- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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There was more at stake than just an entire season and the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Legacies and reputations were hanging in the balance. History was about to be made.
And the New York Giants, a team that was once mired in mediocrity at 7-7 and couldn't stop Rex Grossman, could not have been more calm under perhaps the most pressure-packed situation in sports.
Down 17-15 with 3:46 remaining at their own 12-yard line, the Giants handed the ball over to Eli Manning. And while every palm was sweaty in Lucas Oil Stadium and stomachs were churning all over the country, Justin Tuck might as well have felt as if he were on a beach in Turks and Caicos.
"It was almost relaxing," Tuck said. "As crazy as that sounds, I am sitting on the sideline smiling. We've seen this before."
Indeed, the Giants are the masters of chaos. In a fitting end to a season that can only be described as a roller coaster, the Giants won their fourth Super Bowl by sticking to the formula that got them here.
They rode Manning's clutch arm in the fourth quarter and executed their team's mantra to perfection -- they finished. Manning delivered a second Super Bowl MVP drive that included another sensational catch by one of his receivers, and the Giants' defense held on at the end to stun Tom Brady and Bill Belichick again and win Super Bowl XLVI, 21-17.
Plaxico Burress' prediction came to fruition, but just four years later.
"[Belichick is] a great coach and [Brady is] a great quarterback," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "But at the end of the day, man, when somebody has your number, they have your number. And there is nothing you can do about it. We find a way to beat the unbeatable football team."
For the Giants, this was the perfect and fitting end to a crazy -- and, at times, tumultuous -- season. They did things the hard way and somehow found a way to overcome whatever stood in their way.
Their season began with Umenyiora staging a holdout over his contract and refusing to practice. The Giants let offensive line fixtures Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert go. They lost Steve Smith and Kevin Boss in free agency. And then injuries decimated the defense with Terrell Thomas and Jonathan Goff going down before the season started.
They got off to a hot start, only to hit a midseason slump again, and suddenly the Giants were 7-7 and their season was on the line with Rex Ryan calling them out before a Christmas Eve showdown with the Jets.
"The house is falling in, buddy," defensive end Dave Tollefson said as he looked back at that 7-7 season-changing moment. "The Timex Center [the Giants' training facility] was crumbling. We all locked arms together at 7-7 and said, 'You know what, this storm is going to pass. And when it passes, we will be holding the Lombardi trophy.'"
The Giants would win five straight games and find themselves in a rematch against the Patriots. On the eve of the Super Bowl, Tom Coughlin opened his final pregame speech to his team with a highlight video played to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight." He then talked about how the first thing he said to the Giants in camp was "finish" and he reminded them about the job at hand again.
That word was repeated numerous times on the Giants' sideline in the fourth quarter. The Giants started their Super victory with a clutch interception that came courtesy of Chase Blackburn, the former special teams captain who was signed off his couch late in the season.
Brady, who was so hot earlier in the game that he set a Super Bowl record for most consecutive completions, launched a bomb for tight end Rob Gronkowski, who clearly was hindered by his high ankle sprain. With only Blackburn standing between the ball and Gronkowski and the end zone, the Giants linebacker executed a box-out and jump ball -- Dwight Howard could not have done it better -- and intercepted Brady's pass at the Giants' 8 for a big stop.
Minutes later, the Giants caught another break when Brady threw for a wide-open Wes Welker on a second-and-11 at the Giants' 44. A twisting Welker watched the ball glance off his hands for an incompletion. A first down would have allowed New England to milk the clock even more with the two-point lead. But two plays later, the Patriots were punting the ball away with under four minutes to go.
"When he dropped it, I felt like this is our year," cornerback Aaron Ross said.
The Giants, who had talked all week leading up to the Super Bowl about how they were going to win and were in Brady's head, never felt more confident with the ball in Manning's hands.
On first-and-10 at the Giants' own 12, Manning delivered a pinpoint pass to Mario Manningham, who made an even better over-the-shoulder catch while keeping both of his feet in as he tight-roped the left sideline for a 38-yard gain between two Patriots defenders.
The play had a David Tyree-esque feel to it. Eight plays later, Ahmad Bradshaw scored on a 6-yard touchdown run, even though he was supposed to fall down at the 1-yard line so the Giants could milk more clock.
Manning then turned it over to the Giants' defense. Charged with protecting a 21-17 lead, Perry Fewell's crew had to stop Brady with 57 seconds remaining.
Tuck reminded his teammates to remember what Brady did to them in November, when he scored a touchdown on a fourth-and-9 to give the Patriots a lead with 1:36 left. Manning bailed the Giants defense out in that 24-20 win with a last-minute touchdown drive.
"I remember going up to Foxborough and they scored what looked like a game-winning drive to that point, and I was sick to my stomach," Tuck said of what he told his defense before taking the field for the final Super Bowl drive. "I said, 'If they score here, you will be 25 times sicker. We have 50-some seconds to be world champions.'"
Said linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, "That's a scenario you dream about as a child when you are running around the furniture with the football in your hand. You have a minute to make a stop to be the world champion."
After two incomplete passes, Tuck stormed up the middle and sacked Brady almost in the same manner that Jay Alford did late in Super Bowl XLII. Brady would eventually convert a fourth-and-16 and get the Patriots to midfield for one final Hail Mary attempt.
But Kenny Phillips batted down Brady's hope for a miracle and the Giants were champions again. They held Brady to 276 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception. They sacked him twice and held Welker and Gronkowski to a total of nine catches for 86 yards and no touchdowns.
As a downpour of confetti came down on top of the Giants with "Empire State of Mind" blaring throughout Lucas Oil Stadium, the Giants soaked in their improbable run to the Super Bowl.
"Teams get into high-pressure situations and can crumble," Tollefson said of the Giants, who finished on a six-game winning streak. "The higher the pressure gets in here, the better we are off."
Antrel Rolle said the Giants would not be denied. Nobody is doubting them anymore.
"No one can take this away from us, they can say whatever they want to say, they can put us down and say we got lucky and that we won because Gronkowski was hurt," Rolle said. "But you know, at the end of the day, we are champions!"
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