GLENDALE, Ariz. – Antonio Pierce pounced off the podium, stepping on confetti as he practically skipped across the University of Phoenix Stadium grass.
The New York Giants' defensive standout stopped to answer a question about his team, the amazing underdogs who had just pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history. Instead, Pierce decided to talk some trash about the New England Patriots, the team he and the Giants had just vanquished by a 17-14 score.
"This was the death of a dynasty!" the veteran linebacker yelled over the roaring Giants fans who would not, could not leave. "We wore all black, and we killed it."
What, you expected the Giants not to gloat?
In the wake of a stunning Super Bowl XLII victory that not too many people outside their locker room saw coming, the brash New Yorkers reminded everyone how unintimidated they were by their previously undefeated opponents. The Giants will leave Arizona Monday the way they arrived in the desert a week earlier, strutting and chirping and acting like they owned the place – which, in retrospect, they did.
It turns out the Giants' collective scoffing at the Patriots, a team that had won three Super Bowls in the previous six seasons and which brought an unprecedented 18-0 record into the game, was a conscious decision. It wasn't designed to tweak the Pats – in truth, the New York players couldn't have cared less how their opponents felt about their antics. Rather, the Giants were making a statement to themselves: We're not scared of the NFL's bullies, and we welcome the opportunity to steal their lunch money.
As defensive end Michael Strahan said afterward, "I think if you listen to all the hype, you can talk yourself out of a lot of stuff. I think a lot of teams who played the Patriots just flat-out talked themselves out of it before the game even started."
Halfback Brandon Jacobs, whose running style is about as subtle as an Angus Young guitar riff, put it even more bluntly: "Most definitely, other teams gave the Patriots too much respect. Our attitude was, '(Expletive) them (expletives). We're gonna beat these (expletives).'"
When the Giants' plane touched down in Phoenix six days before the game, they disembarked as a color-coordinated unit that would have made Johnny Cash proud. They wore black, Pierce finally confirmed after the game, because "that's what you wear to a funeral" – and, in their minds, the Pats' dynasty was about to die.
Then wideout Plaxico Burress said he thought the Giants would win the Super Bowl – specifically, by a 23-17 score – and spent the next three days echoing and expanding upon the sentiment. While the Patriots were their typically repressed, robotic selves, the Giants, who lost six more games than New England this season and came into the game as 12-point underdogs, were the chest-beaters who acted like the team to beat.
Most outside observers dismissed this as false bravado fueled by insecurity, reasoning that the Patriots, as is their custom, would turn the slights against the Giants and embarrass them on the field.
But from the beginning of Sunday's game, it was clear to 71,101 fans and the massive worldwide television audience – and, most important, to the Pats themselves – that there was plenty of legitimate force behind the Giants' words.
The Giants came out running with Jacobs (14 carries, 42 yards) and Ahmad Bradshaw (nine carries, 45 yards) blasting through the line and seemingly looking for contact. Thanks to some key third-down conversions by quarterback Eli Manning, New York managed to hold the ball for the game's first 9:59, but a nice stand by the Pats ended the longest drive in Super Bowl history with Lawrence Tynes's 32-yard field goal.
"No question," Jacobs said, "we were the more physical team."
Defensively, the Giants accomplished the goal that all teams preach but precious few can execute: Tormenting Tom Brady to the point where the game's best quarterback is rattled and out of rhythm. New York sacked Brady a season-high five times and, according to the unofficial stats kept by the team, hit him on 23 occasions.
Brady (29 of 48, 266 yards) produced just 14 points – 21.7 less than the Pats' average coming in – and failed to complete a pass of 20 yards or more. "We never saw that glazed look in his eyes that so many other quarterbacks get," said defensive end Justin Tuck, who had a pair of sacks and forced a Brady fumble that teammate Osi Umenyiora recovered 10 seconds before halftime. "But he was yelling at his receivers."
Still, when Brady got the ball on his own 20-yard line with 7:54 remaining and the Giants up 10-7, the quarterback coolly put together a go-ahead scoring drive that ended with his six-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss. It was 14-10 Pats with 2:42 to go, and Brady and Bill Belichick and the rest of the NFL's bullies seemed to have retained the upper hand.
Given the new allegations of video-related spying that dogged the Patriots over the weekend, this was not good news to anyone but Pats fans. Most theoretically neutral observers found themselves cursing the football gods and questioning their existence.
And then, somewhat incredibly, that cynicism flipped as an indefatigable team did what it has done so many times this season: The Giants shook off adversity and perceived extinction and won by imposing their will on the situation.
Make no mistake, Peyton's little brother grew up before our eyes, nailing his Serena Williams Liberation Tour gig with a fantastic flourish. Beginning at his own 17, Manning (19 of 34 for 255 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) fought through third-and-10 and fourth-and-1 predicaments before tackling third-and-5 at his own 44.
Then came one of those plays that, like Marcus Allen's 360-degree spin or Joe Montana's laser to John Taylor, we're going to see over and over again for decades and get chills every time we do. In a sequence that resembled Titans quarterback Steve McNair's insane escape in similar circumstances in Super Bowl XXXIV, Manning stepped up in the pocket and was chased by Patriots pass rushers Adalius Thomas, Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green, the latter seemingly locking the quarterback in his grasp.
Amazingly, eventual Super Bowl MVP Manning slipped away and rolled back and to his left, setting his feet to launch a 32-yard pass to No. 4 wideout David Tyree, who leaped and lunged backward to make an outrageous catch – the ball pressed against his helmet, the receiver somehow avoiding the intervention of New England safety Rodney Harrison – that went for 32 yards.
"How does (Manning) get out of that grasp?" Giants coach Tom Coughlin asked later. "How does he make that throw? How does (Tyree) catch it? It was just incredible."
Another third-and-long completion set up a first-and-10 at the New England 13, and Manning's sweet 13-yard fade to Burress, aka Plaxico the Psychic, put the Giants three points ahead with 35 seconds to go.
Four stops of Brady and the Patriots later, and it was time for the victors to display the swagger that made them such confident upstarts in the first place.
"I really do think other teams held them in awe, though that kind of stopped after we played them in that last regular-season game (a 38-35 Pats victory)," Tuck said. "But this is what football's about: The team that comes in and plays the best wins the game, regardless of whether people believe in you or not."
Jacobs shared his unflattering opinion of Seymour, the seventh-year veteran whose streak of five consecutive Pro Bowls ended this season. "Richard Seymour's soft," Jacobs said. "He's talking the whole game; he's dirty. But hey, if that's how he wants to play …"
Strahan, who may have played the final game of his brilliant 15-year career, brought up the "D" word, saying, "Everybody talks about a dynasty. My message to the guys is, 'This is the start of a new dynasty.' "
As for the "old" one – old, at least, in the minds of the team that had just defeated it – the Giants were eager to take on that topic as well.
"We took the trophy away from the Patriots," Jacobs said. "People gave them the Super Bowl after Week 10, and they thought it was theirs. They'll have to FedEx it to us after the game. Never back us against a wall ever again."
Pierce, appropriately, had the last word: "This team, we respected them, but we didn't bow down to them. Maybe they'll be wearing black (Monday), for what they've got coming up. Black means the end. It's dominant. And we dominated."
Someday, many of us will look back on this crazy season and try to explain to our kids and grandkids what the Giants accomplished and how improbable it all was. Words, in all likelihood, won't do it justice.
But the men who pulled it off, I'm fairly sure, will be happy to try and tell us all about it. And if we want to convey their story properly, we'll remember that they did their best to let us in on the secret before it became obvious.
When the Giants' plane touches down back home on Monday, a day before a jubilant parade through the streets of Manhattan, we'll know what to expect from this boisterous bunch of ballers.
Like AC/DC, they'll be back in black, louder and prouder than ever.
I'M HOT CAUSE I'M FLY …
• Tom Coughlin may be a bit nuts, like so many control freaks in his profession, but the man can coach – and he held his own with the great Belichick on Sunday. He also hit some nice motivational buttons leading into the game, and not by playing the predictable and tiresome no-one-respects-us card. Says Pierce: "He told us, 'Don't get personal. It's a game between two great teams. Go out there and have fun and enjoy this moment, and realize that when you win it's going to be one of the best feelings you've ever had.' Hey, I don't agree with too many things that man says, but I feel him on that."
• One thing Coughlin did that I absolutely loved: After taking a 17-14 lead with 39 seconds remaining, he resisted the dreaded squib call and had Lawrence Tynes kick deep to Laurence Maroney, whose 17-yard return gave New England the ball at its 26. The Pats went no further.
• I'm not sure whether New York defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will get the Redskins' coaching job, but I'm pretty confident you'll never see a more impressive audition than the Giants' effort Sunday against the highest-scoring offense of all time.
• Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have long been one of rock's most underrated and understated acts, and there were some nice moments in Sunday's halftime show – and guitarist Mike Campbell absolutely killed it on "Runnin' Down A Dream." But, as with the Rolling Stones two years ago, Petty's song selection was a bit bland and predictable, with three of the four tracks from one album (1989's "Full Moon Fever") and nothing from his chilling '06 release "Highway Companion." That said, it was still fun to watch from the stands, though not as fun as hanging backstage at Saturday's free outdoor Counting Crows concert at Tempe Town Lake. It's true that I'm biased when it comes to frontman Adam Duritz, my fellow Cal-sports-obsessed propagandist, but the tracks the band played from its soon-to-be-released album (which comes out next month) were robust and inspired. There was nothing wrong with a slowed-down "Miami," a note-perfect "A Long December" and a show-closing "Holiday In Spain," either.
• Jordin Sparks: Nice anthem, kid. You may have been discovered thanks to a TV show, but it appears you're here to stay.
• For the first time in 13 years, I did not write the Super Bowl game story for Sports Illustrated, and as Sunday's fantastic finish played out I had a slight pang of regret. It lasted about five seconds – vaya con Dios, Tim Layden – as I remembered just how psyched I am to be at the Y! and how much promise this site's future holds. I also managed to have a whole lot of fun Saturday night at SI's best Super Bowl party in years at the Scottsdale club Barcelona, where my ex-bosses got to see me (and former colleague Jeff Chadiha of espn.com) toast our respective career paths. The booze was free, of course, but we totally earned it. Speaking of earning it, I hope my friend Peter King, who missed Sunday's game because of an acute case of bronchitis, can take a well-deserved rest now that the season is over.
• Cool coincidence: As Burress walked out of the locker room, he looked at his cell phone and said, "Man, 72 text messages." That's seventy-two, as in the '72 Dolphins, many of whom undoubtedly were toasting him at that very moment.
… YOU AIN'T CAUSE YOU'RE NOT
• Depending on what damning evidence (if any) may exist, Sunday's disappointment could be the least of Belichick and the Patriots' worries in the coming months. On Saturday, the Boston Herald's John Tomase reported that a member of the Patriots' video department filmed the St. Louis Rams' final walkthrough before Super Bowl XXXVI, the game which launched the Pats' dynasty thanks to a 20-17 upset victory. The Patriots strongly denied the report. Now former video assistant Matt Walsh, quoted in recent New York Times and espn.com reports and viewed as a possible source of information regarding past transgressions, reportedly is on the list of the people with whom Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter wants to speak. So is commissioner Roger Goodell. As Marion Jones, Dana Stubblefield and other BALCO defendants can tell you, when the government gets involved, it's flat-out stupid not to tell the truth. If the truth is that the Rams' walkthrough was taped and Belichick either ordered it or used the tape for a competitive advantage, it changes everything. I've been firm in my contention that the Spygate scandal uncovered last September in no way tainted the Patriots' past accomplishments. But if they really did tape another team's walkthrough (during which plays are run in slow motion), that would be a major transgression that should carry severe consequences, one of which surely would be that New England is coached by someone other than Belichick.
• I love Ron Jaworski, and he knows a hell of a lot more about football than I do, but I can't believe he said this on ESPN's Super Bowl pregame show about the possibility that the Pats taped the Rams' walkthrough: "I'm OK with it. It's going on." Quick, someone find me John McEnroe: You cannot be serious!
• Goodell has been fabulous in his first year and a half on the job, a major reason that predecessor Paul Tagliabue, who looks less effective by comparison, reportedly was eliminated earlier in the Hall of Fame committee's deliberations than he was during his near-miss in '07. But one thing Goodell did that seems especially regrettable was his decision to destroy the evidence provided by the Patriots last September of past videotaping transgressions. Goodell says he was trying to prevent leaks, but he sounds to me like a man who just wanted the scandal to go away. Now, with Specter summoning him to Capitol Hill, the commissioner has some 'splainin' to do, Lucy Ricardo-style.
• Jeremy Shockey, dude, could you at least have tried to pretend you were still engaged in your teammates' quest to win a championship? Just because you're on IR doesn't mean you have to do everything on the DL, and the sight of you watching the game from a stadium box, rather than lending your emotional energy on the Giants' sideline, was perplexing.
• Only in the Super Bowl: A half-hour-plus halftime, a three-and-a-half-hour-plus game, the obligatory replay challenge from hell (to see if the Giants' Chase Blackburn got completely off the field before a New England punt in the third quarter, which must really impress those viewers in Burma), yet the Patriots and Giants were restricted to 30-second timeouts – rather than the full minute – on numerous occasions. Look, I can see trying to speed games along between non-contenders in November. But this is the Super Bowl. There's no hurry – everyone will keep watching to the bitter end, as long as the game hangs in the balance. So why not give the extra 30 seconds and allow coaches some time to implement strategy while the players catch their breath? Too logical, I'm guessing.
• Thanks, Fox, for fleshing out important details about Pats safety Harrison in your pregame show: "As a kid growing up, my brother named me 'Dootie,' because I used to have really bad gas. Pretty, pretty stinky." And some of you thought the Patriots', you know, excrement didn't stink …
• Chad Johnson's a great player, and a favorite interview subject, but if he tries any harder to force his way out of Cincinnati, the Bengals may conclude they're better off without him. Said one Cincy player to whom I spoke this weekend: "In my opinion it'll be better if Chad goes. He's such a 'me' guy, and I think he rubs off on T.J. (Houshmandzadeh), who otherwise is a pretty humble, hard-working dude. I know Chad's talented, but I think it might be one of those cases where we're better off just losing someone."
TWO THINGS I CAN'T COMPREHEND
1. The lack of attention given to Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's belief that the world is only 9,000 years old. Seriously.
2. Belichick's decision to go for it on fourth-and-13 from the Giants' 31 with 6:49 left in the third quarter. The Patriots, leading 7-3, had taken the second-half kickoff and put together a 13-play drive, and having kicker Stephen Gostkowski attempt a 49-yard field goal seemed like a no-brainer. Instead, Belichick called a play that resulted in a low-percentage Tom Brady deep pass for No. 4 wideout Jabar Gaffney into double coverage. I can't say for sure that Gostkowski would've made the kick (though I'm almost positive his predecessor, Adam Viniatieri, could have handled the assignment), but those three points would've come in mighty handy.
OVER-THE-TOP, EPHEDRINE-LACED DIATRIBE AT 4:19 A.M.
Belichick, what happened to you? The stunt you pulled at the end of Sunday's game, after Brady's fourth-down pass fell incomplete with one second remaining, was comically unnecessary and regrettable. Venturing all the way across the field to shake Coughlin's hand (and essentially ruining his rival's moment), then essentially saying "peace out" and leaving before the Giants' final kneel-down is something I might expect to see from an immature player – come to think of it, Randy Moss did the same thing as a member of the Minnesota Vikings in a loss to the Redskins at the end of the '04 regular season, and he understandably was skewered as a result. So were the nine Pistons who left the court in the final minutes of a four-game Eastern Conference finals sweep to the Chicago Bulls in 1991. Give Belichick credit for one thing: consistency. He is both a bad winner and a lousy loser. From the celebrated blowoffs of Eric Mangini (in '06) and Tony Dungy (in '07) to the running-up-the-score episodes from earlier this season, the guy shows as much disrespect for his opponents in victory as he did in Sunday's rare defeat. Maybe he'd handle a tie better? I don't know, but I hope Belichick takes some time to reflect on how far over the edge of reasonable behavior he has gone over the past couple of seasons, and how needless it all is. We're talking about one of the greatest coaches of all time, and a guy who I know has great respect for the game of football. He should start acting like it again.
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"You spent a whole article to tell us that you think the Pats will win. Give us a break. 'I'm thinking … .' The problem is you do not think, that is why your artical stinks. There was nothing profound in anything you said. You are in for a big disappointment; the Giants will win. Why, because Eli has played better in January than Mr. everybodies choice as the all-time greatest Q.B. (what bull s… or are you all on drugs?) and also the Giants have played like a team of destiny. In all sports, there have been such 'miracles' dozens of times before and this is going down in history as one of the most surprising of all. And this is not a hunch; I said weeks ago that they (Pats) would not go undefeated."
Barrie, Ontario, Canada
Is there an alternative spelling of "article" in Canada, or are you just one of those know-it-alls who happens to know very little about spelling? And you "said weeks ago that they would not go undefeated"? Wow, how profound. That said, that was a pretty damned good prediction. I'm not worthy.
"I read you all the way thru the Super Bowl … You're one of the few journalists covering the game that doesn't have his head up his ass. Thanks for not following the cheaper story lines. Enjoy the game … you earned it."
Thomas J. Ryan
Thanks for recognizing that. By virtue of your excellent judgment, you've earned the right to enjoy it as well.
"I bet you can't wait for tomorrow to be over so you don't have to send comments back to people who write and basically tell you that you aren't great at what you do. I for one am a huge Pats fan who thinks that no matter what you write (good or bad), it's always from the facts and your heart and that it's all wonderful! How you put up with these people is beyond me. You are an awesome reporter!"
Thanks. I'm definitely fired up for a respite from the NFL grind and some more time with my family, but I expect Trippin' to continue as a year-round venture. I couldn't go half a year without hearing from my readers, even the embittered, semi-illiterate ones.
"Are you a sad Dolphins supporter or an angry Raiders fan? Leave the Pats alone. They aren't here to entertain you with answers to tedious media questions. They are here to win games. And that, is what they do best."
I'm an ebullient California Golden Bears loyalist who is also a fan of non-robotic interviews. But thanks for speculating.
"Good Lord … will you knobs get off the Eli train already? Everyone talks about parity and the integrity of the game, but given his temper tantrum when he was drafted by the Chargers, should he even be allowed to play … in the Super Bowl …? For that reason, the game is a sham and defeats the purpose of the draft. … The NFL really needs to institute a rule saying you have to play for the team who drafts you or you aren't going to play at all … for at least a year."
Fort Worth, Texas
Yeah, that's really logical – a guy doesn't want to get told where to work and live by a restrictive system, so we shouldn't allow him to play in the Super Bowl. Oh, by the way, I just drafted you to send emails from Siberia.
"First off, I love your work, even though we are on completely different ends of the political spectrum. I can count on at least three times a week having something intelligent and witty to read on Y! Sports. My question is this: What are your thoughts on Derrick Thomas making the Hall of Fame? I realize his career was cut short by tragedy, but if I recall, he had a good five or six years where he was one of, if not the most feared linebacker in the game. It just surprises me that he keeps getting passed over. Keep up the good work!"
Derrick Thomas was a dominant player and a vivacious man who was one of my all-time favorites with whom to run. I absolutely believe he should be a Hall of Famer, and I miss him (like I miss Bill Clinton, and you miss Ronald Reagan, I'm guessing).
"Doesn't Senator (Arlen) Specter have bigger fish fry? He's making a federal case of the Patriots Spygate (controversy) when the Bush administration gets away with erasing years of emails dealing with such trivialities as the lead-up to the war in Iraq and the outing of a CIA agent. There can be no doubt that as I type these words on my keyboard, that the National Security Agency is adding yet another page to my file – without a warrant or probable cause. That's the kind of crimes the Chair of the Judiciary Committee should be investigating. Come on Specter, get some perspective!"
I appreciate your feedback, and I love your hometown.
"Yo Michael, John Edwards is a slimy, despicable trial lawyer and a blithering idiot. His politics consist of inventing issues that are not real. During his so-called campaign, he continually demonstrated his total ignorance of foreign and domestic policy. Do us all a favor and keep politics out of your column."
When John Edwards is President Obama's attorney general, I hope he sues you for libel.
"I love your articles, I read them every week. It keeps me from going insane at work. I heard you on 'Petros and Money' earlier this week. You have a great radio personality to go with your amazing writing skills. You have to start doing a radio show somewhere, and let me know when it happens."
West Covina, Calif.
Thanks. It's readers like you who keep me from going insane at work.
TEXT/IM/EMAIL OF THE WEEK
"I just shared an elevator with jesse jackson. He gave me a fist pound. He's down with yahoo sports."
– Text Saturday night from my colleague Charles Robinson, telling you everything you need to know about the Super Bowl.
"I love that girl! (Expletive) yeah she did!"
– BlackBerry Messenger IM from former Cal soccer star Lizzy (Gidget) Eisenberg Saturday, reacting to my heavily-biased description of my daughter's U-12 soccer exploits (for which she is partly responsible).
– Text Sunday from my father, who turned me onto Petty three decades earlier.
"Bill is a disgrace to the game. Never walk off."
– Text Sunday night from Warren Sapp.
"Hotty toddy … how about them rebels?"
Text Sunday night from Saints halfback Deuce McAllister, showing some Ole Miss love for Manning