It's very rare for me to talk about sports in this blog, but this time I just can't help myself. So, even if you hate football, please indulge me on this occasion. It is the Super Bowl, after all!
From The Sports Desk
You've gotta hand it to those Manning brothers -- they sure know how to create excitement on a football field. Last year, in Super Bowl XLI (that's "41," for those that don't get the Roman numerals), it was brother Peyton's aerial circus in action, methodically dismantling the Chicago Bears. A team of destiny, the Indianapolis Colts, clobbering an upstart, "Cinderella" team, just as they were expected to do. Peyton Manning took his passing artistry to the highest of levels and wowed the crowd on multiple occasions. The better team won that game, hands-down.
This year, in the forty-second Super contest, it was just the opposite scenario. Peyton's younger brother, Eli Manning, was the general in charge of the upstart New York Giants, a wild card team, of all things, who faced the much-touted New England Patriots. The Patriots were coming off an undefeated regular season and playoff series, where they had vanquished every team who stood in their way. 18-0, going into last night's game, and it looked like nobody could stop these Pats from matching the undefeated season of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, so long ago. After all they had Tom Brady at the helm; every bit as skilled and savvy on the field as either of the Mannings are, and perhaps even better, according to some. And Brady had that awesome team at his disposal; a team composed of some of the league's most stellar players. The Patriots had everything going for them all season long. This game was to be the icing on the cake -- a reward for an incredible, so-rarely-seen season. How could they lose?
But lose they did, 17-14, spoiling the perfect season and a fourth Super Bowl ring for the players. In spite of all the Patriots' many weapons and against all the odds, those pesky Giants just refused to go away. Within those sixty minutes on that field the Giants reversed things and they morphed from an upstart and became the real team of destiny on Sunday night.
You might have seen this coming, if you were paying attention to the final game of the regular season, in which these same two teams had met. In that essentially meaningless game, with both teams having secured berths in the playoffs, the Giants gave the Patriots all they could handle before the Pats finally won out. I know what all the prognosticators said -- that it didn't mean anything, that the Patriots were saving their best for the playoffs, and blah, blah, blah. I didn't pay that much attention myself, at that time. But that game was a preview of last night's game, I believe. A forecast of things yet to come. The New York Giants were a team that was peaking at the perfect time. Beware.
Although Eli Manning shined in Super Bowl XLII, he wasn't the key to the Giants' victory. Give that one to New York's defense, which almost entirely shut down the mighty Patriot machine throughout the game, holding them to a mere 14 points; a dismally low score by Patriot standards. With Giants defenders right in his face all night, Brady was knocked totally out of his usual smooth rythym, many of his passes going awry and landing harmlessly on the turf, instead of in the receiver's hands. New York blitzes penetrated seemingly at will, knocking Brady on his bottom, or sacking him on several occasions. And isn't that the simplest rule of good defense? "The quarterback can't pass, if he's flat on his ass!" And so Brady was, many more times than he expected to be.
The Giants also shut down the New England running game well, downing the running backs well short of first-down yardage, and penetrating deep enough to down them behind the line of scrimmage many times. New England had its moments, to be sure. A great team always does. But the Giants 'D' did just what it had to, keeping them out of the end zone and holding down the score. The board stayed locked at 7-3, Patriots, until the fourth quarter, in fact.
The other key to winning, for the Giants, was their offensive line, which protected Manning and kept him from suffering the same fate as his Patriot counterpart when it mattered the most. Because of them, Eli was able to pass for his first touchdown in the fourth quarter, giving New York the lead for the first time, at 10-7.
That lead would be swapped a total of three times in the fourth quarter, setting a new Super Bowl record. The Patriots answered back, making it 14-10, and eating up most of the clock in doing so. With time growing short, Eli Manning marched his team downfield one last time and tossed a picture-perfect strike to Plaxico Burress in the end zone. Burress, the Giant's leading receiver, had been neutralized all game long by the New England coverage, but he got wide-open for the score that would prove to be the winning one. After a not-so-great night, he was great when he had to be, and when it counted most.
With the score now 17-14, Giants, 29 seconds on the clock and with all three time-outs intact, Brady mounted one last drive, using those time-outs wisely and going with a no-huddle offense. They made it almost to the Giants' 20-yard line, but there the New York defense rose to the occasion once more. Brady couldn't connect on a single pass in four tries and the ball went back to the Giants on downs with one second left on the clock. After a premature celebration on the field was cleared, the lines formed for a last time, Manning went to his knee, and the latest Super Bowl went into the history books. It was over. New York had pulled off the most unlikely of upsets and one of the greatest ones in this writer's memory. And one of the hardest-fought and best Super Bowls I've seen in years.
Lighting has struck twice in a row for the Manning family. Will Archie Manning and his two sons become the greatest family dynasty in NFL history? I don't know what the future holds, but I can say that they're well on their way to becoming just that.