Four years after what many consider the best finish in Super Bowl history, the Giants and Patriots are facing off once more for the NFL championship. While there are no perfect records on the line this time, this matchup could be just as interesting.
In 2008, with New England undefeated and having beaten New York in the regular-season finale, the Patriots were 12-point favorites. The spread now is 3, and the Giants beat New England during the season.
Both teams are on a roll, too. The Patriots (15-3) have won 10 in a row – it was 18 in a row in ’08 – and the Giants (12-7) have five consecutive victories.
All of which matters not a bit, according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who will tie a record for head coaches with his fifth Super Bowl appearance.
“I’ve been asked about that game for several days now. All of the games in the past really don’t mean that much at this point,” said Belichick, 3-1 in Super Bowls. “This game is about this team this year. There aren’t really a lot of us coaches and players who were involved in that game, and very few players, in relative terms, between both teams. … To take it back years and years before that, I don’t think it has too much bearing on anything.”
The loss still reverberates for former Patriots linebacker Rosevelt Colvin.
“It was like getting punched in the stomach,” he said. “I still can’t watch the highlights from that game because of the opportunity we missed out on was so grand.”
Having come this far before is immeasurably helpful, according to Justin Tuck, the leader of the Giants’ defense whose return to health and form has keyed New York’s resurgence. He says the experience of four years ago will benefit everyone.
“The only thing that I tell the younger guys is make football, football,” Tuck said. “Don’t make this game bigger than it has to be. Everybody around you is going to make it bigger, but we have to concentrate on why we’re going out there. There’s going to be a lot of parties. There’s going to be a lot of people pulling at your coattail. Listen, if you go out there and you handle your business and you win this game, you can party all you want to after that.”
“For me, personally, the first time I went to a Super Bowl I approached it as such – as a once in a lifetime thing.”
For Tuck, it wasn’t. And though the defense he leads to Indianapolis isn’t quite as overwhelming as the unit that made life miserable for Tom Brady in ’08, it has been reinvigorated as the Giants surged to the NFC championship. It is just as deep as the group that sacked Brady five times, hit him nine more – Osi Umenyiora claimed he had that many hits alone – and unnerved the usually unflappable star.
Now it’s Tuck, Umenyiora, All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul, Dave Tollefson and linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, who compare favorably with Umenyiora, Tuck, Michael Strahan, Jay Alford and LB Antonio Pierce in 2008.
Other than head coaches Belichick and New York’s Tom Coughlin, that is the most common element between the two Super Bowls.
Controversial receivers Randy Moss and Plaxico Burress have been replaced by skilled playmakers such as tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in New England, and wideouts Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz in New York. Eli Manning no longer is a question as Giants quarterback, and he has carried the offense much the way running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw did in the past.
Lawrence Tynes kicked the Giants into the Super Bowl in overtime in ’08 and – incredibly – this year, too. Wes Welker led the Patriots with 112 catches that season and had 122 in this one.
Sixteen Giants remain from the 17-14 Super Bowl victory, and only seven Patriots are still around.