I should probably begin my Sportsman of the Year nomination with an apology to the New York Giants. You see, they weren't really my first pick for a nominee. Not because I didn't think they were deserving, but because I figured they were off-limits. As you might have noticed by now, SI writers are asked to pick a different Sportsman nominee, and I simply assumed that the team responsible for one of the biggest upsets in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever would have long since been taken.
Yet here we are, one week before SI's Sportsman of the Year is to be revealed, and the Giants, the 2008 Super Bowl champions and the best team in football this season, are sitting there in the unwanted bin. It's like getting to the end of your fantasy football draft and finding Adrian Peterson still available. Surely someone must have made a mistake in overlooking the Giants. Then again, that's the way the Giants like it. They entered last year's Super Bowl as nearly two-touchdown underdogs against the undefeated New England Patriots and were given 25-1 odds to repeat this season.
"We love it, we love it," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "We ask for more. Honestly, it's not enough yet. Please add on."
Sorry, Antonio, I can't do it and neither can the rest of America. It's hard to label anything that comes out of New York as overlooked and underrated, but somehow that's exactly what the Giants have been. In a city that covets big-name stars and soap-opera controversies, the no-name Giants quietly did the improbable last season. They were in danger of not making the playoffs at 9-5 in December before finishing the season at 10-6, which meant they would have to beat three division winners on the road just to make it to the Super Bowl. That earned a date with "the greatest football team ever." The Giants defied the odds in Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay and then pulled off arguably the greatest upset in NFL history by derailing the Patriots' bid for a 19-0 season, winning Super Bowl XLII 17-14.
Eli Manning broke out of the shadow of his father and older brother by becoming only the second quarterback (along with Joe Montana) to throw two go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to win a Super Bowl. After being booed unmercifully at home early in the season, Manning and the Giants thrived away from the unfriendly confines of the Meadowlands (where they were 3-5), setting an NFL record by winning 10 consecutive road games. The Giants were the only ones who truly believed they could beat the Cowboys in Texas Stadium after losing twice to them in the regular season; beat the Packers in frigid Lambeau Field after losing to them earlier in the season; and beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl after losing to them in the regular-season finale.
The Giants, nearly one year later, are still showing they are the best team in the NFL. If they had the star power of the Yankees, the soap-opera storylines of the Knicks or were led by last year's Sportsman of the Year, Brett Favre, like the Jets, the Giants would be showered with attention and accolades. But for now they'll have to settle for my humble Sportsman nomination and a sincere apology, which is just fine for a group that seems to feed off its doubters -- who are growing smaller every week.