Throughout Super Bowl history there is a long list of once little-known players who forever cemented their legacies in NFL lore by playing the biggest game of their lives on the biggest stage of their career.
There's Max McGee, the former Packer tight end, who was called into duty during Super Bowl I after the starter went down with a shoulder injury. McGee played through a hellacious hangover and finished the day with seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
There's Timmy Smith, the former reserve running back from the Redskins, who ran for a Super Bowl record 204 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-10 thrashing of the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. He finished his career with a mere 602 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns.
The list goes on and on - Desmond Howard, David Tyree, Dexter Jackson, Phil McConkey, James Washington, etc. These men are frozen in time, hung high in glass cases in the annals of the NFL, forever attached to their grand performances - performances that exceeded all fan expectations, and maybe even their own skill levels.
Here's a list of a few Giants who have the opportunity to join these men in the ranks of unlikely Super Bowl heroes. Some, of course, are more unlikely than others.
Victor Cruz looks awkward in a sombrero. He also doesn't have a single postseason touchdown reception.
Okay, so it won't exactly be a huge surprise if Victor Cruz puts up big time numbers tonight - he was, after all, the Giants leading receiver during the regular season.
However, he has been somewhat overshadowed by team mate Hakeem Nicks during the postseason. Nicks has been Manning's go-to target, hauling in 18 receptions for 335 yards and four touchdowns. Cruz's numbers haven't been bad since the end of the regular season (17 receptions, 244 yards), but he was essentially a non-factor until last week against the Niners, when he led the Giants with 10 receptions for 142 yards.
Cruz may carry that momentum into tonight's game. It looks like he'll be matched up against wide-out-turned-defensive-back Julian Edelman in the slot during man to man situations. Edelman is quick and athletic, but inexperienced. If Manning can exploit this mismatch, Cruz could possibly have a very big day.
Jacobs has rushed for one touchdown this postseason.
Brandon Jacobs certainly wasn't the freight train-like force this year that he has been in previous years, but his menacing size and raw strength still make him a danger to be reckoned in short yardage and goal-line situations.
It's not likely that Jacobs will break out of his cage and run for 100+ yards tonight (unless Ahmad Bradshaw's foot injury keeps him on the sideline for an extended period of time), but he could come away with a couple one-yard touchdown plunges, and that could make all the difference. The Giants don't want to settle for field goals inside the five, obviously, so even if Jacobs finishes the night with, I don't know, 2 carries for 1 yard and 2 touchdowns, he will still have accounted an additional eight to fourteen points that his team may not have had otherwise.
Ballard had four touchdown receptions in the regular season.
Jake Ballard was the Giants third leading receiver during the regular season, yet he has all but disappeared during the postseason (3 receptions, 33 yards), possibly due to a nagging knee injury that he suffered against the Packers in the NFC Divisional Round.
The Patriots secondary has been notoriously atrocious, ranking 31st during the regular season with 293 passing yards allowed per game. Ballard is a big, strong presence who knows how to find the soft spots in the zones of opposing defenses. Something is bound to give.
Look for Ballard to come up with some big catches down the seam and maybe a red-zone touchdown or two, as long his pesky knee doesn't act up. If it does, Travis Beckum, Ballard's athletic, versatile backup, will take on an heightened role in the Giants game plan. And, in all honesty, he's not too much of a downgrade from Ballard.
Manningham has 3 TD receptions this postseason.
Manningham was all but inconsequential during the regular season, yet has experienced a sort of rebirth in the 2011 postseason.
He has caught one touchdown pass in each of New York's three playoff contests. Manningham's success can likely be credited to opposing defenses exhausting their resources in an attempt to shut down the Giants top two receivers: Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. If the Patriots enact a gameplan that attempts to do this, Manningham may be freed up to make a few game-changing plays - just as he's done the last three weeks.
The Giants intercepted Tom Brady twice earlier this season.
While a good majority of the talk during Super Bowl week circled around the Giants' fearsome foursome - Justin Tuck, Chris Canty, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul - it may, in fact, be the Giants' secondary who makes the difference in Super Bowl XLVI.
If the Big Four can brew up some pressure on Brady and force him into some less-than-desirable throws, the Giants secondary will likely have an opportunity to cash in with interceptions. That's exactly what happened when these two teams met earlier this season, on November 6th in Foxboro. The Giants front seven pressured Brady seven times, knocked him down three times, and sacked him twice. The added pressured forced Brady into two game-changing mistakes - interceptions thrown to Mathias Kiwanuka and Deon Grant.
If the Giants defense can mirror that output tonight, they put themselves in a very good position to take home their second Lombardi Trophy in four seasons.