This year, however, they'll enter the break motivated by the Super Bowl stunner and suddenly more interested in New York as a possible playing destination. Those are just a few of the things I Iearned while talking to players on the heels of New York's 17-14 victory over the Patriots.
The Giants are more attractive to free agents
Though no active players will make the statement publicly, for obvious reasons, many around the league have gone out of their way to avoid playing for Giants coach Tom Coughlin because of his harsh reputation. The running joke was that the only way a player would go to New York would be if the Giants were willing to compensate them for the rigidity and physical pounding that Coughlin is so well known. The Giants, in effect, had to outbid teams and overpay at times in order to bring free agents in to the fold.
With this Super Bowl win and the stereotype about Coughlin changing as word spreads that he has altered his style and lightened up a little bit, New York is looking a whole lot better as a possible landing place.
"I really believe he mellowed after watching some of those press conferences," said tight end Ryan Neufeld, who played for Coughlin in Jacksonville in 2000. "It seems like he is taking the time to enjoy it a little bit more. You need to try and foster a positive atmosphere, which we did not have in Jacksonville. The season is so long and grueling that it is hard to go to work if everyone has a negative attitude. It looks like it stayed positive there this year."
The line matters
Every NFL team has its linemen huddle up during pre-game warm-ups in an attempt to set the tone for the physical outing about to take place. Almost without fail, a veteran leader will get in the middle of the huddle, gaze intently into the eyes of his brethren and utter the words that every lineman believes intently: "We all know that games are won and lost up front. We dominate these guys physically, we win!"
I always thought and hoped that was true during my years in the NFL, yet was burned too many times by a superior effort by the opposing quarterback or an inferior performance by mine. Super Bowl XLII showed everyone that in a league dominated by playmakers at the skill positions, line play is as important as ever.
"The Giants controlled the line of scrimmage all game on both sides of the ball and that was the difference." said Sage Rosenfels, quarterback of the Houston Texans.
"I saw one stat that said Tom Brady had been sacked twice in his three previous Super Bowl games," noted Redskins starting center Casey Rabach. "They got him three times in the first half and five times for the game."
"Brady never gets sacked like that," added Neufeld. "The Giants just took it to them."
The game shocked even the players
I was thoroughly surprised with not only the outcome of the game but also the manner in which it took place. I had the Pats winning by 14 and actually thought there was a decent chance the game could get out of hand. Having played for New England in '05 and '06, I was confident leaders like Brady and Tedy Bruschi would have their team focused and ready to play. They clearly were not. The Pats being out-coached and out-hit defied any logic.
"I had the same frame of mind as everyone else," said Rabach, "I really thought New England would have their way with the Giants."
"I certainly felt like the Patriots would win, but I thought it might be closer than some people were saying," said Buffalo Bills defensive end Ryan Denney. "I was hoping for a close game, but I still thought that New England would win like 35-24."
Added Rosenfels, "All signs pointed to them winning... game in dome, 18-0, experience in the Super Bowl, the AFC being a stronger conference. But that is the magic of the NFL. Any given Sunday!"
Anybody can win this thing
The season had been so dominated with talk of the Patriots perfect run that many players on opposing teams were almost resigned to the inevitability that they were merely a bit player in the New England championship DVD. The Giants' will and perseverance in pulling off the upset has given hope to every player and team around the league that they can, in fact, win a Super Bowl. If not next year, then certainly one day.
Rabach gained particular confidence in watching a team that his Skins had defeated in Week 15 walk off with the trophy, saying, "An unbeatable team can lose to a 10-6 team. All that matters is how you play at the end of the year. This gives everyone hope that if you can just make the playoffs, something special can happen."
"The belief the Giants had in themselves far outweighed any doubts that the football nation had about them," said Seattle Seahawks running back Alvin Pearman.
"I really think we can do it next year," said Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Justin Bannan. "You just gotta believe and win and start to get on a roll like the Giants did."