Sunday, February 10, 2008

Traditional Sunday Malaise

Get on itunes and buy the soundtrack for "We Are Marshall." I know it will take a while to download, so I'll wait.

No, it's alright. I've got nothing to do.

Okay. Got it? Just go ahead and click on the next-to-last song. Number nineteen. "Touchdown," it's called. Ready? Now open this link, and start reading. Because this asshole sure as shit expects you to read his column while listening to song fucking nineteen from the "We Are Marshall" soundtrack because he sure as shit wrote it while listening to that song on a loop. So just hit 'repeat' and try not to throw up, er, enjoy.

How Big Blue Grasped Their Place in History


February 10, 2008 -- THE ball was in the air for what felt like a lifetime, and David Tyree was perfectly willing to wait it out that long if that's what it took. All around him, the Super Bowl had come to a complete standstill. All around him, every eye, thousands of them, were fastened on a football.

"I couldn't hear a thing," Tyree said. "I felt like I was all by myself."

An already dramatic event needs more drama. Apparently. I'm not sure I actually get the first sentence. 'The' is in all caps, and Tyree was going to wait a lifetime to catch the ball? And can't you just see it? When Eli let the ball go, time stood still. The stadium, no, the WORLD watched only Eli's ball. It hung in the air for what seemed like forever. It was quiet. Fans existed in slow motion, with baited breath. Then, from off screen...David Tyree. Time sped up. God turned the world's volume back up.


There were, in reality, 71,101 spectators inside University of Phoenix Stadium. There were a couple hundred others, give or take, patrolling the sidelines: players, coaches, photographers, officials, various other folks with lanyards and credentials around their necks. All of them entranced by the football. All of them seized by the moment.

Seized by the moment. They knew, as it happened, it was...shhhh, shhhh, shhhh, quiet down...whisper...a moment. How could they not? Everything was happening in slow motion.

Half of them had come bearing the thinnest sliver of belief that they would see an underdog rise out of the dust and the desert, a literal phoenix in Phoenix, the New York Giants attempting to throttle the throne.

A literal phoenix, rising from from the dust and the desert. Half of the fans at the Super Bowl expected to see a giant flamy bird thing climb out of the ground, presumably dressed in Giants colors. That would be the retarded half.

The Patriots had been professional assassins all season, relishing their role as America's Most Disliked Team. The Giants had settled nicely into the role of cuddly upstarts, three road playoff wins in the bank already, arriving in Arizona bearing the look of gamblers with house money filling their pockets.

The hopes of a nation were riding on the shoulders of the little team that could. Last season's team had been killed in a plane crash. The New York Giants, no, The American Giants, despite having almost had their season cancelled, persevered through a tumultuous offseason, ripe with backstories that made us all closer to the team, closer to the quarterback who was ripped on by his former teammate, and the defensive lineman who likes to crap on ladies chests, and the other lineman who's ex-wife said was gay, and the prima-donna tight end who was injured late in the season. America's cuddly upstarts.

And then, in a heartbeat, it was all prologue. None of it mattered, not with fewer than two minutes remaining in the football season, with the Patriots leading 14-10, and looking to lay a hammer down on New York Giants ' skulls, once and for all, once and forever.

This Goliath, this insurmaountable foe, was done taunting David. David was all but done for, but...

This mattered: Eli Manning , half a second away from absorbing a crunching sandwich of a sack, dancing a Gene Kelly two-step out of harm's way. A football in the air. A Super Bowl at a standstill. Two seasons, two destinies, one championship.

Literally up in the air.

Breathless. Slow motion. America gasped. Literally. Time for a flashback.

THE AIR WAS thick with desperation, with the unmistakable whiff of imminent crisis. Outside was muggy and suffocating, late September in Washington, DC, having turned FedEx Field into a muggy quagmire. Inside, in the visitors' locker room, was something else.

"Guys," Tom Coughlin announced, "this is the time for us to find out who we are as a team. It's as simple as that."

It was bleak that day, my friends. The Giants, still just New York's Giants, were about to go 0-3. The coach was mad. But this was a new coach. A different coach. This was the coach that didn't scream. This was the player's coach. And this moment; this transcendent moment, changed football history. That was B.C. From now on would be A.D.

What followed was the first dividend.

"Fellas," Strahan announced, "we're going to win this game."

A.D. The coach and the leader. Though they had been through ups and downs, thick and thin, it all had lead to this. The leader knew what was right. Volume rises slightly...more horns...

"The season starts right here," Strahan said, "right now."

I just spooged a little.

The new season began with the Giants reeling off 21 unanswered points, then heroically keeping the Redskins out of the end zone in the final minute, stoning them four straight times. Six straight wins followed. Suddenly, in a weak conference, the Giants were solid contenders. Most days, Giants fans could even allow themselves the occasional leap of faith, believing they had the necessary ingredients to piece together a playoff run.

There was only one problem with that formula.

The quarterback kept getting in the way.

The Giants had won six straight games, but the underdog quarterback hadn't been a part of that. They were winning in spite of the kid.

Flashback #2...

IT WAS HARD to determine where the low point came. Week 12 was a good place to start, when Minnesota visited the Meadowlands and threw a frightening jolt of uneasiness into the whole of Giants Nation, and the hole of the Giant offense. Eli Manning threw four interceptions that day. Three were returned for Vikings touchdowns. The final was 41-17. The repercussions were resounding.

"It's pretty simple," Coughlin said. "We need the quarterback to play better than that. He knows it. He's not trying to throw interceptions. He's playing hard. He just needs to be better."

This new coach, this players coach, knew the right thing to do was to throw the kid under the bus.

Four weeks later, inside the swirling, snowy bowl of Ralph Wilson Stadium, he may have been even worse, fumbling the ball five times, throwing two picks, allowing the pedestrian Bills to haunt him and spook him, and having to rely on two long touchdown runs by Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw (quietly emerging as precisely the kind of 1-2 running punch the Giants needed to allow Eli to "manage" games rather than dominate them) and a terrific effort by the Giants' defense.

It should have been a feel-good day, two days before Christmas. The Giants thrashed Buffalo, 38-21. They wrapped up a playoff spot. And later in the day, when the Redskins went into Minnesota and beat the Vikings, it all but assured that the Giants would gain a favorable playoff slot, drawing the Buccaneers in Tampa rather than the Seahawks in Seattle.

The kid was down. The team was winning, but without him. The kid barely took part in the post-game celebration that day, knowing he was a leach. A leach sucking the goodwill earned by his brethren. This lecherous version of the kid wasn't going to help his team. They were dead in the water. They were sitting ducks. They needed the kid. New York needed the kid. America needed the kid. And the kid believed.

New York nodded, and listened, and wanted to believe. A week later, Manning looked sharp against the Patriots, a game less notable for that than for the fact that Coughlin decided to play his regulars, and play them all game long, despite the fact there was nothing tangible to be gained. New York Giants were a locked-in five seed in the playoffs.

The coach knew it was right to play his starters all game long. For motivation. For history. Because it was right.

"The Patriots are 15-0, and they'll be playing to win the game. Why shouldn't we?"

Again, there was another concession to the New Coughlin, the open-minded Coughlin. His players badly wanted to play the game. They wanted a crack at the Pats, because it was so unlikely they would ever get another one. He decided to let them play for a half. Then for three quarters. And then the whole game. The Pats won, 38-35. But it hardly felt like a loss for the Giants.

This was the Coughlin who wanted to win. The New Coughlin. The players Coughlin was the winner. The coach's Coughlin would have been a loser.

They were pretty good. But pretty good and playoffs don't often go together.

Music is becoming more intense...

EXCEPT, IT TURNED out, they were a bit better than pretty good.

Cymbals crashing! Horns blaring!

In Tampa, in the 80-degree heat, they wore down the Buccaneers, winning the franchise's first playoff game in seven years, 24-14. In Dallas, with the glitter twins of Tony Romo and Terrell Owens waiting for them, they ground down the Cowboys, reducing Texas Stadium to a whisper with a 21-17 win. Quietly, the quarterback had played a second straight terrific game, outplaying Romo the way he'd outplayed erstwhile Giant-killer Jeff Garcia the week before.

"He's the best quarterback I've ever played with," Jacobs gushed. "You can have anyone else you want. I want Eli."

A montage of beatdown. The old man who broke the heart of Giants nation is battered. The punks get splattered. His teammates believed; like they always had; like we wated to.

That vast field of candidates would include Brett Favre, waiting for Eli and the New York Giants in the sub-zero frost of Green Bay a week later. There was no way the Giants were walking into Lambeau Field and doing battle with both the 14-3 Packers and the ghosts of Lombardi and walking away with the George Halas Trophy. That was clear.

Extra flashbacks to playoff games at Lambeau field, Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, the Ice Bowl, history. It wasn't just Brett Favre and Ryan Grant and Aaron Kampman on the mythical forzen tundra. Eli and the Giants were facing the ghosts of history. There were 500 men on that field. 500 angry Packers.
Eli dipped and dodged, flinging the frozen pigskin all over the field.


Flash forward. Ball in the air. No, the season. America's season, literally, in. the. air.

Back to slow motion.

THE FACT THAT the ball was in the air at all was a miracle, of course. Eli Manning is good at many things. Escapability is not one of them. Yet he had gotten free and he had heaved the ball.

No, he didn't just chuck some duck. It was heaved, with the might of Zeus and Hercules. With the power of destiny. The Hand of God freed the loping Eli. The Hand of God turned his right arm into a bolt of lightning.

Shh. Shhhh.

Tyree's hands hit leather first. Then trapped the ball against his helmet, of all things. Then reached around. Then held on tight, waiting for impact.

And then held on. An Immaculate Connection.

Big music!!

A few moments later, Manning found Plaxico Burress in the end zone, and a few minutes after that Tom Brady's fourth-down prayer found the grass, and a few minutes after that Eli Manning's knee found the turf, and the final gun went off, and man, oh, man, people will be talking about all of that for as long as they play football games. Or any kind of sports, for that matter.

Oh, and a bunch of other stuff happened that actually mattered more.

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