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On This Date in Sports February 3, 2008: Giants Spoil Perfection

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The New York Giants upset the New England Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Patriots had come into the game looking to complete a perfect season. Down 14-10 with 2:39 left, the Giants complete an 83-yard drive to take the lead on a 13-yard catch by Plaxico Burress. The drive is best remembered for David Tyree’s helmet catch after Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning escaped a sack on third down.

There was just one story heading into Super Bowl XLII: the New England Patriots. Having already won three Super Bowls in four years a few years earlier, the Bill Belichick-led Patriots sought immortality after completing the first 16-0 season in NFL history. Previously only the 1972 Miami Dolphins had a perfect season, winning every regular season game and completing a run to a Super Bowl championship. Dominating the regular season, with just four games decided by less than ten points, the Patriots' unbeaten run continued with a 31-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round and a 21-12 win over the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship.

The New York Giants, coached by Tom Coughlin, had come to the Super Bowl after a tumultuous 10-6 season. The Giants were stunned in the off-season by the sudden retirement of Tiki Barber, who, in his new media job, was highly critical of his former coach and quarterback, Eli Manning. Longtime pass rusher Michael Strahan also toyed with retirement as he sat out all of training camp. Starting 0-2, the Giants appeared to be heading for a lost season before a 17-point comeback against the Washington Redskins in Week 3. As the fifth seed with a 10-6 record, nobody considered the Giants a serious contender as they began the playoffs with a 24-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card round. In the regular season, the Giants were beaten soundly by the Dallas Cowboys twice. However, in the Divisional Round, the Giants won 21-17 at Texas Stadium to advance to the NFC Championship Game. Facing the Green Bay Packers in subzero weather, the Giants won in overtime 23-20 in Brett Favre’s final game as a Packer.

Perhaps an early sign that it would be the Giants day came with the National Anthem, performed by Jordin Sparks, a winner of American Idol. Sparks’ father, Philippi, had played with the Giants a decade earlier. The Giants got the ball first and employed some strategies when they upset the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV as they kept the Patriots high powered offense off the field for nearly ten minutes, scoring the game’s first points on a 32-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes. The Patriots would score a touchdown on their first drive, which ended on the first play of the second quarter, with Laurence Maroney scoring from the one.  The Giants would drive into Patriots territory again, with Ellis Hobbs picking Eli Manning off in the end zone. Late in the second quarter, the Patriots were driving to add to their 7-3 lead when Tom Brady was sacked by Justin Tuck, losing the football.

After a halftime performance by Tom Petty, the defense continued to rule the day in the desert, as neither team scored in the third quarter. The Patriots did make it into Giants territory on the first drive of the second half but failed to get a first down when Tom Brady’s fourth-down pass to Jabar Gaffney sailed high. The Giants got their offense back on track on the first play from scrimmage in the fourth quarter as Eli Manning completed a 45-yard pass to Kevin Boss. Manning would later complete a critical third-down pass to Steve Smith, ad the drive led to a touchdown with Eli Manning hooking up with David Tyree on a five-yard touchdown pass. Trailing 10-7 midway through the fourth quarter, the Patriots, who had been frustrated all game by the Giants' pass rush, found their groove as Randy Moss caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady with 2:45 left.

Down by four points and time running out, the Giants started on their own 17-yard line, needing a touchdown to pull off the second-biggest upset in Super Bowl history. Eli Manning began the drive with an 11-yard pass to Amani Toomer. However, a critical moment was reached three players later, as the Giants had fourth and one from their own 27, with 1:34, left. Brandon Jacobs got the first down with a two-yard run up the middle. After a five-yard run by Eli Manning and an incomplete pass, the play that defined the game would come with the Giants facing third down and five at their own 44. The Patriots put on a blitz as Eli Manning barely escaped the grasp of Adalius Thomas, Jarvis Green, and Ricard Seymour and tossed up a prayer. David Tyree was on the receiving end fighting off one the top defensive backs of the era Rodney Harrison, as he secured the catch by pinning the ball to his helmet as Harrison tried to pry it away. 

With one minute left, the Giants were suddenly at the New England 24, looking for that critical score. After losing a yard and an incompletion, Steve Smith made a crucial 12-yard reception to give the Giants a new set of downs. One play later, Plaxico Burress caught a 13-yard touchdown pass to give the Giants a 17-14 lead. The Giants knew that the Patriots could answer in the last 39 seconds and kept the pressure on Tom Brady as Jay Alford threw the Patriots quarterback for a ten-yard loss on a second down. From there, all the Patriots could do was throw deep, hoping Randy Moss could come up with a big catch and a score or get in field goal range. Both deep passes would fall incomplete as the Giants got their third Lombardi Trophy, with Eli Manning winning MVP honors.

The Patriots and Giants would meet in the Super Bowl again four years later, with the Giants winning again 21-17, becoming the Kryptonite to the Patriots dynasty.