I was standing right in front of Tom Brady at Super Bowl XLII when he was told of a prediction made by then-Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who said the high-scoring Patriots would score just 17 points.
The prediction seemed outrageous at the time. The Patriots were annihilating teams that season, scoring 36.8 points per game. Brady and Randy Moss towered over the sport like superhuman beings, destroying every defense in their path.
I still remember Brady's face. He was almost insulted at what Burress said. He smirked and verbally backhanded Burress.
"We're only gonna score 17 points?" Brady responded. "Ha, ha, ha. OK. Is Plax playing defense?"
Ha, ha, ha.
Burress would be right. More than right. The Giants would win 17-14. They had the Patriots' number. It seems the Giants always have the Patriots' number.
It would happen again in another Super Bowl. The Giants beat New England in Super Bowl XLVI, and I remember another intense scene, this time after the game. Like a few others, I saw Brady's wife, Gisele Bundchen, while she was waiting for an elevator, angry as hell over the number of drops Patriots receivers had in the game. The moment was also caught on video.
"My husband cannot f--king throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time," she said. "I can't believe they dropped the ball so many times."
Fast forward to now. The Patriots, like in both of those past Super Bowl years, look unbeatable. And here are the Giants, again looking low-key. They're not backing in by any means, but they're under the radar, almost cloaked.
Would it surprise anyone if these two teams met in the Super Bowl again? And would it shock anyone if the Giants won again?
"They don't want to see us," Cruz told Seth Walder of the New York Daily News. "I'm sure if you ask them, [they'd say] they'd play anybody, they don't care. I'm sure they don't want to see us. That's for sure."
Cruz, one of three Giants left from the Super Bowl XLVI team, is right. The Giants are the only team that can beat the Patriots this year.
If you are a Patriots lover, the fact the Giants are lurking again should scare you. If you are a Patriots hater, the fact the Giants are lurking again should encourage you.
There have been so many remarkable, professional and talented Patriots teams in the Super Bowl. Yet of them all, this one, maybe, just maybe, could be the best. That's because this defense is as fast and vicious as the offense. There is no better compliment you can give that defense.
Because of that balance, Brady can have an off day, and the Patriots can still win. This means the list of teams that can beat them is small.
Maybe the Steelers can. I don't think the Raiders can. I'm not sure Bill Belichick would lose to two rookies in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott no matter how great they are. Aaron Rodgers can beat anyone, anytime, anywhere, but even Superman can't beat New England with a mediocre defense and an inconsistent running game. Seattle beat New England already this year, but lost Earl Thomas to injury and the odds of beating Belichick twice in a season simply are not good. Oh, and the Matt Ryan-led Falcons have won only one postseason game in the Ryan era.
I'm not saying it's impossible, as any team can play a perfect game and win, but I think only one team has the right pieces to do it: the Giants.
Again, it would be far from shocking if we saw this matchup because both teams are on similar trajectories as they were in the past.
The parallels aren't exact, but many are. On offense, Eli Manning has a history of rising to the occassion, and like past Super Bowls, he has a formidable weapon in Odell Beckham Jr. (It was Burress in 2007 and Hakeem Nicks in 2011.) Perhaps more importantly, the Giants defense is peaking.
Then there are the Patriots. They again look almost unbeatable. One of the teams that could've been a real threat, the Raiders, lost Derek Carr to a broken leg. Matt McGloin ain't beatin' Tom Brady at Foxborough. Matt McGloin ain't beatin' Tom Brady anywhere on the planet Earth.
The Dolphins? No. The Texans? Hell no. The Chiefs? It's possible. They have a fierce defense that can give Brady trouble, but I'm still not convinced Andy Reid would be aggressive enough in his play-calling, big man passing touchdowns notwithstanding.
That leaves the Steelers and their cheerleader coach, Mike Tomlin. The Steelers have an offense that can drop 30 on any team, anywhere, and are well coached. The problem is Pittsburgh is 2-8 against Brady and 0-4 against Brady at Gillette. Brady basically owns the Steelers the way the Giants have owned Brady in Super Bowls.
Brady and the Patriots handed Pittsburgh its ugliest loss in Steelers team history in 2013, a 55-31 butt-whupping where the Steelers gave up franchise records for most points and yards allowed (610).
The Giants have a tougher road than the Patriots to the Super Bowl. They have to beat some good teams to get there, but they had a brutal road to the Super Bowl in both 2007 and 2011. Conquering the impossible is what Manning has done in the postseason.
"I think just because of our history, no matter when or how we play them, no matter if it's regular season, preseason, postseason, there's an energy there," Cruz said of playing the Patriots, per Walder. "There's a rivalry-style energy there. When you play a team twice in the Super Bowl, once when they were undefeated, the second when they were pretty darn good, we beat them both times, and that's going to live forever. But it's definitely a rivalry."
Football Outsiders estimates the chances of a Patriots-Giants Super Bowl at about 3 percent. It likely won't happen, but we didn't think it would happen in 2007 or 2011 either.
The reason the Giants always play the Patriots well is a sense the Giants players have that New England feels it's superior to New York. That motivates the Giants. I've heard this from former Giants players like Michael Strahan many times before. This attitude was fostered in 2007 after that infamous Burress prediction and even more infamous Brady response.
Former Giants defensive end Justin Tuck told Steve Serby of the New York Post (h/t NESN) that after Burress' words, and Brady's chuckle, the New York defense was mad as hell.
"I'm in a room with [several defensive players] and we kinda see this pretty boy chuckle—like, 'We're only gonna score 17 points!'—and it just seems like the whole room turned red," Tuck said. "Like everybody was quiet. Literally fist-clenching, teeth. ... If we could have went and played right then, we would have went and played that second."
Former Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora added: "I remember the arrogance of the whole way he scoffed. I remember that making us particularly angry. ... We just knew then that we were gonna take his head off. We just knew that right then. I mean, come on, man. There's levels of arrogance, you understand what I mean? In the interview, like psshh, 'We're only gonna score 17 points?'"
The playoffs are almost here, and here we go again. The Patriots are the best team in football. The Giants are among the most dangerous.
The Giants are also maybe the only team that can beat them.