One team had the chance to be perfect. The other had the chance to pull off the perfect upset.
Super Bowl XXXXII was not what I expected. And judging from the chatter on all of the pre-game shows and analysis in news magazines, it was not what anyone else expected either.
It was expected that the heavily favored, perfect New England Patriots would manhandle the wild-card Giants. It was characterized in almost every conversation and article as a David vs. Goliath showdown. And even that may have been optimistic. I wasn't sure that after throwing 20 interceptions to his 23 touchdowns in the regular season, Eli Manning could be trusted with a slingshot.
Even those who love an underdog had trouble hoping for a Giants victory. Most were cautious enough to predict a "competitive game." And who can blame them?
Just taking a look at the Patriots weapons compared to the Giants roster was like getting one of those ice-cold Gatorade showers.
Wake up. Get real. You are not on Fantasy Island, and no one is going to grant you three wishes.
Seriously, only die-hard Giants fans held out any hope at all, and we blame that on sentimentality.
One article I read said that all New York had to do to win was to get to Tom Brady. Yeah, and all the Jazz had to do in 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals was stop Michael Jordan. Some things are easier said than done.
Who expected Eli Manning, in his fourth NFL season and barely able to grow a moustache, to lead his team past the likes of Tom Brady? Brady has no trouble growing facial hair and he has even less trouble moving his team into the end zone regardless of who's on the other side of the ball. He threw 50 touchdown passes (compared to eight interceptions) in the regular season.
So most of us seemed content with watching the Patriots finish that perfect season with a perfect 19-0 record.
Why did watching a spectacularly talented team do what's never been done seem like a consolation prize? Could it be the personalities, or lack thereof? Why else would so many hope for an Achilles' heel?
Maybe it's just what we love about sports. As much as we love perfection and the journey to attain it we also love an upset. We can't help but root for a hero in glasses, a little geeky who doesn't always get the girl. (Or at least not until he breaks out the cape and X-ray vision.)
Was there a quarterback more maligned than Eli Manning this season? He did not get to come into the league and develop in obscurity, building his skills along with his confidence. His name is Manning. He had to be great from day one. This guy had to find a way to bloom in the shadow of both his legendary father and accomplished older brother. So in the harshest of environments and with very little love, Eli Manning silenced his critics and carved out a little history of his own.
Archie Manning may not have his own championship ring, but he can revel in the fact that his sons were back-to-back Super Bowl MVPs.
And then there is Plaxico Burress, who injured his ankle in training camp but became Manning's favorite target this season. He caught just two passes in the Super Bowl, the second was the game-winning touchdown. He was overcome with emotion after the win, but defensive end Michael Strahan was not.
Can the defense, he asked, finally get some credit? Sure they can. All that defense had to do was sack THE Tom Brady five times in the biggest game of the year. All they had to do was bring the most prolific offense to a grinding halt. Do that, and sure, Mr. Strahan, you can have all the credit you want.
He reminded everyone, as he hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy high into the air, that no one gave them a chance.
Which reminded me of the reason we never get tired of seeing David take down Goliath, even if perfection is on the line. It reminds us that it doesn't matter what someone else says we're capable of. What matters is what we believe is possible.And ultimately, when the pressure is at its greatest, it matters what we do.