Even though the 2000 Giants ultimately fell victim to the tenacious defense of the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, it was a team filled with likeable personalities and feel-good comeback stories.
I attended four regular season games and both playoff contests at Giants Stadium on the road to the Super Bowl in 2000. The Giants didn't lose once.
It was a season to remember as a young fan of a team that was ten years removed from its last Super Bowl appearance. For the first time in my short stint as a football fan, my favorite team was the one to beat.
After 11 games the Giants were 7-4, coming off of two terrible home losses to the Rams and Lions. In need of a spark, head coach Jim Fassel famously guaranteed his squad would make the playoffs, catapulting the G-Men to a five-game winning streak and earning them the top seed in the NFC.
But even though the Giants held the best record in the conference, there remained those who doubted the team's ability to play with the elite teams of the NFL. The playoffs would be the stage where this group of men would prove the pundits wrong.
Time for kickoff of the divisional playoff round against the Philadelphia Eagles. Giants' kick returner Ron Dixon caught the ball at his own 3-yard line and ran past 11 Eagles en route to the end zone. As he sprinted towards the corner where I was sitting, all I can remember is a state of pandemonium at The Meadowlands. The Giants would never trail again.
Big Blue would draw the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC Championship game, a team with a high-octane offense consisting of strong-armed quarterback Daunte Culpepper and the dangerous receiving duo of Randy Moss and Cris Carter. But it was the Giants who put on an offensive clinic, gaining 518 yards of offense on their way to a 41-0 rout.
The most beautiful story of all that came from the Giants' playoff run was that of quarterback Kerry Collins. Here was a troubled young man who showed so much promise as a rookie, only to run into problems with alcohol and endanger his pro football career. But here Collins was on a cold January afternoon, hoisting the George Halas trophy after a five-touchdown, 381-yard performance.
Collins certainly wasn't alone in his efforts to lead the Giants to Super Bowl XXXV. There was Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne, the halfback combo nicknamed Thunder and Lightning for their contrasting running styles. There were larger-than-life personalities, Michael Strahan and Jessie Armstead, which led the charge of the league's fifth-ranked defense.
There was cornerback Jason Sehorn, the soft-spoken heartthrob who always seemed to be in the right place at big moments. Fan favorite receivers Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard were Collins' favorite targets. And no one could forget Dixon's blazing speed on special teams.
What makes a team my favorite is not all about the outcome of the final game, but it's about the players and the adversity they face throughout a bruising, unforgiving season. The 2000 Giants were embarrassed by the Ravens in the Super Bowl, an image I tend to block out of my memory. But their ability to turn around their season and win an NFC Championship is what endeared me to this team and has stayed with me until now.
To this date, the 41-0 drubbing of the Vikings is still the most memorable sporting event I've ever attended. Seeing Collins, a former NFL outcast, raise his arms over his head as he walked into the tunnel, was a sight etched forever in my memory.
During the post game ceremony of the NFC Championship, team owner Wellington Mara made a statement that sums up my feelings about the heart of the 2000 Giants.
''Bear in mind this is the Giant team that was referred to as the worst team ever to win home-field advantage in the National Football League playoffs," Mara said. "And today, on this field of painted mud, we proved that we're the worst team ever to win the National Football Conference championship. I'm happy to say that in two weeks we're going to try to become the worst team ever to win the Super Bowl.''