Can Giants-Patriots rematch produce another game to remember?
To this day, most people don't realize that after defeating Russia in the "Miracle on Ice" game, the United States' 1980 hockey team still had to take down Finland after that to wrap up the gold medal.
The Feb. 3, 2008, Super Bowl has taken on a similar revisionist history. Ever since that game, the play burned into everyone's mind is Eli Manning somehow, incredibly escaping a New England pass rush and lobbing one downfield to David Tyree, who went over the defense and pinned the ball against his helmet for one of the NFL's all-time great catches.
But that completion would have been meaningless without Manning's 14-yard TD toss to Plaxico Burress just a few plays later.
The Giants and Patriots meet Sunday for the first time since that sensational Super Bowl showdown. It's been less than four years since Manning-to-Tyree -- and subsequently Manning-to-Burress -- but it feels so, so much longer.
Neither team has won a playoff game since then -- the Patriots missed the playoffs in 2008 after Tom Brady blew out his knee in Week 1, then went one-and-done in '09 and '10; New York lost its opening postseason game the next year and hasn't been back.
Tyree? He never made another NFL catch. Burress served a lengthy prison sentence before finally returning to the league this year.
Aside from the head coaches (Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick), the quarterbacks (Brady and Manning) and a few pieces here and there, the Giants and Patriots have undergone some major rebuilds since Super Bowl XLII.
"That's distant memory," Brady said this week, according to the Associated Press. "There's not much you can take from that. This is an entirely different team that they have and we have.
"There's other times where you think about it, but this week I'm not thinking about that game. I've had a lot of opportunities to think about that game, but this isn't the week for that."
It's hard to say New England fell on hard times after the Super Bowl loss. Even with Brady's season-ending injury in 2008, the Patriots have posted a 40-15 record over the past three-plus season, with two division titles.
But Tyree's heroics ripped away the Patriots' postseason invincibility. Burress solidified that with his game-winner.
New England looked like it had another Super Bowl contender in 2009, only to be blown out in the first round of the playoffs by Baltimore. And the Patriots definitely seemed like one of the teams to beat last season, but again lost their playoff opener, this time to the Jets.
Belichick's team won three Super Bowls in four seasons, from 2001-04, but any chance of extending the dynasty died in Super Bowl XLII.
Like Jack Shephard in Lost, the Patriots are just trying to go back.
Once again, the Giants stand in New England's way.
Make no mistake: This is a big game for the Patriots -- not only to earn a tiny measure of revenge for that heartbreaking title loss, but in terms of this year's playoff picture. New England sits at 5-2 heading into Sunday, tied with the Bills in the AFC East (Buffalo currently holds the head-to-head tiebreaker). A loss to New York would put the Pats in a hole with eight games remaining.
For the Giants, though, a win Sunday would both keep them in complete control of the NFC East and serve notice to the league that they're a legit contender. In that regard, the expectations surrounding this Week 9 game are not all that different from Super Bowl XLII.
Just about everyone expects New England to win -- as evidenced by a point spread that's approaching double digits. New York's just the undermanned, overmatched opponent in the Patriots' sights.
You can bet that Manning, more than anyone, would love to turn that perception on its head again. To some, Manning's Super Bowl win, his greatest moment as a pro, remains a fluke. His claim this past offseason that he considers himself an elite NFL quarterback, in Brady's class, was met with heavy criticism. Beating New England again may not answer all the questions about Manning and the Giants, but it would go a long way.
If New York's Super Bowl win threw the last bit of dirt on New England's dynasty, it also raised the bar for Manning. He has not even come close to reaching that level since. And neither the Giants nor the Patriots have been able to recreate their successes from the 2007 season. Almost four years later the quest continues.
So, here we are again: Brady's Patriots a huge favorite against Manning's Giants. The stakes are not nearly as high as they were last time this matchup took center stage. One can only hope the end result is as memorable.