Before we get to the topic du jour — the New York Giants' slaying of the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl — let me just say one thing: It's scary how gigantic the NFL has gotten. If Godzilla and the 50-Foot Woman had a love child, and the kid pumped iron 10 hours a day until the age of consent, he'd still look like Danny Woodhead compared to the NFL.
Even in the wake of a lengthy lockout, the league flourished this season. According to the overnight Nielsen ratings, the audience for the second Giants-Patriots Super Bowl was 7 percent bigger than for the first Giants-Patriots Super Bowl four years ago. In Boston, 81 percent of the television sets in use were tuned to the game — a record for the market. In New York, the figure was 74 percent. When you consider the hundreds of viewing choices in the cable television era and the diverse interests in a city as cosmopolitan as the Big Apple, that's breathtaking. Pro football seems to be one of the few things in this country most of us can agree on. (Pro football, Tina Fey and ... am I leaving anything out?)
At some point, the humongous Los Angeles market will rejoin the NFL fraternity; and when that happens, commissioner Roger Goodell says, a 34th franchise likely will be added. (Be sure to get your applications in, all you mid-major cities.) Meanwhile, TV revenue continues to soar toward the stratosphere. With at least nine more years of labor peace on the horizon, the league is on the verge of becoming, yes, Too Big to Fail. (Don't tell Michael Moore, though. He'll just try to get the Federal Trade Commission stirred up. That is, if he can pull them away from their fantasy teams for a few minutes.)
OK, here are my thoughts on Giants 21, Patriots 17:
• The more balanced team won. Isn't that what it ultimately came down to? Pro football has been thrown out of whack a bit by the Passing Revolution but, as the Giants showed, it still pays to be good on both sides of the ball. Their ability to shut out the dynamic New England offense in the last 26 minutes — and the Patriots' inability to do the same to Eli Manning and Co., especially on the final New York drive — enabled the G-Men to rally from a 17-9 deficit.
Green Bay (560), New Orleans (547) and New England (513) scored 500-plus points this season, and the conventional wisdom was that one of them would surely play adequately enough on defense to win the title. But the Packers' 'D' unraveled against the Giants, and the Saints (vs. San Francisco) and Patriots couldn't get the Big Stop at the end. Maybe this is justice. Or maybe it's just the Grid God saying, "You will not be allowed to win a Super Bowl this way." Whatever the case, it's nice to know that offense, even a Star Wars offense, doesn't trump all.
• Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks in history, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But does anyone else find it strange that he has never, in five Super Bowls, taken Patriots down the field for the winning touchdown in the final minutes? Twice, of course, all he needed was a field goal (which Adam Vinatieri supplied). Still, it's unusual. Especially since Eli Manning, in his two Super Bowls, has led two such drives.
• Speaking of Eli, how can anybody knock him anymore? The guy keeps beating Tom Terrific head to head. His statistics might not be as glossy as his brother's, but he's one of those quarterbacks who seems immune to the stresses that cause so many others to underperform in the postseason. Think of him as the football version of David Wells (the erstwhile Yankees pitcher, who at one point was 10-2 in the postseason). Or am I underestimating Manning? Could he possibly have another ring or two in his future?
• It bears repeating: The Giants were the first 9-7 club to win the NFC East — and they ended up carting off the Lombardi Trophy. They went 5-7 in conference play, the worst conference record ever by a Super Bowl finalist — and they ended up carting off the Lombardi Trophy. They qualified for the playoffs basically because they went 4-0 against the AFC East (and made it 5-0 Sunday by beating the Patriots for the second time). The moral: There are a million roads to the NFL championship, some of which haven't even been imagined. Will a team with a losing regular-season record ever win the Super Bowl? Not in my lifetime, perhaps, but never say never.
• There was much discussion afterward about the Patriots' decision to let the Giants score late in the game so they could get the ball back one last time. (Years ago, you may recall, the Packers pulled the same stunt at the end of their Super Bowl against Mike Shanahan's Denver Broncos — and it didn't help them win, either.)
There are a couple of things I could say about this. First, as repulsive as the purists might find the strategy, all's fair in football. Indeed, the more relevant question might be: Why didn't Pats coach Bill Belichick do it sooner, to give Brady more of a fighting chance? Fifty-seven seconds (and one timeout) isn't much to work with, even for a QB of Brady's caliber. Second, imagine how horrifying/hysterical it would be if a club conceded a touchdown in the Super Bowl — and then its opponent did the same thing right back.
Can't picture it? Try this scenario: Team A lays down so Team B can score with, oh, 2:30 to go. Team B doesn't tackle the returner on the kickoff. The returner, smelling a rat, runs out of bounds a yard short of the goal line. Brilliant move, you say? Yeah, but what if Team B still has all of its timeouts left (which the spendthrift Giants didn't)? It could keep stopping the clock and would probably regain possession with two minutes left.
Talk about a disaster. Not one but two gimme touchdowns in the Super Bowl? It would be like turning it into, well, the Pro Bowl.
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