Commentary

Another big finish for Tom Coughlin

By urging his players to complete the job, coach coaxes another title out of Giants

Originally Published: February 5, 2012
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Before the insanity, before the grandchildren arrived and the stress of the moment reached a crescendo, Judy and Tom Coughlin sneaked away for a rare dinner, just the two of them. It was Tuesday, and the couple sat on the otherwise unoccupied second floor of the Oceanaire, a trendy Indianapolis restaurant.

No one was around. No one bothered them. It was just the Giants coach and his wife, sitting and laughing and talking about nothing in particular and everything. The moment. The Super Bowl. The magical playoff run.

Never did Coughlin allow himself a what-if. His legacy? That was not for Coughlin to ponder.

"If he has thought about it," Judy Coughlin said Sunday, "he wouldn't say."

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesTom Coughlin became the 13th coach to win multiple Super Bowls.
But here Coughlin is now, a second Super Bowl ring soon to be fitted for his finger. Twice Coughlin has gone up against his longtime friend and former colleague, Bill Belichick, in the biggest game of the year, and twice he has walked away victorious. Coughlin owns Belichick in the big games. Super Bowl XLII was no fluke. The final score of Super Bowl XLVI proved it: Giants 21, Patriots 17.

Coughlin is Hall of Fame-worthy now. He is now one of 13 coaches with multiple Super Bowl wins. Seven of the 10 who have been eligible are in the Hall. Bill Parcells did not make it on his first attempt this past weekend. He will. Coughlin will be there, too.

This was a team that easily could have packed it in six weeks ago, after the home loss to Washington left the Giants at 7-7 with two must-win games to play. No one would have blamed them. Injuries, a brutal schedule -- the built-in excuses were there.

Yet the players never stopped believing in themselves, because Coughlin never stopped believing in them. Coughlin speaks about how special this Giants team is, and it is because it went through so much adversity. All along, they never doubted themselves, never wavered, because the head coach stayed the course, kept working long hours, kept game planning and scheming and knowing that the team had such great potential if it could ever get on the right track.

Through eight seasons in Jacksonville and now eight in New York, this might be Coughlin's best coaching job ever. These New York Giants are world champions. It seemed so ridiculous just a few weeks ago, and now it is reality.

Not Green Bay or New Orleans or New England. The New York Giants and their clutch quarterback Eli Manning and their red-faced coach, who did not stop smiling in the aftermath of the game, are Super Bowl champions.

"Each one is different," Coughlin said afterward. "Each one has its own memories."

One will be Coughlin's fiery, emotional pregame speech Saturday night. He had given other good speeches this season, including before the final regular-season game against Dallas. But this one cut to the core of who this team is.

Coughlin reminded the players how no one outside the organization believed in them when they were 7-7, but he did. Coughlin thanked the players, and told them their efforts all season had not gone unnoticed or for naught.

And he repeated a message he began delivering months ago: finish. Finish the job they had started in the offseason, when the lockout had prevented them from coming to the practice facility, so they worked out on their own. Finish strong. Finish with pride.

"Talk about a room that was electric," longtime left tackle David Diehl said. "I mean, after that you wish you could've played last night. … I think we were all emotional sitting there listening to it. This is what legends are made of."

"He just said that to a man, everything mattered," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "Everything that we had done had not gone unnoticed."

The game will be remembered for Mario Manningham's huge catch to open the Giants' final, game-winning drive. Manning found Manningham deep along the left sideline, and Manningham pulled down the pass over his shoulder while keeping both feet in bounds as he fell to the ground. It will be remembered for Belichick opting to let Ahmad Bradshaw score on second-and-goal from the New England 6-yard line with 57 seconds to play, and for Tom Brady's Hail Mary pass that one of his tight ends almost hauled in.

It will be remembered for Eli being Eli -- and ultimately being better than Brady -- and for Coughlin keeping the team together during a halftime in which they trailed 10-9 after dominating the first 30 minutes of the game.

Stay patient. Stay focused. And finish.

"You hear 'finish' all the time," Kiwanuka said. "That's something that's not just about each game. It's about every play, every practice rep. It's easy to believe when you see how passionate [Coughlin] is about it. He's at it every single game. He eats and breathes football."

After the confetti fell onto the Lucas Oil Stadium field and the Giants hoisted the Lombardi trophy, Coughlin found his wife and gave her a big hug. He draped a white T-shirt over the shoulder of one of his little grandchildren and hugged another.

He spoke to the media, and then walked back toward the field. On his way to another interview, Coughlin found Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who gave Coughlin a bear hug and said, "Finish it. That's the point."

When Coughlin arrived on the set for an interview, Giants fans in the crowd started chanting, "Tommy Coughlin," then, "Hall of Famer," and then, "Thank you, Tommy."

Asked if he had had a chance to contemplate his legacy, Coughlin said, "Not really."

"Tonight I'll enjoy the win and I really won't think that way. I'll think more about our team and our franchise and the fact that we're one of five franchises now to win four Super Bowls."

Reminded that he has won two of those -- matching Bill Parcells in Super Bowl trophies -- Coughlin smiled and simply said, "Yes, I have."

Coughlin didn't know it at the time, but Judy had arranged for a private party at the team's hotel after the game. She didn't tell him, because that would be bad luck, a jinx, thinking one step too far ahead.

The Giants had to finish first.

"This means everything," Judy Coughlin said. "He's gotten to the mountaintop twice, and that's unbelievable."

Unbelievable. Historic. Legendary. It is the stuff of a Hall of Fame career.

Ashley Fox is an NFL columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @AshleyMFox.