Neither of the New York Giants' ailing owners, Wellington Mara nor Robert Tisch, was able to attend Sunday's dramatic win over the Denver Broncos at Giants Stadium. Their absence was felt, as Giants Coach Tom Coughlin and several of his players said the victory had special meaning because of the joy it undoubtedly brought to Mara and Tisch.
"We were very much aware of our two owners and their illnesses," Coughlin said during his postgame news conference. "We knew that this game was a very important game, that they both would be tuned in. And we wanted to make sure that they were smiling."
Mara, 89, had cancerous lymph nodes removed from his neck and under his arm in May. Tisch, 79, was diagnosed last year as having an inoperable brain tumor. According to the Giants, the two men watched the game from their homes.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning said he spoke to Mara's grandson, Conor, after the game.
"The past couple weeks, I've been trying to keep up through his family how he's doing," Manning said. "I talked to Conor, one of his grandsons. He said at the end of the game, he woke up for that moment and saw us win. He had a smile on his face, and then he went back to sleep. He's definitely been in our prayers. He's such a wonderful person to be around. Obviously he's totally committed to the Giants and the NFL and everything he's done."
This is the 81st season that Mara has been associated with the Giants. He began as a ball boy at training camp. In 1930, his father Tim, who had bought the team five years earlier, turned over ownership of the franchise to Wellington and his brother Jack. The only interruption to his Giants career came when he served three years in the Navy during World War II.
The Giants have made 26 postseason appearances and have won six league championships -- including two Super Bowl titles -- during Mara's tenure, and he has been an influential figure within the league. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, joining his father there. He has 11 children and 40 grandchildren. Three of his sons are Giants executives.
"Wellington Mara is the face of not only the Giants," said the team's tight end, Jeremy Shockey, "but the NFL. He's a pioneer, and the guy that everybody in this game looks up to. He's done a lot of different things. Our prayers go out to him. It's hard to see Wellington and Mr. Tisch the way that they are. But they've lived great lives and they've touched a lot of people."
Deja Vu For Manning
Manning was making only his 13th NFL start, but he had some experience to draw on at the end of Sunday's game. The Giants trailed, 23-17, and were facing a third-and-goal play from Denver's 2-yard line with 10 seconds to play. They just had used their final timeout.
In the final game of last season, the Giants were out of timeouts and trailing the Dallas Cowboys, 24-21, when Manning faced a first-down play from the Cowboys 3. There were 16 seconds left. On the sideline, during the Giants' final timeout, Manning convinced the club's coaches to give him two play calls and the responsibility of picking the right one at the line of scrimmage. Manning looked over the Dallas defense and made the proper choice, handing the ball to tailback Tiki Barber for a three-yard touchdown with 11 seconds to go that ended an eight-game Giants' losing streak and gave Manning his first win in his seventh NFL start.
This time, the Giants had no thoughts of running the ball and possibly having the clock expire.
"We knew we were just going to throw the ball there," Coughlin said. "We weren't going to take a chance there with the clock. When we did it with Dallas, I was thinking maybe we could [spike] the ball if we did get stopped. It was worth the risk that time. But here we felt like we were just going to throw. If we didn't get it on that down, we would throw again."
Manning came through, finding wide receiver Amani Toomer open in the middle of the end zone and getting him the ball for a two-yard touchdown with five seconds to go. Kicker Jay Feely's extra point gave the Giants a 24-23 triumph, improving their record to 4-2 and elevating them into a first-place tie in the NFC East with the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. Manning led the Giants back from a 23-10, fourth-quarter deficit against a Broncos team that was looking for its sixth straight win.
The winning touchdown came on a play the Giants just had installed last week, as Toomer got open while the Broncos defenders focused on Manning's favorite target, fellow wideout Plaxico Burress.
The Giants were ecstatic, in part because they rebounded from an overtime defeat at Dallas the week before and in part because they just had watched their prized second-year quarterback craft some Elway-esque magic.
"It was phenomenal," Barber said. "This is what you practice for, and you hope you execute it right. In the huddle, we were telling everyone to stay calm. You have to be perfect. Elijah was phenomenal. He kept our composure in the huddle. He made the throws when he had to. He made the plays to keep them off balance. We had a good mix. We needed to make plays, and Amani came up big. The last two drives were phenomenal. That was a clinic on how you run a two-minute drill.
"Even if you make a couple mistakes, you still have to come back from them. We are thrilled. We have a resiliency about us. We haven't played well the past couple weeks. But even in the Dallas loss, we didn't give up. We struggled a lot [against the Broncos]. The offense was inept at times, and we couldn't make some stops on defense. But in the end, we made the plays that we had to, offensively and defensively." . . .
The Broncos lost for the first time since a season-opening defeat at Miami. They squandered an opportunity to emerge with the league's second-best record, behind only 7-0 Indianapolis. That distinction now belongs to the 5-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had a bye this weekend. The Broncos are tied with the Cincinnati Bengals for the second-best mark in the AFC, at 5-2.
"It is a tough loss, but you go back and figure out what we did wrong," Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan said. "We had a number of opportunities to win that football game. I give credit to the Giants. They found a way to do it."