The New York Giants — joined this weekend by the New York Yankees — are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the 2007 championship season. It’s hard to believe that it has been a whole decade since that magical season.
Of course, that season was only really magical in hindsight. In the moment, that 2007 season was more like a torturous whiplash between despair and elation, with little in between.
At the time I was a junior at SUNY Albany, trying (and all too often failing) to not get buried by homework, I mostly remember that season as a series of flashes, moments, and impressions.
The season certainly started auspiciously. I can still remember walking out of a grocery store, getting sandwiches for move-in (the next day), and telling my dad that I didn’t think the Giants would do much that year. The cacophony surrounding the team was reaching a fever pitch. The ever-rabid New York media was trying to run Tom Coughlin out of town, Michael Strahan was considering retirement, Tiki Barber had retired and was now launching barbs (no pun intended) at his former coach and quarterback, and the Giants had a new (and unknown) defensive coordinator. There was little reason for optimism and no indication of what was in store.
The first two weeks seemed to bear that prediction out. They gave up 45 points in an opening week loss to the Dallas Cowboys, then got routed by the Green Bay Packers, losing 35-13. But then something happened against against the Washington Redskins.
The defense, which had given up 80 points in the first two games, came together in Week 3 to hold Washington to 17 points with a season-changing goal line stand. From there the team went on a streak of six-straight wins, winning 8 of their next 11 games.
Powered by their defense and the running game of Derrick Ward and Brandon Jacobs — behind what would become the best offensive line in the NFL over the next three years — the Giants suddenly looked legit. They got the job done on the road, never losing two games in a row, and locked down a Wild Card berth. But questions about whether or not they were good enough to make a play-off run persisted. They were swept by the division-winning Cowboys and losing badly to the conference-leading Packers, and few trusted that Eli Manning could be consistent enough to win on the road against playoff teams.
Meanwhile, the UAlbany campus — which, for those of you who have never been there, sits right next to I-90, which runs right into Boston — was flooded with conspicuously new-looking Patriots gear. Hats, jerseys, hoodies ... Everywhere you looked there was a reminder that the Patriots had won 15 straight games.
They, as we all remember, were undefeated in the regular season that year. But by Dec. 30th, 2007, that was technically true, but it sure didn’t feel that way. The Giants took the Patriots down to the wire, giving the “Perfect Team” everything they could handle. The Pats eeked out a 38-35 win, but the Giants proved to the NFL that they can go toe-to-toe with the class of the league, that not only did they have a fearsome defense, but Eli and the offense could keep pace with the most prolific offense in league history.
From there the Road Warrior Giants went to work, and Eli Manning came of age as a quarterback. He beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cowboys in their houses to make it to the NFC Championship. Of course, the Green Bay Packers, who were seemingly on a collision course with the Patriots, awaited them up in Lambeau Field. That game, to me, was the highlight of the season. A frigid night that only got colder, Eli Manning didn’t seem to notice, and out-dueled Brett Favre at home. Favre’s career in Green Bay ended on a Corey Webster interception and Lawrence Tynes kicked the Giants to the Super Bowl.
We all remember what happened next. The media spent the next two weeks predicting the league’s first 19-0 season and the Giants’ defense spent the first three quarters harassing Tom Brady. They did what nobody in the NFL had done yet that year: Confuse and stymie the Patriots’ offensive juggernaut. But what I remember most was the reaction to The Helmet Catch. Across campus a cheer went up as Manning appeared to be sacked, then, as that faded it was replaced by another one you could almost feel inside of the concrete bunker-like dorms when Eli found David Tyree to preserve the drive.
From that point the rest of the game is almost a blur, an afterthought because of course the Giants would win. How could they not after THAT play? And of course they did win, and eventually I was able to sleep that night.
It wasn’t pretty. The Giants just could not manage to do anything the easy way, and if you told me back in August of that year the way the season would play out, I think I’d question your sanity ...
But, looking back and knowing how it ended, DAMN what a ride.
NOTE: The 2007 team will be honored at halftime on Monday night.