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Super Bowl 2012: Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin survive a tumultuous year to come out on top again

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INDIANAPOLIS — All week long the New York Giants’ Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin were obscured by who they weren’t.

Eli by his older, more-famous brother’s off-field drama, by the championship résumé of his counterpart Tom Brady, a quarterback even Joe Montana called the greatest of all time.

And Coughlin by two men named Bill — Bill Belichick, coaching in his fifth Super Bowl with New England and Bill Parcells, whose colorful New York years included two Lombardi trophies.

But for the second time in five seasons, both remembered that they didn’t have to win five championships or be called the best in their profession; they just needed to win one more football game at the end of another uneven season in which they barely qualified for a playoff berth.

Thirty minutes after the trophy presentation — after Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” morphed strangely into Sinatra’s “New York, New York” from the Lucas Oil Stadium speakers, after the Giants’ stunning defeat of the Patriots for the second time in a Super Bowl — and the odd couple were still standing arm in arm.

Peyton’s kid brother and the oldest coach to win it all — upset champions again.

Déjà Blue.

New York and A Quarterback and Coach It Should Malign No More, 21. New England and The Same Old Crestfallen Pair From Four Years Ago, 17.

“What I was interested in was this team was making history for themselves,” Coughlin said afterward. “I didn’t want to be compared to 2007-2008, but there were a lot of new guys on this team. I thought for these guys to carve their own was important.”

That the Giants did, just as Manning and Coughlin made their own case for Hall of Fame candidacy someday — at the expense of two people already going there.

“I heard, ‘fired,’ or ‘burned at the stake’ a couple of times, but I didn’t pay much attention to it,” said Coughlin, breaking up the postgame news conference with laughter.

Manning, who became the fifth player in the game’s history to win multiple MVP awards after completing all but 10 of his pass attempts and leading another game-winning drive in the final minutes, was overwhelmed his team had pulled it off again.

Super Bowl XLVI, like the Giants’ victory four years ago, even featured a tremendous throw and catch on the final Giants’ drive. No, Mario Manningham pulling the ball in along the left sideline for a 38-yard completion was not David Tyree’s incredible, hold-the-ball-against-his-helmet grab from 2008. But it did the same damage, kick-starting a drive that ended with Ahmad Bradshaw falling into the end zone with less than a minute to go.

Beyond their late-game drops, penalties and missed defensive assignments, this was the worst kind of déjà vu for Brady, Belichick and the Patriots, the absolutely worst, most wrenching way to see your season die. A few minutes left, Manning with the ball and a field of green in front of him.

This was the ending the Patriots had tried to prevent by turning over most of their roster, a late-game loss that furthered the notion that as long as a team makes the playoffs in the NFL it has a chance to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

A team that had won just nine games in a 16-game regular season had never won a Super Bowl. But then, after overcoming the seemingly indomitable Patriots of four years ago, a team that was 18-0 when the Super Bowl began, the Giants were used to this.

Here was the key: Eli didn’t have to be better than Peyton on Sunday in the house his brother built. He didn’t have to be more accomplished than Brady over a career.

He had to win one game as he did four years ago, coming from behind in the final minutes. He had to be as resourceful, calm and clutch, as he was four years ago on his team’s final possession.

And in a season of bolstered quarterback legacies, of obliterated passing records, of Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees and Brady, the one standing last on the podium with the confetti strewn about was again Eli, now with one more Super Bowl ring than Peyton, his Giants a stunning 2-0 against the favored Patriots in February.

“I’m just happy for the guys,” he said. “I’m happy for everyone in the organization, Coach Coughlin, all of my coaches, all of the players getting a chance to win the Super Bowl. Some of these guys are getting their first one. I feel great for them. I feel great for everybody.”

Beneath Brady’s carefree demeanor all week was the serrated edge of a champion who had one taken away four years ago. After it happened again — and Brady was outplayed in the final minutes by Eli — he was as reflective as he was crushed.

“I’d love to come back to this game and have another shot after doing it five times in the last 10 years,” he said, ruefully. “It’s better than sitting at home and watching it, that’s for sure.”

Unlike 2008, Brady had nearly a minute left after Bradshaw committed a gaffe by failing to kneel short of the end zone so the Giants could kick a game-winning field goal. After a couple of drops, Brady lofted a Hail Mary pass that dribbled harmlessly away from Patriots tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on the game’s last play.

As the Giants swarmed the field, as the old coach and Peyton’s kid brother were left standing with the trophy again despite the great history of their counterparts on the sideline and the field, clarity took over:

It had miraculously happened. Again.

For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.

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