Former New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck made a little bit of a headline last week when he said on ESPN Radio in New York that the Patriots' Tom Brady would be "no question" the best quarterback in NFL history but for the Giants beating him in two Super Bowls. And with the Super Bowl (and the Patriots) returning this year to the site of the Giants' Super Bowl XLII upset of an undefeated New England team, that game is going to be revisited a lot in the next two weeks.
Tedy Bruschi, the former Patriots linebacker who's now an NFL analyst for ESPN, has no trouble remembering the game, painful though it may be for a member of that year's Patriots to recall.
"I can't think of a game in Super Bowl history with more on the line than there was that day," Bruschi said Monday in a phone interview. "This was THE SUPER BOWL, all caps. The one that would trump all the others. A chance to go 19-0, be the only team that ever did that, call ourselves the greatest team of all time? No question about it. But the better team won. They were definitely the better team."
That's something of a startling admission by a member of that Patriots team, which set NFL records on offense and rolled into the Super Bowl with an 18-0 record. That season's Giants were a 10-6 wild-card team that lost to New England in Week 17. It was a surprise to everyone that they even got to the Super Bowl. Their winning it was among the biggest upsets in sports history. But Bruschi sticks to his story.
"I definitely feel the right team won," Bruschi said. "The way we played, the way they played, they should have won. And that's just the respect I have for the NFL game. To sit here and say we were the better team, or we'd have beaten them nine out of 10 times, come on. What a slap in the face it would be for me to say that."
Bruschi can recall several moments from the game that made him think things weren't going to go the Patriots' way -- the David Tyree helmet catch, of course, but also a dropped interception by Asante Samuel, another pass that went off Brandon Meriweather's hands, an Ahmad Bradshaw fumble that Bradshaw improbably recovered, etc. The kinds of things, Bruschi said, that used to go the Patriots' way when they started winning Super Bowls. But he says it would be a mistake to lay that loss on a few bad bounces.
"They came at us with that power running game with [Brandon] Jacobs and Bradshaw and the fullback, [Madison] Hedgecock," Bruschi said. "Physical offensive line, they had a defensive line, powerful. It validates what really wins football games. We had the highest-scoring offense in the history of the NFL, and we ran into a more physical team that day and lost."
Truly believing the other team was better doesn't help Bruschi deal with the loss, though. What the Patriots lost that day went well beyond one game or even one title. They lost the chance to lay claim to the title of greatest team in NFL history. Bruschi took it so hard, he put off retirement plans.
"I couldn't finish my career with that taste in my mouth," he said. "If we had won that game, I would have retired. No doubt in my mind. But after we lost, I had to come back and play another season."
Bruschi is a Patriot for life, and he recognizes that people will say Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have a chance to go exorcise some demons in the desert in a couple of weeks. But he doesn't think that's really the case.
"I know Tom wants to go out there and right the wrong," Bruschi said. "But if they go out there and win that Super Bowl, it doesn't fix anything for me. I'll be ecstatic and I'll be proud of the organization, but the big one was lost. Nothing's going to change that."