The NFL Conference Championship Game: A Fan's Perspective
Let me be candid. I want to put down the normal “professional” mentality that I usually try to carry, and talk about one of the most exciting days of my young, 18-year-old life.
January 20, 2008.
A Giant Run
From a biased perspective, the story of the 2007 New York Giants was one of the most exciting ones I’ve ever seen unfold on a football field. I’ll spare you the re-telling of the historic run, and get to the good stuff.
After a lackluster 24-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Big Blue was forced to face off against their top-seeded division rival, the Dallas Cowboys. It was a game that, while painful, I would have maintained serenity with losing (as a Giants fan).
The best word to describe it would be “slobber-knocker.” Both teams slugged it out until the end, when R.W. McQuarters sealed the deal for New York by intercepting a Tony Romo pass in the endzone to clinch the victory.
Amazement. Astonishment. Accomplishment.
I will admit, I have been spoiled in my lifetime as a sports fan. I was alive to witness the great Yankee dynasty of the mid 90’s, cheered for three Stanley Cup-winning Devils squads and even saw the Nets make back to back NBA Finals appearances. Yet some of my most painful days as a spectator came from the New York Giants.
True, they did make the Super Bowl in the beginning of the decade, but perhaps I should divulge:
1. 2002 NFC Wild Card vs. San Francisco
Prior to the “Miracle at New Meadowlands,” this perhaps was my most painful moment in life. Hell, it probably still is. The Giants, up 38-22 heading into the fourth quarter, managed to let Jeff Garcia and his pack charge back and take the lead, while a bad snap and a missed call by the referees ultimately cost the Giants the game in the end.
2. 2005 NFC Wild Card vs. Carolina
23-0 blowout loss at home. Need I say more?
3. 2004 Season
Anyway, as one can imagine, even a sniff at true success was appreciated. When a team exits early in the postseason, there is always a sense of unfinished business and disappointment. As the Giants miraculously managed to win two playoff games in the same season, I was more than content.
Then there’s the tease. The “what if?”
What if…they actually made the Super Bowl?
It’s a selfish thought. Actually believing your team will be in the Super Bowl. It’s the ultimate risk as a sports fan, because if they do not reach it, the letdown feeling afterward is indescribable.
So, as the Giants marched into Lambeau Field in -23 degree wind chill, I decided I would watch and invest as if that night was the appropriate end of the road to a surprising run.
As the two teams began their battle, I started to see a glimmer of hope. It was a physical game at its finest, and the two teams slugged it out as good as opponents ever have. Giants score, Packers answer. Packers score, Giants answer.
Entering the fourth frame, the Giants were (in my mind) miraculously leading Brett Favre and the Packers by a score of 20-17. After the Packers answered, I began to witness the obvious downfall of Big Blue. Lawrence Tynes missed a crucial field goal from 43-yards out, giving Green Bay a chance to respond.
After they did not, Ahmad Bradshaw shocked the world by taking a ball to the house, giving the Giants a go-ahead touchdown late.
But of course, it did not count. Holding call on Chris Snee.
Even so, Tynes would get another opportunity, this time from 36-yards away at the end of regulation, and missed. Badly.
If that wasn’t disappointing enough, the Packers won the coin toss and would be receiving the ball. It was the omen that I expected.
The Giants, who had the game in their grasp and had made me abandon my “lose-first” mentality, were going make this more heartbreaking than I expected.
Then, the unexpected occurred. Favre dropped back on just the second play of overtime and Corey Webster, the youngster out of LSU, picked him off!
Oh momentum, my best friend!
As part of the miraculous ending, Lawrence Tynes connected on a chance kick from 47-yard away and the New York Giants were on their way to the Super Bowl. Never before had I let emotion get to me like it did that night and for just that one second, I forgot about everything else in life and basked in the improbable victory.
We all know how that season ended.
Fast-forward to today. On this day, the Packers will get a shot at redemption, this time taking their act on the road to face the division rival Bears. Just like that ‘07 Giants team, the Green Bay is riding momentum like a cowboy chasing down cattle and are looking for their redemption.
As for the AFC side, the New York Jets, whom the Giants share their stadium with, will now have an opportunity to reach their first Super Bowl since 1969, a feat far more anticipated than my desperate call for success after a seven year drought. Alongside them are the Steelers, who with Ben Roethlisberger look to make their way to a third Super Bowl appearance.
While I am sure my personal inflection on a well-publicized game brought you to tears (especially over a team that, in all honesty, wasn’t “cursed” by any means), I hope the point can be proven. Whether a fan enters this week’s game from an optimistic or pessimistic perspective, the conference championship game can prove to be one of the most fulfilling and satisfying games in one’s lifetime.
To the fans of these four teams, enjoy the success you have had. Relish it. Be it if you are a trash-talker, or calm and collective, appreciate where you are. Understand the accomplishment of reaching this deep into the playoffs, and cherish it. If you go down, there is no shame. Yet at the same time, there is one thing to remember:
For some of you, your greatest thrill is yet to come.
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