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The thing about conventional wisdom is that it's always conventional, but rarely wise. Just ask the New York Giants, who turned convention on its ear in Super Bowl XLII and came away with a world championship. They did it with no time to spare on the wings of a gritty, white knuckle, coming-of-age touchdown drive led by the "other" Manning-- a man voted by his peers as the NFL's most easily intimidated quarterback just a few weeks ago in a Sports Illustrated poll. He'd asked his big brother for guidance prior to the game and Peyton responded, "You're way past the point where you need my advice." And as he ripped away from the grasp of a fierce New England pass rush, escaped calamity, and kept The Drive alive with a seeing-eye throw that David Tyree turned into the most willful, athletic reception you'll ever witness, Eli Manning emerged from a shadow that no longer darkened his game. Tyree, who was slated to be little more than a bit player in this drama, instead reached back to the future and evoked history with his exhilirating play. Channeling the ghost of the late Green Bay Packer, Max McGhee, he crashed in from nowhere and drove a stake through the Patriots' hearts. Like McGhee in the inaugural Super Bowl, Tyree had been a barely used receiver throughout the season who was given an unexpected opportunity and then dazzled on the biggest stage of all, scoring a desperately needed touchdown-- his first of the year-- before hauling in a precarious catch for the ages. And then there were the running backs. The Giants entered the 2007 season without Tiki Barber, one of the league's premier backs, who'd retired. You're not supposed to get better when you lose that kind of talent, particularly when it takes two players to fill the shoes of one. But in came Thunder and Lightning, and we're not talking about U.S.C.'s pedigreed pair, LenDale White and Reggie Bush. Hey, who needs Tailback U. when there's talent to be plumbed in Carbondale, Illinois and Huntington, West Virginia? Barber's place in the backfield was taken by the Southern Illinois sledgehammer, Brandon Jacobs, and the relentless Marshall rookie, Ahman Bradshaw. Their blue collar work against the Patriots was the stuff of yeomen. They picked up the blitzes with zeal. Jacobs refused to be denied on a do-or-die fourth and one. And Bradshaw single handedly averted two deadly turnovers when he stole back his own fumble from New England in a scrum and batted away a fumble of Manning's just as a Patriot was set to pounce on it. But Tiki Barber wasn't the only Giants star missing in action. Gone was injured tight end Jeremy Shockey, whose talent and swagger are prototypical of The U, his alma mater, Miami. His absence mattered not, for the Giants had drafted smartly from where-in-the-heck-is Western Oregon (Monmouth, actually) and they simply stuck in the understudy, rookie Kevin Boss, whose huge 45 yard reception ignited the offense in the fourth quarter and jump-started the drive to their first touchdown. Everywhere you looked there were tales of redemption, rookies taking charge, and guys from schools far off the elite college grid refusing to be denied. There was rookie Steve Smith, whose hands-of-stone muff of a pass had led to a red zone interception, now brilliantly snagging a third and eleven pass for a first down on the penultimate play of The Drive, his feet deftly tapping inbounds when there was no margin for error. There was rookie Jay Alford, whose errant snap on a field goal attempt in Green Bay nearly cost the Giants the NFC Championship, now sacking Tom Brady and the Patriots' perfect dreams with less than a minute to go. And there were forces on defense from Troy State and Texas Southern who stonewalled New England after Akron alum Chase Blackburn inexplicably wandered onto the field as the illegal twelfth man while New England set up to punt, and then couldn't zip off in time, giving the Patriots a second, potentially catastrophic bite at the apple. Most redeemed of all, however, was head coach Tom Coughlin, who at the end of last season faced a near mutiny in the locker room and a post-season inquisition with the board, in which he was required to justify why the Giants should retain his services. Couglin talked the talk and now he's walked the walk, the architect of a champion far greater than the sum of its parts.

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