A Retrospective on Giants Successes Past and Present
Giants 21 – Patriots 17
Giants Super Bowl victories come when you least expect them. The Giants have made five Super Bowls in their history, winning four of them. In my lifetime they’ve won three of four big games. None of them were expected. I was a toddler when the 1990 Giants beat the Buffalo Bills for the title, behind backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler and a missed Scott Norwood field goal.
The first Giants Super Bowl run that I remember clearly was in 2000 and it ended in defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, a loss I’m still bitter about (Ray Lewis should be in jail dammit). The 2000 Giants were actually slight favorites in the championship game after throttling the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game. Those Giants were actually the top seed in the NFC, but in retrospect they weren’t actually a great team. They catapulted into the playoffs following an improbable second half run against a weak NFC. They were quarterbacked by Kerry Collins and coached by Jim Fassel. Their defeat really shouldn’t have come as a shock.
Volumes have been written about the 2007 season and the Giants’ eventual Super Bowl win so I won’t rehash it except to say that I was as shocked as anyone when they won.
The 2008 Giants were actually the only Giants team that I have ever expected anything out of. For much of the season, the Giants ran roughshod over the NFC. Then Plaxico Burress capped himself after a Week 12 victory that saw Big Blue improve its record to 11-1 and the Giants stumbled into the playoffs losing 4 of their last 5 games. They were still the top seed in the NFC that season, but lost ignominiously at home to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. I remain convinced that but for the Burress shooting those Giants would have made a return to the Super Bowl.
Even with all the ups and downs of the past decade, the 2011 Giants stand alone as perhaps the most unlikely Super Bowl victors of all time. Sure, they weren’t huge underdogs in the ultimate game like the 2007 team. That said, the 2007 Giants were a team that you could dream on, with star receivers in Burress and Jeremy Shockey, a punishing running game, a stout offensive line, a Hall of Fame pass rusher in Michael Strahan, and a new defensive scheme designed by Steve Spagnuolo which constantly kept QBs on their heels.
In contrast, the only pre-season dreams that anyone had about the 2011 team were nightmares. Burress and Shockey were distant memories, but the Giants began the offseason by watching their replacements: Steve Smith and Kevin Boss — two of Eli Mannings most reliable receivers over the past three seasons — walk. The Giants, desperate for cap room, continued their veteran purge by releasing Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert, anchors on an offensive line that had been one of the league’s best for a few years running. The Giants weren’t off to a great start. And then the injuries hit. As the preseason unfolded, the team lost top corner Terrell Thomas along with two more defensive backs: Brian Witherspoon and Bruce Johnson. 1st round pick Prince Amukamara hurt his foot and missed 3/4 of the season. Osi Umenyiora had knee surgery and missed the start of the season as well while Justin Tuck started the season with a litany of injuries. To top it all off, starting middle linebacker Jonathan Goff hurt his knee and was placed on IR.
In the course of the preseason the Giants’ secondary had gone from one of the team’s greatest strengths to a unit without a nickel corner, forcing safety Antrel Rolle (a failed cornerback) into the role. The Goff injury exposed an already thin linebacking corps, especially when Michael Boley was unable to stay on the field early in the season. In the Super Bowl, the Giants started Chase Blackburn, whom they had signed off the couch late in the season, at the MIKE spot. There were bright spots on defense, Mathias Kiwanuka made a successful transition from defensive end to linebacker, and Jason Pierre Paul emerged as the greatest Giants pass rusher since Strahan, amazingly eclipsing Tuck and Umenyiora. Still, the defense was a liability all season long, especially against teams that could stretch the field.
On the offensive side of the ball is where the 2011 Giants made their greatest strides. The offensive line was atrocious for much of the season, with formerly steady performers like Chris Snee and Kareem Mackenzie faltering. The running game struggled as Ahmad Bradshaw battled injuries and Brandon Jacobs looked past his expiry date. Yet, the Giants had one of the best offenses in the league as Eli Manning took a step forward from being a prolific yet turnover prone passer to a straight up late game assassin. Finally, the Giants found themselves the perfect receiver for the modern passing game in Victor Cruz, who may never have been discovered if not for injuries to Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon. Out of the slot, Cruz is Wes Welker with better dance moves and his emergence as a go-to target for Manning as well as the perfect complement for Hakeem Nicks was the single greatest reason for the Giants’ improved offense this season. In the end, losing Steve Smith — who was a nonfactor for the Philadelphia Eagles — may have been the best thing to possibly happen to NY in the offseason.
These storylines are only visible in retrospect and if you thought at Week 1 that the Giants would be standing here today, then I honestly would like some of whatever you’re taking because hey, who doesn’t like a nice trip? Then again, the Giants are Super Bowl Champions despite it all, and I couldn’t be happier about that fact.
Super Bowl Analysis
A Look Ahead to Next Season