were able to do this in large part due to their team of underrated players, who all felt the need to prove something to those who had doubted them. Clearly, New England had talent that many overlooked; a team can’t win a Super Bowl based simply on attitude. However, football is an emotional game, and players and coaches will do anything to find an edge. It is no coincidence that coaches comb through countless newspapers in search for bulletin board material and always attempt to exude the “Us Against the World” attitude. When a streaky team catches and truly embodies this gritty, vengeful emotion at the right time, the unthinkable can happen, just as it did in 2001 and just as it will in 2008.