Like David in scripture, Rocky Balboa on screen and a bunch of American kids on ice at Lake Placid, sometimes the unlikeliest of heroes manage to take down the biggest and most imposing of foes.
The New York Giants looked like anything but champions early in the season. And even after they put it together to reach Super Bowl XLII, they were seemingly on the periphery amid the New England Patriots’ anticipated coronation.
But on a Sunday night in which red and blue confetti would rain after the game no matter what, they turned out to be Giants colors. It was, after all, New York’s celebration in a last-minute, 17-14 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium that denied the Patriots the second undefeated, untied season in NFL history.
“We could sit here and say, ‘We told you so,’ but that’s not this team,” defensive end Michael Strahan said. “We didn’t do this to prove anybody wrong. We did it to prove to ourselves that we could do it. This was for us, man.”
The Patriots’ bid for perfection — and the postgame glow from the cigars of the 1972 Miami Dolphins was as bright as that from the streets of New York — was denied by the imperfect team.
But the Giants, who won an 11th straight game away from home, don’t care. They are holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the third time in franchise history.
“Every team is beatable, you know,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “The right moment, the right time, every team can be beat. That’s why it’s so difficult in this league. But our guys got it done, and there’s no taking anything away from them now.”
New England failed to win a fourth Super Bowl title in seven years. It is the third team in league history to finish 18-1, and the only one that did not win the Super Bowl.
“(A perfect record) is not worth talking about,” linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. “It didn’t happen. You can look back on this year and see that we did a lot of good things, but we didn’t finish.”
A yeoman effort by the front seven for New York (14-6) kept the Giants in the game against the most productive offense in NFL history, and for the second straight year, a Manning was the Super Bowl MVP.
Eli Manning — Peyton’s little brother for much of his four-year career, a star in his own right during the playoffs — hit wide receiver Plaxico Burress with a 13-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds remaining for the winning points.
Burress, who played with ankle and knee pain, got cornerback Ellis Hobbs to bite on an inside route and was alone in the corner of the end zone. It culminated a 12-play, 83-yard drive after the Patriots took a 14-10 lead with 2:45 to play.
“There is a lot of fight on this team,” said Manning, who was 19 of 34 for 255 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns. “Whatever we went through doesn’t matter because we find a way to win. We had no doubt. We believed the whole time and made it happen.”
New York converted a fourth down and two third downs on its winning drive. One of the third downs was on a wild play in which Manning eluded two rushers to loft a pass to wide receiver David Tyree, who caught the ball over his head and with safety Rodney Harrison on him for a 32-yard gain.
“Guys jumped on Eli, pulled him from the back of the neck, horse-collared him,” Burress said. “Somehow, he broke free. He has the heart of a champion.”
The Patriots’ offense was at its most efficient on its go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady’s 6-yard pass to Randy Moss for a touchdown put the Patriots on the precipice of history.
“(The Patriots) had a great season,” Tyree said. “But I don’t think that any man can stand in the way of destiny, and that’s how I felt about this game. They’re regular guys. They bleed just like us.”