By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 21, 2008
GREEN BAY, Wis., Jan. 20 -- At the moment that mattered most, Lawrence Tynes ran Sunday night. The New York Giants place kicker didn't look to Coach Tom Coughlin, didn't wait for the decision that might not be so clear, didn't hesitate to see if someone wondered whether a 47-yard field goal to go to the Super Bowl was too long for someone who had missed two easier attempts on a bitterly cold evening.
Rather, he sprinted onto the Lambeau Field grass on that fourth down in overtime of the NFC championship game. The team's holder, Jeff Feagles, saw Tynes run, and he grabbed his helmet and sprinted, too. By that time, Coughlin, helpless to stop either of them, simply stood on the sideline and hoped.
So when Tynes's kick soared straight into the air, slicing through the north goal posts at Lambeau Field, silencing the largest crowd in the stadium's history and sending the Giants to the Super Bowl with a 23-20 victory, Tynes ran again.
The Giants celebrated, throwing their blue parkas into the air. The team's executives screamed in the press box, and Tynes sprinted across the grass, through the tunnel on the other side of the field, up the staircase, through the double doors and down the long corridor to the warmth of the first locker in the visiting team's dressing room.
There finally he paused.
So many people to think about: his wife, Amanda; his twin sons; Coughlin, who had been so good to him; and Feagles. How could he forget Feagles who, as a punter in the NFL for 20 years, had never been to a Super Bowl? Feagles was the only person Tynes thought about when they lined up for the final kick.
"Get this guy to the Super Bowl," was Tynes's last thought in the seconds before he sent them all to the Super Bowl.
On the coldest playoff night in years, the second coldest at Lambeau, where wind chills reached 24 degrees below zero, the Giants might have been the most unlikely of winners and Tynes the most improbable of heroes. No one much gave the Giants a chance in the icy Green Bay air. The 72,740 who filled Lambeau on Sunday evening did so in anticipation of a coronation, one last Super Bowl for Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
Tynes, twice given a chance to win the game in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, had failed miserably in his task. The second -- a simple 36-yard kick at the end of regulation -- skittered to the left of the goal posts.
Yet somehow the Giants endured. And Tynes, up until this moment the goat of the game, remembered how the 14-mph wind was blowing kicks from right to left and adjusted accordingly.
"It's very humbling to miss because I had the feeling of missing" two field goals, he later said of his kick as he stood in an interview room beneath the Lambeau stands.
He said in the minutes after returning to the locker room he was struck by the elation with which the Giants players celebrated, especially those on defense who helped stop Favre several times in the game's waning moments. It was then he understood how close he had come to keeping them away from their dream, how thin the line between ecstasy and infamy can be.
"I could be sitting here talking about the field goal I missed, but thank God I'm talking about the one I made," he said.
Strangely, it was a fast-paced game for such miserable weather conditions. Though the ball was rock hard and the air so frigid that words seemed to hang in the air the moment they were spoken, both teams moved with ease.
New York quarterback Eli Manning, scorned as a flop just weeks before, continued his brilliant playoff run with 254 yards passing; Favre had 236 of his own. For a time in the second half, each team scored every time it had the ball as a 6-0 Giants lead turned into a 10-6 deficit at halftime and then went back and forth in the third quarter until Green Bay place kicker Mason Crosby hit a 37-yard field goal early in the fourth to tie the game at 20.
Ultimately, Favre was not as sharp as Manning. He was intercepted two times, the most crucial on the second play of overtime when his pass for Donald Driver wound up in the arms of cornerback Corey Webster. Four plays later, on fourth down, with the ball resting on the Packers 29-yard line, Tynes didn't wait for Coughlin's decision in hopes of redeeming himself.
Later Coughlin, smiling as wide as anyone could remember the normally dour coach smiling, said 47 yards was right at the preset limit he had for Tynes in such conditions. He said he considered not sending Tynes out for the kick but wanted to see a sign the place kicker wanted to be out there.
In the end, the sight of Tynes halfway across the grass was the sign he needed.
"You know what? I'm so happy for so many other people that I don't even -- it hasn't struck me yet, really," Coughlin stammered after returning to the locker room.
Now the Giants become the second wild-card team in three years to go to the Super Bowl, taking the long road from road games at Tampa Bay, Dallas and finally Green Bay to get to Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 3.
They've won 10 straight road games and will be considered the visitor when they play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Perhaps this is their identity, as the team that thrives when everything is against them.
Later in the locker room, as Tynes pulled on a light blue suit and argyle socks over white tube socks, the team's co-owner John Mara admitted he was nervous seeing Tynes sprint onto the field for that final kick.
"Nobody gave us a chance but the 53 players in this room," Feagles said.