Looking Back Four Years, as We Look Ahead to Sunday

We have once again found ourselves in the same situation as we were just four years ago: The New York Giants and New England Patriots will face off in Super Bowl XLVI with the world title on the line.

Super Bowl XLII proved to be one of the most thrilling championships in history, with the Giants shocking the previously undefeated Patriots, creating an instant classic.  Both teams have a lot of new faces compared to four years ago, but the anticipation of the matchup remains high, with this year’s Super Bowl poised to become yet another electrifying battle.

Going into Super Bowl XLII, the consensus was clear – almost everyone, except for hard core Giants fans, firmly believed that the 18-0 Patriots, a 12-point favorite, would dominate the game and crush New York to win the title and join Don Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only teams in the Super Bowl era to complete perfect seasons. The Patriots had literally been unstoppable up until that point, but the Giants’ game plan proved to be New England’s kryptonite.

Justin Tuck

The game was never a runaway, with both team’s scoring on their opening drives – the Giants with a Tynes field goal and the Patriots with a Maroney 1-yard TD run on the first play of the second quarter.  Those would be the only points put on the board until the fourth quarter.  The Giants opening drive that lasted 9:59 set the record as longest in Super Bowl history.  Led by Justin Tuck, the Giants defense was one of the most surprising storylines of the game, stopping the league’s most dangerous offense and its record-setting quarterback Tom Brady, who threw 50 regular season touchdowns.  Brady was sacked five times in the game, twice by Tuck.

The fourth quarter saw a TD pass from Eli Manning to David Tyree, followed by another from Tom Brady to then-Patriots wide out Randy Moss.  The Patriots led 14-10 with only 2:42 left, believing a hoist of the Vince Lombardi trophy was in their imminent future … Then came the Giants final drive.

Eli Manning was largely unproven at that point in his career, but he manufactured a drive that will not soon be forgotten.  One of the most memorable and improbable plays in Super Bowl history occurred on a 3rd and 5 at the Giants 44.  With their backs against the wall and only 1:15 left on the clock, Eli somehow escaped from what looked to be an inevitable sack as his jersey was being pulled, heaved the ball downfield toward a well-defended David Tyree, who reeled in the ball out of midair by pinning it to his helmet, maintaining possession through his entire fall to the ground.

The play has come to be known simply as “The Catch,” as well as widely-renowned as possibly the greatest play in Super Bowl history.  Calling it “the play of a lifetime,” David Tyree reacted to his defining moment, explaining, “Everything in me was just saying ‘I’m not letting this ball go.’”  The Giants offense would continue its way down the field until the 12-play, 83 yard drive culminated in a 13-yard fade pass to the corner of the end zone for a Plaxico Burress touchdown with only 35 seconds left on the clock. “

That’s a position you want to be in,” said Manning of the last drive.  “You can’t write a better script. There were so many big plays on that drive.”

The Patriots had one last chance to produce an even more thrilling comeback, but a sack of Tom Brady, along with three incomplete passes would prevent that from happening.  The Giants kneeled on the ball for the last play to win their third Super Bowl in franchise history.

Plaxico Burress, who caught the game-winning TD, commented on winning the Super Bowl through tears, “It’s the greatest feeling in professional sports.”

Michael Strahan summed up the historic win saying, “I think we shocked the world, we shocked, hell, in a lot of ways we shocked ourselves. No one expected us to win.”

Manning would be named Super Bowl MVP, matching the feat of older brother Peyton, after performing at an elite level in the biggest game of his life, completing 19 of 34 passes for 255 yards, one touchdown, and an interception.  Tom Brady put together a strong performance as well, going 29-48 for 266 yards and one touchdown, but according to Patriot’s head coach Bill Belichick, “They played well. They made some plays. We made some plays. They just made a few more. We played as hard as we could. We just couldn’t make enough plays.”

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick

Although many key players for both teams have changed, the centerpieces of each team, quarterbacks Manning and Brady, as well as head coaches Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick, are still there.  Both teams’ roads to the Super Bowl have been eerily similar as four years ago as well.

The Giants struggled during the middle of each season, but finished the regular schedule out with big momentum.  Big Blue delivered in a must-win game during week 17 of this season by defeating their NFC East rival, the Dallas Cowboys, to clinch the division crown and a spot in the postseason.  In 2007, they would face the Patriots during week 17 in what would be the eventual Super Bowl matchup.  The Pats defeated the G-Men to keep their perfect record intact, but only by the narrowest of margins, 38-35.  The Giants surprised many by playing almost equal with the top team in the league, a moral win that would largely boost their confidence along with clinching an NFC Wildcard berth.

The Giants also faced Green Bay during that playoff run, as they did this year, stunning Brett Favre and the Packers at Lambeau Field 23-20 in overtime of the NFC Championship Game.  The two teams faced off in the Divisional round this year, but the result remained quite the same, with Eli and the Giants upsetting Aaron Rodgers and the Pack in the Frozen Tundra by a final of 37-20.  With yet another NFC Championship Game overtime thriller, the Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers to send them to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for this season’s big game.  It’s only fitting that they’ll be facing off with the Patriots once again.

Right after the game that clinched their Super Bowl berth, Giants defensive end Justin Tuck even remarked on the similar playoff runs, “It’s kind of eerie.  I’d be lying to you if I told you it didn’t feel like ’07.  I mean, we playing the Patriots again too.”

On the other side of the ball, New England once again came into the playoffs as the #1 seed in the AFC.  Although not undefeated this season, coming in with a record of 13-3, they still achieved a first-round bye as well as home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Handily extinguishing Tebow Time in the playoffs, the Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos 45-10 in the Divisional round of the playoffs and moved on to face the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game.  As was well-criticized, a dropped TD pass from Joe Flacco to Lee Evans and a missed kick by Billy Cundiff in the waning seconds of the game for the Ravens allowed the Patriots to clinch their fifth Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

The Giants and Patriots have become very familiar with each other, possibly developing a small rivalry in which games always seem to come down to the final seconds or even the very last play. In their first regular season meeting since Super Bowl XLII, the two met in week 9 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.  Four Patriot turnovers compared to only two for the Giants were a factor in a battle that ended with Eli Manning methodically leading his team down the field in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to cap a 24-20 comeback win with a clutch eight play, 80-yard drive in 1:21 that ended in a TD pass to tight end Jake Ballard.  If the rematch proves to be as tight and heart-pounding, then Super Bowl XLVI will not disappoint.

On playing the Giants, Tom Brady said, “They’re a great football team, they have a great defense. Every time we play them, it’s, you talk about their defense, their pass rush. It’s going to be a good game -we have our work cut out for us.”

From 2008 to 2012, from Glendale, Arizona to Indianapolis, Indiana, and from Super Bowl XLII to Super Bowl XLVI, the one commonality is the matchup between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots in the biggest football game of the year. While the Patriots are looking to reverse the result of their last Super Bowl meeting, the Giants look to complete yet another improbable playoff run. The stage has been set and February 5 is sure to bring about yet another epic contest for one of the greatest prizes in all of sports.

To relive all the highlights from the classic Super Bowl XLII, click here.

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