They say that results build storylines, not vice versa, but for the second time in four years, the latter felt to be the case as the New York Giants were set to play the New England Patriots in another Super Bowl matchup that felt like it was arranged by destiny.
Like their previous playoff run in 2007, it was another tough road to Super Bowl XLVI as the Giants were underdogs in the divisional round and NFC Championship.
The Giants easily handled the Atlanta Falcons at home 24-2 in the Wild Card round, then things got tricky.
As a fan at the time, facing the 15-1 Green Bay Packers team at Lambeau Field, who had MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the true test to see if the Giants were real contenders.
Once they knocked off Rodgers and the Packers is when people started to take them seriously, myself included. I still remember thinking, “wow, they might be able to pull this off again,” dreaming of another Super Bowl run.
However, they still had to travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers the following week, where they faced an even tougher task against a top-rated defense.
In my eyes, this game showed proved tough Eli Manning truly is as he continuously took a beating from that Niner defense and just kept getting back up and making plays.
Once again, destiny kicked in as the Giants got a little help from the miscues of punt returner Kyle Williams, who muffed two punts. As a result, the Giants won dramatically in overtime on a Lawrence Tynes game-winning kick and were headed back to the Super Bowl once again.
While their path was far from easy, head coach Tom Coughlin, quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants persevered their way to their second Super Bowl appearance against Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Ironically enough, Manning would start at quarterback on the biggest stage in the place where his brother Peyton Manning called home for the past 14 seasons with the Colts.
This day was special for me on so many levels at 15-years-old, but I remember worry crossing my mind. “How on earth are they going to beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick for the second time in the Super Bowl?”
It seemed almost impossible. The greatest quarterback and head coach duo were not going to go down easily, especially after the Giants spoiled their perfect season the last time they battled on this stage.
At the start of Super Bowl XLVI, the Giants jumped out to a 9-0 lead early on. Like in Super Bowl XLII, Justin Tuck picked up where he left off putting pressure on Brady to force a safety. As he had done all season, wide receiver Victor Cruz scored the game’s first touchdown.
Of course, the Patriots did not let them hold this lead for very long, scoring ten unanswered before the end of the half.
If you were a Giants fan, the night went stale for a while starting at the end of the first quarter until half-way through the third, where the Patriots scored 17 straight points to go up 17-9.
It was the Giants, who now trailed by 8, but they had come from behind all season, which gave good reason to have faith that they were not done yet.
Luckily, they had Manning under center, who played his best football in the fourth quarter that year, setting an NFL single-season record with 15 touchdowns in the final period during the regular season.
Right on cue, Manning and the Giants offense started to put some drives together scoring 6-points to close out the third on two-separate field goals from Tynes to inch closer, making the score 17-15.
A Magical Fourth Quarter
The nerves kicked in for me at the start of the fourth quarter. As we all knew, it was going to be a bumpy ride to the finish line, and every play was crucial for the Giants trailing by 2-points.
The first-of-several turning points in the final quarter was when the Patriots committed the first turnover of the contest as Brady was picked off by linebacker Chase Blackburn on a jump ball intended for a hobbled Rob Gronkowski (high ankle sprain).
Although the Giants did not capitalize on this turnover, it was still a critical stop for the defense and kept the ball out of Brady’s hands.
Arguably the biggest play in the entire game occurred after the Patriots regained possession with less than 10 minutes to go and reached the Giants 44-yard line with 4:06 left. On 2 and 11, Brady fired a pass high to receiver Wes Welker, who was unable to haul in the reception.
This missed opportunity proved to be substantial for the Patriots as failed to put additional points on the board late. Instead, they had to punt the ball back to the Giants, who were starting from their 12-yard line with one timeout and 3:46 left.
For me, this game was a total déjà vu. The Giants again needed a late fourth-quarter comeback to capture the title against the Patriots.
The stage was set, and what happened next is still hard to fathom. On a play that will remain immortal in Super Bowl and Giants' history, Manning completed a 38-yard dime along the left sideline to receiver Mario Manningham, which got his team to mid-field.
Manningham was able to make a basket catch and get his two-feet down in bounds falling away from two defenders for a remarkable grab. This catch gave the Giants a much-needed spark causing immediate flashbacks of the miraculous “helmet catch” by David Tyree four years earlier in Super Bowl XLII.
As a Giants fan, speaking from personal experience, after that throw-and-catch, you knew there was no way they were going to lose this game.
Manning connected with Manningham and Hakeem Nicks on the next three-plays for 32-yards to get the Giants deep into New England territory at the two-minute warning.
The Giants had a 2nd-and-goal on the 6-yard line when the Patriots used their second timeout with 1:03 left to play.
The sensible plan would have been to run the clock down to allow Tynes to kick the go-ahead field goal and give the ball back to the Patriots with 20 seconds and only one timeout.
Instead, New York handed the ball off to Bradshaw, whose momentum carried him into the endzone to score a touchdown with 57 seconds left. The Patriots allowed the Giants to score and go up 21-17 to get the ball back with more time on the clock.
Sports Illustrated called this Bradshaw touchdown the “strangest play in Super Bowl history,” as he tried to sit down at the 1-yard line but fell backward into the end zone.
This gave the Patriots too much time for Brady to put together a comeback drive of his own, which made me nervous.
Although they found themselves at 4 and 16, Brady was able to elude heavy pressure to find Deion Branch for a crucial first down conversion. A 12-yard completion to Hernandez, followed by a 12-men on the field penalty by the Giants, saw the Patriots reach their 49-yard line with 9 seconds to play.
After an incomplete pass, Brady had one more chance to chuck up a Hail Mary on the final play. As a result, the ball was deflected in the end zone and out of the reach of a diving Gronkowski as the Patriots comeback attempt fell short, and it was time to celebrate for the Giants!
The Giants somehow managed to pull it off again. They didn’t have the same roster as the last championship team, but the corps was still similar and led by the same clutch quarterback and another strong defense.
They were crowned Super Bowl champions for the second time in four seasons. Manning earned his second Super Bowl MVP and pretty much punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame on that day.
He is still only one of five quarterbacks to win multiple Super Bowl MVP awards on a list that includes Hall of Famers Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, and the man he just beat in Tom Brady.
The Giants became the first Super Bowl champion in NFL history to finish 9-7 in the regular season.
I still remember when they lost to the Redskins in Week 15 in mid-December and talking to my family about how they weren’t going anywhere significant that year.
Little did we know; the Giants would not lose another game-winning six straight between the regular and postseason on their way to the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl title.
For me, this title was even more special than the first one because it set this team and era apart, proving they were no fluke.
Those Giants teams from 2005-2012 with Manning and Coughlin will go down as one of the best periods in team and NFL history because they were able to win the most significant game not once, but two times against the greatest quarterback and coaching duo ever.