The bulbs flashed, the confetti fell, the fans screamed, and the wild, unpredictable 2011 NFL season came to a fitting conclusion.
At the end of this storied NFL year, a somewhat unlikely group of heroes stood atop the winner's podium, as Eli Manning and the Cinderella New York Giants hoisted the Lombardi trophy for the second time in five seasons.
The Giants capped off a magical finish to a storybook season with a roller-coaster Super Bowl.
Just like their regular season, the game featured some magnificent moments along with some equally terrible low points. After all the confident talking they did in the two weeks leading up to this game, we were certainly expecting a powerful performance from New York.
Seeming to dominate the first half by completely controlling the time of possession and yardage totals, the Giants even lived up to their smack talk of getting inside Tom Brady's head by rattling him into a boneheaded grounding penalty that caused a safety. Eli Manning capped off the ensuing 80-yard drive with a touchdown pass to Victor Cruz, enabling us to see one last salsa for the 2011 season.
By the end of the first drive of the third quarter, however, it seemed that the Giants' bravado had finally caught up with them, as they shamefully allowed Brady to complete a Super Bowl-record 16 passes in a row across the two drives linking the second and third quarters.
Having said that, those two touchdown drives were the only times the Giants lapsed on defense in this game. They ultimately lived up to their talk and were instrumental in putting Manning in the position he needed to win his second Super Bowl.
On the Giants' final drive, you could practically see the mirror image of the final drive in 2008 on your television. Eli managed to drive the Giants 88 yards and cap with a score in the final minute, but not before a receiver stepped up to make a play that will live forever in legend.
Mario Manningham pulled off a classic Amani Toomer catch, hauling in a beautiful throw from Manning and dragging his toes to keep the Super Bowl alive for New York, by just the tips of his fingers.
Despite Ahmad Bradshaw's indecision on the goal line, which resulted in him falling awkwardly into the end zone, the Giants found themselves in the lead, only needing to hold a timeout-less Brady scoreless for one minute. Needless to say, they succeeded, but not before giving us a heart attack and a half.
For all the talk of Justin Tuck's two sacks, Manningham's catch and Manning's MVP performance, the unsung heroes of this Super Bowl may not be getting their due credit.
Last year, Jordy Nelson flew under the radar while providing the majority of Aaron Rodgers' yards. This time, punter Steve Weatherford and linebacker Chase Blackburn will split the unsung hero distinction.
Steve Weatherford proved just how valuable a punter can be, pinning New England inside their own 10 on three of his four punts, making him directly responsible for the safety that ultimately made the difference in the game.
Chase Blackburn made the play that saved the Super Bowl. With the Giants trailing 17-15, Blackburn made the play that vindicated Big Blue's decision to pull him off the couch late in the season.
Staying with Gronkowski deep down the field, Blackburn managed to box out the larger tight end to pick off Brady's bomb pass, stopping another New England red-zone trip and swinging the momentum back to the Giants. Without Blackburn's effort on that play, this article would read quite differently.
Not to mention, when was the last time you saw a linebacker making a play in coverage 30-yards downfield?
The parallels between this New York Giants team and the 2007 Super Bowl champions are just too bizarre not to be re-stated.
Both teams opened the season with a loss to a division rival. Both teams lost to the lowly Washington Redskins in Week 15. Both teams sparked a juggernaut playoff push with a 38-35 December loss to an unbeaten team. Both teams defeated the No. 1 NFC seed on the road in the divisional round and the No. 2 seed in the NFC title game. Both teams won the NFC title game in poor weather conditions on an overtime field goal.
The similarities continued in Super Bowl XLVI.
The Giants trailed the Patriots at the half. They narrowly escaped a couple of turnovers (Asante Samuel's dropped pick in 2008), and needed a magical catch on the final drive to keep hopes alive. Both teams sacked Tom Brady on the final Patriots possession to seal the victory.
Knowing all of this now, how can we say that this team wasn't meant to win the Super Bowl? A team of destiny indeed.
For a team that started out the 2011 season with a throng of serious injuries during preseason and training camp, this Super Bowl run was nothing short of extraordinary. The loss of several starters had fans and experts alike writing the team off before the season even began.
Like the 2010 Green Bay Packers, however, they got hot at the right time, stepped up when they were supposed to and made plays when they had to.
The Giants made this run on their slogan of "All In." This is a team that came together as a unit, believed in their coaches, believed in each other and did what it took to win games.
They went all in for XLVI, and now they stand as the deserving world champions of football.
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