Giants Come In From the Cold
GREEN BAY, Wis.
As home-field advantages go, it was a monster. The New York Giants weren't just up against the mythic history of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, they were up against a cold that made the place seem impassable, a great barrier of frigidity that made even the bronze statute of Vince Lombardi, bundled up in his overcoat, seem to shiver.
It was a blasting cold that forced a sharp intake of breath and coughing fits. A cold that made frost form inside of car windows. A cold that seemed to have actual, physical properties, rebuffing Giants place kicker Lawrence Tynes on his 34-yard field goal attempt with four seconds left in this epic NFC championship game, the frozen ball sailing wide after a high snap, to force overtime.
It was historically cold, the third-coldest NFC championship on record. So cold that it made the Giants' job seem impossible. How was any team supposed to overcome such a combination of forces, between the lore of Lambeau, a ranting crowd of 72,740, the escapades of the great Brett Favre, and a wind chill that reached 24 below? It was almost unfair. But that made it only the more legitimizing when the Giants emerged winners: Tynes got another chance at the 12-minute 25-second mark of the extra period, after cornerback Corey Webster intercepted the careworn Favre, and this time Tynes stepped into a triumphant 47-yarder to send the Giants to the Super Bowl, 23-20.
"Our team has the heart," said Coach Tom Coughlin, his face red and raw from the wind. "These guys are something, they never say die."
Cold? What cold? "I felt pretty good out there," joked Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
With the victory, the Giants became one of the most implausible, yet laudable NFC champions in recent memory. They have won 10 straight games on the road, beating Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay in a succession of playoff upsets. On each occasion, they were supposedly overmatched. As it turned out, they were merely underestimated.
"They deserve a lot of credit," Favre said. "They won some games no one thought they could."
It seems only right that in the Super Bowl they will meet the unbeaten New England Patriots, since it was the final regular season game against the Patriots on Dec. 29 that was the making of this Giants team. In that game, Coughlin played his starters even though they had already clinched a spot in the playoffs, in a quest for toughness. In retrospect, it was a masterstroke. The Giants fought their hearts out, and led the Patriots by 12 points in the third quarter before falling, 38-35. It was the closest anyone has come to the Patriots, and the Giants' confidence soared. "For some reason, that just sparked something," Manning said.
Ever since, they've been a force to be reckoned with, a team with fierce internal confidence that thrives on being discounted. They almost seemed to welcome predictions that they would wither in the environs of Lambeau against a Packers team that had beaten them, 35-13, in the regular season. The weather and how it might affect the game was a continual topic of discussion earlier in the week. One Giant who was thoroughly unfazed by the prospect was defensive end Michael Strahan.
"It's cold for everybody," Strahan said. "I don't care if you live in Green Bay, I don't care if you live in Chicago, I don't care if you live here. When it's cold, it is cold. All the guys with no sleeves on, I understand you're tough, I understand all that. You're not proving anything to me because I'm out there, too, and I know it's cold with sleeves on even when you are playing. So it's just a mind-set. If we have to play in the cold, I'd rather come out of it with a victory than to play in the cold and go in and go, 'Man, I just froze my butt off for three hours and we lost the game.' "