Talk about reversal of fortunes.
Who'd a' thunk at the start of NFL 2011 it'd be Manning-the-Younger (Eli) hoisting the hardware in February as opposed to Manning-the-Elder (Peyton), whose career would be teetering on the brink? Not many, and even fewer Giants' fans and East Coast media.
The low expectations never seemed to faze the League's new 4th Quarter phenom. Through good times and bad, Eli Manning always wore his game-face and patiently took questions, whether sensible, silly or echoing from a near-empty press-room.
Manning-the-Senior (Archie) taught his boys well. Rule # 1: If lucky enough to make it in the NFL there'll be ups...and there'll be downs. Ride-out those lows with the same strength & dignity you ride the highs. That's my guess, anyway.
Is it the real thing this time for Eli or just another passing fancy of fandom? Pretty lofty praise (talk of Cantonization) in the after-glow of his key role in the Giants' big 21-17 win over the 3pt-favored Patriots in SB46. Might check back in 3 years, though. It's a fickle world. Eli and Tom Coughlin know that better than anyone.
But it's not the MVP's late-game leadership that makes this 42-redo most memorable.
It's because this game marks the other book-end on a great rivalry that'll be etched in the minds of fans for decades to come and something the Super Bowl, for all its success, had been sorely lacking. Rivalry and the competition faced will always be the measuring rod of greatness in team sport, at least where the combatants & coaches are concerned.
That's why Michael Jordan, with his trunk full of MVPs and rings, will never make my top five list of greatest b-ballers in NBA history. And it's why I rank the 1950s Browns and Lions among the greatest teams ever to lace 'em up on the pro gridiron.
Less reminiscent of the 1968 Jets who sported a spiffy 11-3 RS mark, came into SB3 19-pt. underdogs and led the Colts 16-0 at Q4, these Giants are more akin to those Super Bowl savvy Pittsburgh Steelers' teams of the 70s.
Like these opportunistic G-Men, the Art Rooney gang always found a way to win the big game. And that dogged determination was never more evident than in their two close wins over the Staubach-led Cowboys in Super Bowls 10 ('76 / 21-17) and 13 ('79 / 35-31).
Dubbed America's Team after a break-through win in SB6 vs Miami (Patriots have a case), Dallas had a devil of time against their defensive-driven nemesis in black & yellow. Led on offense by steady field-general Bradshaw, a powerful run duo (Harris / Bleier) and starry receiver-corps (Swann / Stallworth), the workmanlike Steelers were never intimidated by point-spreads or monikers of adornment on opponents. Sound familiar?
It's a tall order getting to a Super Bowl. Talent alone rarely pays the freight ('85 Bears?). Everything's gotta' fall into (playoff) place at just the right time. The chances we'll see these two rosters (NE / NYG) back-at-it in a future finale are pretty slim.
For those predicting this was Brady's final performance on the big stage, I wouldn't bet on that line. With oft-injured & mishandled Big Ben, overhaul in Jets-land, Ravens inability to answer the New England question and the enigmas that are Mr. Rivers and Peyton, Belichick's boys are still odds-on favorites to take the AFC again. A few more bounces their way in SB42 & 46 and they're 5-0 and we're talking greatest all-time.
In the NFC, Saints and Packers are fast becoming post-season stumble-bums, Vick, Ryan & Romo show little sign of elevating their squads, clock's ticking on Cutler Bears and 2011 is test year for 49ers' Smith. The Giants knack for late-season surge, bringing out the worst in PS-opponents and skyscraper-confidence make them as good a choice as any for next season's NFC crown.
Losing is always hard, but especially on America's biggest sporting stage. As the years march on these Patriots can take some comfort in knowing they'll be remembered for having been worthy opponents of the New York victors in one of the great rivalries in NFL championship annals.