It’s January 28, 2009, and you can’t find a flight from New York to Tampa, no matter who you know or how hard you try. Flights leaving LaGuardia and JFK International airports have been booked for weeks, and even neighboring launch pads like Newark International in New Jersey and little MacArthur Airport all the way out on Long Island are booked solid.
People around the New York metropolitan area have even resorted to making the 20-hour drive from New York to Tampa, figuring, “What the hell? Let’s make a road trip out of it!”
Even if you can find a way to get down there, good luck getting a ticket. This one is a scalper’s dream, and it will cost you in the neighborhood of $5,000 just to get into Raymond James Stadium. Even then, you’ll probably be stuck on the pirate ship buried in the corner of the building.
Every hotel within 50 miles is being invaded by armies of people cloaked in green or blue—there hasn’t been a vacancy in weeks.
And the trash talking is like nothing you’ve ever seen—unless you’re from New York, that is. At a moment’s notice anywhere in the city, you can hear the green people, “J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets!”, and the blue people, “Back to back, baby! Come get some!”.
It’s an unbelievable sight. The NFL is staging a Subway Super Bowl.
Last Thursday night, we moved one step closer to making this once-improbable scenario a reality. Every Jets fan knew their team has looked good so far. All they had to do is think back to the 56 points they hung on Arizona or the 47-point outburst against St Louis.
The Brett-Favre-led Jets were on to something. But before the words “Super Bowl” could ever be uttered, or even thought of, they knew there was one team they had to beat—the New England Patriots.
Earlier this season, Belichick’s crew got the better of New York, 19-10, in Favre’s first home game in the Meadowlands. This time, the Jets got their redemption. Thomas Jones rushed for 104 yards, and the Jets defense played well most of the night—but it was Favre, more than any other Jet, who was responsible for the victory.
After a miraculous, last-second touchdown catch by Randy Moss sent the game to overtime, Brett Favre received one more chance to exorcise the Jets' demons of Patriot games past. The Jets won the toss, Favre got the ball—and 14 plays and 64 yards later, New York was 7-3, in first place in the AFC East with an inside track towards a first-round playoff bye.
“It's a great, great feeling for us," Jets coach Eric Mangini said. "Everybody understands that this game was extremely important, and it's important because it allows us to make the next game extremely important. It's a really positive step for our team."
The Jets don’t have to look far to see what a Super Bowl champion looks like. They share a stadium with one.
It could be said, quite confidently in fact, that the 2008 New York Giants are a better team than their 2007 World Champion counterpart. Three days after the Jets’ stirring win over New England, the Giants quickly reminded everybody who runs the town—and the entire NFL, for that matter.
Their latest obstacle, the 6-3 Baltimore Ravens, came to town boasting the number-one-ranked run defense in the league. They left Giants Stadium 6-4.
So Eli Manning must have torn them apart, right? Wrong. Instead the Giants ran the ball right down Baltimore’s throat, to the tune of 207 yards. So much for that number-one run D.
So far this season, the Giants have been equally remarkable on both sides of the football, currently owning the second-ranked defense and fourth-ranked offense in the NFL. Remember that old saying about needing to be good at running the ball and stopping the run to win championships? Well, Tom Coughlin’s New York Giants got the memo. They also lead the NFL in rushing, and are second best at stopping the run.
Eli Manning has enough skill players around him to fill two offenses, in addition to the best offensive line in the business. The defense is reminiscent of their late '80s glory-days unit. Just swap out Taylor, Marshall, Carson, and Banks with Pierce, Kiwanuka, Robbins, and Tuck. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s close.
All told, the Giants are 9-1 and seem on a mission to show people that last year’s fluke wasn’t so much of a fluke after all.
So how would Gang Green fair against the sure-to-be heavily favored champs? There is one particular game film that I’m sure both coaching staffs would take a gander at during Super Bowl week, and it’s not their annual week-three preseason affair. Last year, the two teams met during week five of the regular season, on October 7.
The Jets were the road team, despite playing in their home stadium. These are the oddities that go along with sharing a home. That day, the 1-3 Jets were leading the eventual champs 17-7 at the half. Kerry Rhodes returned a fumble for a touchdown, and those tricky Jets pulled out all the stops—remember Brad Smith’s touchdown pass to Chad Pennington?
But all that did was anger the other New York team, which came out in the second half and exploded in a 28-7 run, cruising to a comfortable 35-24 final.
Of course the Jets didn’t have Brett Favre, among others, and the Giants still touted Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora opposite each other at defensive end. The two teams were heading towards vastly different prizes. For the Jets, it was a top-five draft pick. For the Giants, Super Bowl rings.
Boy, what a difference a year makes.
After a significant step backwards last season, the Tannenbaum-Mangini regime managed to get things back on track quickly in 2008. So what was their formula? Sign quality free agents and nail their draft picks.
The Jets have been doing plenty of both. The list of free-agents that signed with New York reads like a roll call: Tony Richardson, Damien Woody, Alan Faneca, Calvin Pace, Kris Jenkins, the newly-acquired Ty Law—and, of course, Brett Favre.
While Super Bowl experience is hard to come by—and the Jets haven’t gotten that far since 1968—this team has more than you might assume. Tannenbaum and Mangini have quietly assembled a pretty battle-tested core of Super-Bowl-experienced players. Favre, Faneca, Jenkins, Law, and Thomas Jones have all played in the big game. If the Jets manage to get that far, they’ll have a head coach, along with this core of veterans who all have been to the rodeo before.
That can only help—especially if they play the Giants, and the normal Super Bowl hype is multiplied times ten.
If the Jets are still considered a long shot to make the Super Bowl—and they are—then the Giants are the prohibitive favorite. Not only are they looking to become the eighth team in NFL history to win back-to-back titles, but they would also love to return to the scene of their only Super Bowl crime.
Of the four Super Bowls the Giants have played in, they only lost once—eight years ago to the Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV. The venue was Raymond James Stadium, also the site of this year’s game.
How vindicating would another Super Bowl be for the Giants? Last year’s Super Bowl Cinderella talk would be replaced with one simple question: Can the Giants become the first team to win three-straight Super Bowls?
Those are two very different conversations.
All of this may be a tad premature. I’ll admit that. But with the two teams a combined 16-4, why not dream?
Back in August, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped in to help settle the ongoing Brett Favre-Green Bay Packers saga, he helped grease the wheel for Brett’s eventual arrival in New York. At the time, two teams were interested in Brett’s services—the Jets and the Buccaneers. If things continue down this road, it looks like Brett may get his chance to play in Tampa Bay after all—in Super Bowl XLIII.
The decade started with the 2000 Subway Series between the New York Mets and New York Yankees, which was one of the least-viewed World Series in the past eight years. Something tells me that if New York can somehow manage to duplicate the feat on the gridiron, people will tune in to watch this one.
One thing is certain, though—over two million New Yorkers would show up the following week for the ticker-tape parade, sure to ride down the Canyon of Heroes.
The only question is what color will they be cloaked in—green or blue?