Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Big Blue Faces the Undefeated

Long Island Giants fans gear up for Super Bowl vs. Patriots

By Joseph Kellard

The Giants flag that John and Kathy Thilman raised outside their Harbor Isle home in September still waves in the late-January wind.

The last time Big Blue played this deep into the season, in 2001, the couple hosted some 30 friends at a tailgate Super Bowl party in their driveway, complete with barbecue and TVs, but their team was pummeled by the Baltimore Ravens.

While the Thilmans are planning a similar party for Super Bowl XLII on Sunday, when the Giants line up against the New England Patriots, they’re hoping for a different outcome.
The Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the Giants a 12-point underdog, and most football analysts say they must play a virtually perfect game in order to upset the so-far perfect Patriots — but the Thilmans have other ideas.

Kathy said that New England’s undefeated season puts all the pressure on them to win, while the Giants have all the momentum to pull an upset, especially since they’ve won 10 consecutive road games, including playoff triumphs at Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay.

“I love being the underdog and being the road warriors,” Kathy said about Sunday’s game in Arizona, “and the Super Bowl is on the road.”

John believes the game will center on the quarterbacks, the Patriots’ Tom Brady and Eli Manning of the Giants. “They’ll have to get pressure on Brady, and Manning is going to have to throw a lot of quick, short passes,” said Thilman, who predicts a 28-21 Giants victory.

Despite becoming a Giants fan during the Bill Parcells era, when the team won Super Bowls after 14-2 and 13-3 seasons in 1986 and 1990, respectively, Kathy regards New York’s dramatic overtime win in frigid Green Bay two Sundays ago as the team’s most exciting and best win.

“The Super Bowl wins under Bill were a little more expected,” she said, “because they had great seasons going into those games. They didn’t have the problems this year’s team had, and this year they just kept getting better and better. And I happen to like the Packers because I like Brett Favre, but what a game! Talk about a nail-bitter. It was awesome.”

Fellow Giants fan Rich Giannetta, 28, an Oceanside native who watched the NFC championship game before heading to work for the Long Island Rail Road that night, also believes the win in Green Bay gives the Giants a big boost as they march into Phoenix.

“To go on the road in Green Bay in negative temperatures, to go beat them on their own field for a chance to go to the Super Bowl,” Giannetta said, “was something special.”

The game that sparked the Giants’ successful playoff run — and a potential Super Bowl upset — was the regular-season finale against the Pats, Giannetta said. Even though they lost, Big Blue kept the game close, 38-35. And although he initially questioned coach Tom Coughlin’s playing his starters when the Giants had a playoff game the following week, Giannetta believes the intensity they showed in that game was pivotal.

“I really think it made a difference in how they approached the playoffs,” he said. “It gave them a lot of confidence to go into Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay.“It’s gonna be a tough one,” Giannetta said of the Super Bowl, “but the Giants have been playing well, and if they get lucky they can get a win out of it.”

Joe Rugolo, whose father, Frank, turned him into a Giants fan when he grew up in Oceanside, sees New York’s relative health and young stars as big pluses against New England. Rookies such as cornerback Aaron Ross and running back Ahmad Bradshaw gave the Giants a shot in the arm during their roller coaster regular season, and, Rugolo believes, a legitimate shot to stage an upset this weekend.

“I think they could have beaten New England in the last game of the regular season,” Rugolo said. “It’s gonna sound like sour grapes, but I think the officiating was horrendous in that game, and a lot of calls were questionable.”

Perhaps the biggest question for Giants fans is how Manning, their fourth-year starting quarterback, will play. Fans and media alike have criticized him for his inconsistent play since the Giants made him their first overall pick in the 2004 draft. A low point for the Giants this season was their 41-7 drubbing at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings in November, when Manning threw four interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns. “When you throw four interceptions, it’s never a good day,” Manning said afterward.

Yet in the team’s last four games, starting with their loss to the Pats four days after Christmas, Manning has tossed eight touchdowns and just one interception. The question remains, however: Will his inconsistency rear its head in the biggest game of his life?

John Portalatin, a New York City police sergeant and an Oceanside native, said the game will come down to Manning “playing smart” and not turning the ball over. “That’s what he did the last four games,” Portalatin said. “He took what the defense gave him.”

Another key for the Giants will be ball control, he continued. “Tom Brady and his offense will score on anybody,” Portalatin said. “They proved it all season. But if the Giants have ball control, they’ll have a big chance to pull an upset.”

Joseph Kellard is a journalist and columnist living in New York.

Please post comments about this article. For inquiries about Joseph Kellard’s writing services, email him at: Theainet1@optonline.net.

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