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Eli Manning steals the show

This wasn’t supposed to happen. If any team was going to stop the Patriots machine and win the Super Bowl, it was not going to be the New York Giants.

This was a team that was going to be in shambles this season. The franchise player had just abandoned ship. They had a lame duck coach. The two best receivers had egos bigger than the city itself. The future-Hall-of-Fame defensive end held out for the entire preseason. But worst of all, they had an unproven quarterback with a family history of choking. There was no way this team was going to beat the unbeatable New England Patriots.

But they did. The Giants defeated the Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII.

So what happened? What changed this team from a mess in September to a champion in February?

The franchise player’s retirement turned out to be the best thing that could have happened, because it allowed the lame duck coach and the unproven quarterback to rightfully take control of the team. An injury to one of the big-ego receivers allowed the other one to thrive. The defensive end anchored one of the best pass-rushes in the history of the league.

On the biggest stage in sports, this team rose to the occasion and won on both sides of the ball against one of the greatest teams ever. A year after Peyton Manning got the championship monkey off his back, brother Eli got pretty much everyone off his.

The Giants received the ball to start off, and the first drive proved to be a microcosm of New York’s entire game. Slow, balanced and, ultimately, successful. The 16-play drive ate up 10 minutes of the first quarter and proved to be the difference in the game. If Manning and Company don’t do exactly what they did on that first drive, they lose.

The defense was fresh at the end of the game because it barely played in the first half. New England’s aged D was exhausted and couldn’t get stops late in the game. The Patriots offense couldn’t get on the field because the Giants converted four third downs. Manning proved to himself, his teammates, his coach and his critics that he was not going to crack. If they had gone three-and-out on that first drive, none of the above would have been true, and New York might have gotten blown out.

But what happened to the New England monster? The undefeated season vanquished at the last possible moment. The rug of perfection ripped out from under them by a kid with a smirk.

In all honesty, the Patriots were set up to lose this game. Tom Brady’s boot and Randy Moss’ legal troubles created a media frenzy. They had to relive the SpyGate scandal because new information “coincidentally” came out right before the Super Bowl. The excessive media attention of the quest for 19-0 is one thing, but the added scrutiny obviously took a toll. They looked unfocused—something a Patriots team in this decade has never been accused of.

Even Super Bowl maestro Bill Belicheck made some puzzling decisions. He continued to attempt the long pass to Moss when he was double- or triple-teamed and Brady didn’t have enough time to let the route develop. He abandoned the run too soon, with only one rushing attempt in the fourth quarter. When the best pass-rush in the league knows you’re going to pass, they might have some success.

More importantly, they ran into the hottest team in football playing at its absolute best. There was an air of confidence radiating from Manning that was almost palpable while watching this game. At no point was he going to make that fatal mistake that everyone would have expected two months ago. Everyone on the Giants knew it, and at some points it looked like everyone on the Patriots knew it, too.

The balanced rushing attack of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw was just enough to allow the Giants to control the clock. Plaxico Burress took advantage on the only play that he wasn’t double-teamedBut in the end, it was Manning who deserved the credit. Manning was the only player who could have been considered for the MVP award, for reasons that can’t be expressed in a box score or a game recap. The guys on this team weren’t playing for head coach Tom Coughlin, and they weren’t playing for owners John Mara and Steve Tisch. They weren’t even playing for themselves.

They were all playing for Manning. In Indianapolis, the team plays for Peyton. In Green Bay, the team plays for Brett. And in New York, the team plays for Eli.

This game is Eli Manning’s legacy. He will be remembered and immortalized in football history for Super Bowl XLII.

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