Picture it. Green Bay Wisconsin, January 2008. It’s wintertime, snow is blowing, the air is frigid, and people are bundled up with scarves on their faces and gloves on their hands.
The New York Football Giants were at Lambeau Field playing the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game. The weather was so frigid it the Packers legendary home field advantage a non-factor. It was the kind of game that teaches you about the men around you and the men leading you.
And looking at Tom Coughlin I realized I want that old man leading my team.
Not many 60-something year old men look forward to standing outside to wait for a bus (not many 20-something year old men for that matter.). Tom Coughlin stood outside for almost 4 hours braving the wind and the cold with nothing more than a heavy coat, a knitted hat, gloves and the determination of a rock forcing water to find another way around. The same man, who up until that point in the season, had to face down the New York media over his job security. Hercules would have gone on to clean stables before facing down the New York media Hydra. To be honest, I thought the man was a bad fit. He was too stubborn, too stiff, to much like that one teacher that doesn’t understand that Christmas vacation isn’t a chance to make kids read war and peace for homework. He had some success in Jacksonville, but that had waned, and the team lost its luster until he was let go. It seemed the same thing was happening here.
Be that as it may, he rose above it all. He did not waver, he did not flinch, he stood his ground, determined to prove himself, determined to win. He has that blue-collar determination
That determination has seeped into the very fabric of the New York Giants franchise. It was on display during that game, when the team kept of fighting, scrapping, and clawing it’s way to a win and later on a Super Bowl Victory.
That same determination was on display Sunday Night against the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers came in as one of the hottest teams in the league, boasting a rushing attack that rivaled the Giants Earth Wind and Fire. They had an uber-talented wide receiver that on most days simply cannot be covered. They have a defense engineered by John Fox, the old Giants defensive coordinator that gave us Jesse Armstead, Michael Strahan, Jason Seahorn (in his prime), and a slew of other solid stout defenders. He made Panthers in that image, then super-charged it to something Super Bowl caliber.
Up until that game, they gave all comers knock out blows and haymakers no one else could match. And at the start of this game, they did the same to the Giants, scoring 21 points on the first half. Julius Peppers spent more time in the backfield than Madison Hedgecock and Steve Smith was uncoverable, as usual.
But this team has a stubborn old man at its heart, and sometimes that counts for more than a few flashy plays.
They looked worn out. Tired of taking every single teams best shot, which is the norm for defending super bowl champions.
But then the stubborn old man took over. He stood in the face of the storm and didn’t blink.
The Giants never stopped chipping away; Brandon Jacobs kept taking the carries into the heart of a Panthers defense that ranked in the top 10 before their match up. Jacobs didn’t make many long runs, in fact there were times it looked as if his 6ft 5in frame was finally starting the slow down after a long season of banging. But he kept on banging. His physical running kept the Giants on schedule, kept the Panthers from dropping everyone into coverage, and gave Ward the chance to run wild.
Derrick Ward, who had been gashing the Panthers all night, began racking up yards at a historic pace.
Amanti Toomer had a key first down conversion; Domenick Hixon caught a pivitol two-point conversion.
The Panthers were the team that started to look tired. Number 89 on the Panthers went without a catch for the entire second half. Many people thought the secondary was the Giant’s Achilles heel.
The Panthers couldn’t stop Ward, he started to look something like a Tiki Barber, except tougher, less ego, and not ugly. Eli made the throws he had two, and even though Antonio Pierce can’t cover anyone, he stopped the run when he had to.
The Giants won, in overtime. It was a slugfest. The Panthers threw their haymakers, and landed some pretty good shots.
But the Giants don’t stay down, they take whatever it is you have to throw at them. They take it and keep coming.
Like an old man standing in the cold.