The New York football Giants just completed hands down the greatest playoff run in NFL history and one that will never be topped. Since the inception of the wild card round in 1970, 9 wild card teams (including the Giants) have beat the odds and made it to the Superbowl. Five of those 9 teams went on to win the Superbowl however, three enjoyed a home game in the opening wild card round - eliminating them from consideration for the greatest run. That leaves the 2007 New York Giants and 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers as the only teams to win 3 road games en route to becoming champions of the football world.
The Steelers certainly had a tough road to reach Superbowl XL, beating divisional rival Cincinnati in a hostile wild card round matchup before upsetting Indy at the RCA dome and Denver at INVESCO field. However, Pittsburgh's run is hurt by the fact that they avoided facing the defending champion Patriots and were actually 3.5 point favorites in the Superbowl against a solid but far from dominant Seattle Seahawks squad.
While Pittsburgh's run could be described more as destiny given that Superbowl XL was played in Jerome Bettis' hometown on the heels of his retirement, the Giants run can summed up in one word: improbable. The improbability of what occured is not merely about the team's superb play or the outstanding performances from unexpected sources. The true historical brilliance of the Giants run from an afterthought in the NFC to Superbowl champions is a product of three things:
1) How the playoff picture played out.
2) The significance of the opponents beaten.
3) The circumstances under which the Giants prevailed.
When I say the Giants playoff run will never be topped, I am not saying another wild card team can't run the table and defeat the top 2 seeds in their conference then proceed to beat the NFL's best overall team in the Superbowl. In the modern age of NFL parity, there is a distinct possibility this could happen again in the next 5-10 years. My point is that no team will ever have the oppurtunity to overcome a greater set of odds on their way to a Superbowl championship. Let's take a look back at the Giants playoff run and highlight significance of each win:
Wild Card Round - Tampa Bay Bucaneers & Jeff Garcia
The Bucs and Giants don't have much of a history; however, the Giants and Jeff Garcia sure do. Garcia's heroics led to the greatest Giants meltdown of the modern era, a 39-38 loss at San Francisco in the wild card round of the 2002-03 playoffs. Garcia continued to haunt the Giants as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles last year, beating them in the regular season at Giants Stadium before knocking them out of the playoffs. The Giants began their championship run by exacting revenge on their old nemesis leading to a date with his partner in crime.
Divisional Round - Dallas Cowboys & Terrell Owens
The Dallas Cowboys had beaten the Giants twice in the regular season and put up gaudy offensive numbers against the big blue defense both times. They entered the game loaded on both sides of the ball, well-rested and armed with Giants killer Terrell Owens. TO was a key cog in the Giants' demise at San Francisco and continued to drop monster numbers and L's on them as a member of the Eagles and Cowboys. New York would make the third time a charm against Dallas, riding two Amani Toomer touchdowns and a great defensive effort to a narrow 21-17 win. After the game, a sobbing TO confessed his love for his QB and the Giants were off to frigid Green Bay.
NFC Championship Game - Green Bay Packers - Ice Bowl Revisited
After knocking off the NFC's #1 seed, the Giants prepared to play 2007's team of destiny, Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay had earned a home game by way of Dallas' surprising loss and the script couldn't have been laid out any better for Favre. The Packers had dismantled the Giants in week 2, beating them 35-13 in Giants Stadium and now got an opportunity to face them at the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, a place where Brett Favre has been more or less invincible over his career. The game that would go down as 3rd coldest in NFL history when temps hit -4 degrees, would end on a 47 yard FG by Lawrence Tynes - the first opposing kicker to make a 40+ yard field goal at Lambeau field in the playoffs, EVER.
Superbowl XLII - New England Patriots On The Brink Of Perfection
New England had become the first team to ever reach the 18-0 mark following a win against the San Diego Chargers and now all that stood in the way of the first perfect campaign in the modern era was the New York Giants. Like the Cowboys and Packers before them, the Patriots had also beaten the Giants in the week17, a win that clinched the first 16-0 regualr season in NFL history. While the Patriots entered on the brink of perfection, the Giants were in the midst of becoming a dubious footnote to the Patriots brilliance. There was a very real possibility that the two biggest wins of the Patriots season, 16 and 19 would be at the expense of New York. Well, that wasn't to be the case as the 12 point underdogs pulled a rousing upset stunning the Pats 17-14.
OK, let's recap here at what transpired in these four games:
- Defeated Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens in the playoffs for the first time ever.
- Beat the Cowboys in Dallas after losing twice to them in the regular season.
- Participated in the third coldest game in NFL history.
- Beat Brett Favre at Lambeau Field.
- Lawrence Tynes became first kicker to ever make a 40+ yard field goal at Lambeau Field in the postseason.
- Ended the Patriots bid to become first team to go a perfect 19-0 in the modern era, defeating them in the Superbowl after opening as 14 point underdogs.
- Overall, won 3 straight conference playoff games on the road, defeated top two seeds in conference and an undefeated team in the Superbowl.
When you add up the improbable nature of the run based on low expectations attached to the team's playoff prospects, the Giants' youthful exuberance and the magnitude of the obstacles overcome, it is safe to say that as Giants fans or may be even sports fans in general, we will never experience anything remotely close to the events of January 6th through February 3rd, 2008.
Cherish this moment big blue faithful because championships like this are often won once in a lifetime.