Well, this was unexpected.
Up until three weeks ago, I was so mentally prepared all season long for the rematch I had anticipated since the NFL’s opener on Sept. 8: my New Orleans Saints against the Green Bay Packers, back on the electrically heated tundra at Lambeau, this time for the NFC championship. I was ready for Drew Brees, in his record-setting passing year, to outduel Aaron Rodgers, in his MVP year, gain the ultimate revenge for Green Bay’s 42-34 opening win, and take on the Patriots this Sunday. I was ready for the Saints to spoil me with their second Super Bowl in three years.
No way in hell had I prepared for my other team, the New York Giants, to be running the table to this Sunday’s Super Bowl 46 (someday they’ll stop with the pretentious Roman-numeral crap). Even though the parallels between this year’s NFC champs and the Goliath-slayers of 2007 are many, I wasn’t even prepared for them to be in the playoffs. In fact, I said good riddance to them with five minutes left in the first Dallas game on Dec. 11.
And here we are, feeling as if I’ve been here before. And I have — Giants vs. Patriots. There’s no unbeaten season at stake, but just as was the case four years ago, it’ll be a tight one. A classic. And Big Blue, again in their road retro-’50s/early-’60s white jerseys with the red numbers and stripes, will be on the winning side. Did someone say overtime?
(And before I go on: Some of you reading this are saying, “Hey! I thought you were a Saints fan!” Well, as a weirdo Gemini, I fully reserve the right to a dual life, and that includes two favorite teams. I’ve been a Giants fan since I first started watching the NFL in the pre-cable days back home in Connecticut, in 1970; I’ve also been a Saints fan since my first visit to New Orleans in 1986. They’re 1A and 1A in my book. Read about it here.)
I wasn’t expecting much from the Giants. To tell you, when the season started, I picked them to finish third in the NFC East behind two of my least favorite teams, the Eagles (remember way back when, when they were the trendy pick for the Super Bowl?) and the Cowboys.
After all, I was back home for Christmas of 2010 when I saw the collapse in full effect. My poor parents were just finally getting used to their firstborn son actually being their daughter when, from their cellar came the sound of the old me yelling and swearing like the sportswriter I once was. That would have been the DeSean Jackson punt return and the completion of the Giants’ four-TD choke job to Philly in the final eight minutes. And even beating Washington in the following week’s finale to go 10-6 wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs.
I was fully expecting the Giants’ collapse to continue this season and the team to finally fire Tom Coughlin. I mean, the Mara family is nothing if not loyal, Coughlin was a favorite of John Mara’s sainted father, Wellington, and he had not only won them a Super Bowl, but the biggest stuffed animal ever brought down in the big game, the 18-0 Pats. But another season of agony might have been too much to ignore.
I was doubling down on New Orleans to find its way back to the big game after letting Green Bay borrow the trophy for a year. Brees was still Brees, the receiving corps was back intact, and the running game was not only healthy, but greatly improved — a Heisman-winner in Mark Ingram to complement Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, and I knew Darren Sproles was gonna be a big trade-up from Reggie Bush; didn’t count on total-yardage-record good, though.
In fact, I didn’t pay much attention to Big Blue early on. I was surprised to see them lose at Washington in week 2, but was equally surprised to see them 6-2 at the midway point. And getting there by beating the Patriots in Foxboro (or Foxborough, if you will) on the Eli Manning TD pass to Jake Ballard with 15 seconds to go. (Then again, these Patriots weren’t the dominant Patriots we came to know, either; how could a team coached by Bill Belichick, who first made his name as the Giants’ defensive genius during the Parcells era, be lording over one of the league’s worst pass D’s.)
Despite New York’s stellar midseason record, I was bracing for the collapse. They didn’t disappoint.
It began, innocently enough, with the 49ers game at Candlestick the next Sunday. I knew the Niners would be tough, but I knew, especially after the week before, that the Giants would be up to it. They were, but the D proved to be just a little too much. Still, 27-20 wasn’t had.
But losing to the injury-depleted Eagles the next week was bad. And the following Monday-after-Thanksgiving in New Orleans? Total suck.
Not having my own TV is an inconvenience. And while I can go some Sundays without watching a single down of football, there are some games I have to see. Of course, Giants-Saints is a must-see for me, even though I know I’m subjecting myself to the exquisite torture of “Oh yeah! Oh fuck!” each time one team does something good at the expense of the other.
So I had dinner at the bar at the Landmark and settled in for a good game. And the first quarter was scoreless. But by halftime, it was 17-3 Saints, en route to a 45-24 final. And I found my loyalties drifting toward the Black-and-Gold. Brees’ usual passing show is fun to watch, the Saints’ offense is one of the best ever put together, and they were in the midst of a season-ending eight-game winning streak that would see them finish at 13-3.
The Giants? They were pulling their usual fold bullshit. And while they held tight against the Packers the next week, the 38-35 loss made it four in a row. And it seemed as if Dallas would back into the divisional title.
And I was sitting in the back room of Revue, my hangout coffee shop, trying to do some writing that mid-December Sunday night when the Giants traveled to Texas Stadium.
By the second half of the season, I finally had the presence of mind, after having my laptop how many years?, to start streaming games of both my teams — Bob Papa and Carl Banks on the Giants’ flagship, WFAN in New York; Jim Henderson and Hokie Gajan on WWL in New Orleans. And I’ve always liked radio more than TV; not sure whether it reminds me of my father taking us on Sunday drives, or whether it’s because radio lets you paint your own picture.
But this picture Papa and Bans were showing me was ugly. And when Tony Romo hit a shamefully open Dez Bryant for a 50-yard score with just over five minutes left, and the Cowboys up 34-22, I shut it off. Typical Giants fold.
Except that, like a rubbernecking motorist after a car crash, I rejoined the stream about 10 minutes later. And there was Eli, leading the Giants down the field like nothing, hitting Jake Ballard with just over three minutes left. And hey! They have the ball again, and even though Mario Manningham dropped a sure winner in the end zone, Brandon Jacobs scored the go-ahead TD.
And back came Romo to set up Dan Bailey’s tyening field goal in the final seconds. Except that the first time around, Coughlin pulled a Shanahan and called a timeout to negate the field goal. And then, Giants folklore was made. Jason Pierre-Paul — started the game with a safety, ended it with the block.
Yeah, we’re down with JPP. And as quickly as that, I’m thinking it’s 2007 all over again. And they’re making the playoffs. Except the Giants lost to Washington next week to fall to 7-7. They had to beat the Jets in a “road” game and then Dallas again at home to win the division and get in.
And the magic continued. Christmas Eve with the Jets. Victor Cruz adding his name to the team’s folklore with the 99-yard catch-and-run to put Big Blue ahead for good. And on New Year’s night, the rematch with the Cowboys was nothing like the first meeting — a 74-yard scoring pass to Cruz, a 17-0 halftime lead, 31-17 final. They’re in. Cool. Shades of ’07.
And, just like ’07, they started the playoffs with an NFC South team in the wild-card round. Unlike the highly competitive Buccaneers in Tampa four years ago, the Giants were playing at home, and against a team (Atlanta) that had somehow lost its mojo. As a Saints fan, I sure didn’t mind that. Or the surprising 24-2 final — I thought the Falcons would put up a better fight.
I can’t stand the 49ers. There — I’ve said it.
Some of my favorite moments as a Giants fan have come at their expense: Mark Bavaro carrying Ronnie Lott on his back 15 yards for a first down on an early-December Monday night in 1986 at Candlestick to launch a month of must-wins just to get into the playoffs. Joe Montana being leveled by Jim Burt a month later in the playoffs at the Meadowlands en route to 49-3 — and, two games later, the Lombardi trophy. It was my wakeup call . Two of my worst moments also came in San Francisco: The 44-3 drubbing in the ’03 playoffs that ended both L.T. and Phil Simms’ careers. And the collapse in the 2003 playoffs — 38-14 Giants late in the third quarter, 39-38 Niners, with the Giants botching the long snap on the game-ending field-goal attempt.
And the Niners laid down another level of despicability three Saturdays ago when they beat the Saints with nine fucking seconds to go. I was the only black-clad Saints fan in a sea of red at my hangout bar here in Fresno, the Landmark; I was the one screaming “Are you fucking KIDDING me?!? Son a fucking whore!” when Vernon Davis beat Roman Harper on that inside route. That’s the sound of an emotional tire being deflated by a jagged piece of metal in the road — quickly, efficiently, irreparably. I snuck out the front door and back into what was left of the sunlight.
I didn’t anticipate the Giants beating the Packers the next day. Here I was, fully expecting to have a rooting interest in the Super Bowl, and now I wasn’t gonna have one.
But the next day, as the Landmark is normally closed on Sundays, I was sitting at nearby Livingstone’s, not believing what I was seeing — the Giants dismantling the defending champs on their hallowed turf. And when Hakeem Nicks caught the Hail Mary at halftime, I felt a lot of tires deflating at Lambeau. And another parallel to ’07 — the Giants knocked off the No. 1 seed in the conference. Bring on the Niners.
Of course, I was concerned heading into the game.The Niners’ defense is brutal; Donte Whitner not only caused Pierre Thomas to fumble at the 2-yard-line on the Saints’ opening drive, his “legal” helmet-to-helmet hit knocked Thomas out of the game. Also, it rained heavily two days before the game, and Candlestick was expected to get more rain during the game.
But Eli and the Giants were accustomed to acclimating to enemy territory; in 2007, it was the 24-below wind chill at Lambeau in the NFC title game. And I couldn’t stand the thought of San Francisco beating both my teams on back-to-back weeks.
The Landmark, which only usually opens on Sundays for its annual private Super Bowl party, was open for the Niners-Giants. But I felt it wise to avoid the place, where I’d be the only Giants rooter in a sea of red and alcohol. I took up the invite of my friend Eddie, my first landlord in Fresno. My visits with Eddie and his wife, Marieta, now have two dimensions to them — during the patriots-Ravens game, I was outside on the patio having girl talk with Marieta; come gametime, I was on the couch with Eddie. And yelling when Vernon Davis (again!) scored on a 73-yard play in the first quarter.
But I settled in for a good one after that. I had told Eddie before the game to watch for Bear Pascoe, the Giants’ backup tight end — a Fresno Stater who was cut by the Niners as a rookie before New York picked him up a couple years ago. Sure enough, he came through with his first career score. And I was feeling — well, not at ease, but a little relief when Manning and Cruz got the Giants to where Lawrence Tynes could kick a field goal at the half, with New York getting the ball again to start the second half.
And you know how it ended by now. And Eddie and I whooped it up, followed by a toast of sparkling Italian wine-and-Chambord. A lot different from my first Giants NFC title 25 years ago — a bunch of us guys throwing swilling beers and throwing empty cans at the screen at our pal Ron Johnson’s house in New Haven. I guess I’m grown up now.
And another parallel or two or three to 2007: The Giants knocked off the No. 2 seed on the road again in the NFC championship.They did it in overtime again. They turned an opponent’s mistake into a winning field goal by Tynes. Except that, unlike Brett Favre’s bonehead pass in Green Bay, which was picked off by Corey Webster, Kyle Williams’ second turnover wasn’t really his mistake — it was a great forced fumble by Jacquian Williams.
And the Giants would be facing the Patriots again. Except they wouldn’t be 14 1/2-point underdogs again. (And I’ll forever kick myself for not putting money down on that line.) The early line was Pats by 3 1/2; it’s now 2 1/2.
And as Joe Posnanski so eloquently laid it out in si.com, if the Giants win today, they’ll be the worst team to ever win a Super Bowl. First 9-7 team to win it. First team to have been outscored in the regular season to win it. First team with a four-game losing streak to win it.
I was planning to spend this afternoon at the annual Landmark bash among the Patriot-haters, but last night I was asked to come into work today. Hey — I’m in an on-call job, someone’s sick, and I need the money. I’ll probably stop in and get some potluck grub before the game and then get to the office in time for the kickoff. And hope my square comes up in the pool at some point.
Just as well. I’m not feeling it the way I should heading into a Super Bowl, three hours before gametime.
Maybe it’s because the Giants are now in their fifth Super Bowl. It’s sure as hell a far cry from my first — a dozen of us guys in Ron Johnson’s living room, yelling, throwing empty beer cans at bad plays and bad calls; various girlfriends sitting at the dining room table, by the food spread, and cowering in fear; Me going out to the car to get the Gatorade with a few minutes left, guys piling on the floor like idiots, my old pal Danny Ly sliding head-first across the living-room floor and taking out a floor lamp like a 10-pin. Back then, the Giants hadn’t won a title in 30 years — before any of us were born — and we were all subjected to years of shitty football before George Young and Bill Parcells — and a defensive genius named Belichick — turned it around.
Nothing like a first time — even if I did do my share of yelling in the living room in Fresno four years ago when Eli evaded Adalius Thomas on 3rd-and-15, hit David Tyree for the Catch of All Time, then 11 yards to Steve Smith on a quick-out, then the winner to Plaxico Burress, and the
Maybe it’s because I’m losing some interest as I get older; after all, I pretty much said I’d cut back on my sports if the Saints won a Super Bowl, and they did it two years ago.
Maybe it’s because Duane Thomas, the mystifying Cowboys running back of the early ’70s, had it right-on:”If this is the ultimate [game], how come they’re playing it next year?”
But I will be at the office in my Super Bowl XLII T-shirt. And I’m looking for a great game. I’ll say Giants, 27-24, in OT. And I have a sneaking feeling Belichick will foist a player on us we haven’t been thinking of all week, thanks to the Most Famous Rob Gronkowski Ankle Injury in the History of the Universe: Wes Welker. Benjarvus Green-Ellis. Danny Woodhead. Chad Ochocinco. And maybe the Giants will break out Pascoe again.
I just hope Madonna doesn’t make an ass of herself at halftime. What’s the over-under on that?
Tags: Bear Pascoe, Bill Belichick, Bob Papa, Carl Banks, Chris Ivory, Dallas Cowboys, Darren Sproles, DeSean Jackson, Dez Bryant, Donte Whitner, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Fran Fried, Franorama World, Green Bay Packers, Hakeem Nicks, Jacquian Williams, Jake Ballard, Jason Pierre-Paul, John Mara, Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham, Mark Ingram, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Pierre Thomas, San Francisco 49ers, Tom Coughlin, Tony Romo, Victor Cruz. Lawrence Tynes