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Clap Clap ClapClapClap: The Giants Win the Pennant

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 21, 2008

BALLIIIIIIN

“I don’t want you to be the guy in the PG-13 movie everyone’s *really* hoping makes it happen. I want you to be like the guy in the rated R movie, you know, the guy you’re not sure whether or not you like yet. You’re not sure where he’s coming from. Okay?”

Before the NFC Championship, you would’ve had difficulty finding too many people outside of the New York area rooting for the Giants to make it to Arizona. The pundits all wanted Green Bay–allegedly, because they wanted to see a classic slinger’s duel between Brett Favre and Tom Brady–the closest thing to the Brady/Manning rematch that the AFC Championship was robbed of when a group of half-power Charger punks somehow managed to beat the Colts in the semis. But I don’t think that’s the real reason why everyone was rooting for Green Bay. I think people wanted to see Green Bay in there to make the Super Bowl what its failed to be in recent seasons–a true battle between good and evil.

Even the most virulent Packers haters sort of have to give it up for the team’s undeniable righteousness. And that’s because of Favre, who manages to be not only the Sports Illustrated Athlete of the Year, the newfound leader in just about every major QB stat possible (even a couple of the bad ones), and possibly the most likeable person in all of pro sports, but also someone profoundly human–flawed, overenthusiastic, sympathetic. Sure, there’s other stuff to root for on the Packers–Ryan Grant’s emergence as one of the most exciting new RBs in the league, Donald Driver’s loveably narcissistic stand-jumping, Atari Bigby kind of looking like Predator–but for all intents and purposes, Favre is the Packers and the Packers are Favre. And that alone makes Green Bay the most righteous team in the NFL.


And if you’ve been paying attention at all to the Patriots run of the last five months, you’d be hard pressed to label them anything but evil. I mean, individually, they seem like nice enough guys, perhaps–the difference between Tom Brady’s aw shucks homespun charm and Favre’s effortless everyman appeal is an admittedly thin line, even. But as a group, there’s a sense of creeping dread surrounding every move the Patriots make, and that’s because they seem to function merely as puppets at the hands of Bill Belichick, a man who hasn’t crafted the greatest team in NFL history so much as he’s crafted the sport’s greatest assembly line.

I must admit, it’s sort of impressive that anyone could bend the will of as many skilled professional athletes as has Belichick. He has managed to turn this group of NFL stars and veterans into nothing more than a group of finely-trained company men, willing to toe the corporate line at all times and at all costs. Look at those early post-game interviews when Brady was getting flak for running up the score against the Bills and Redskins, and count how many times he starts his justifications with “Well, Coach says…” Witness the innumerous times Matt Light or Junior Seau struggle to restrain their self-aggrandizing impulses when asked about the latest group of losers talking shit the Patriots, instead smiling placidly and insisting they do net let such DISTRACTIONS plague their minds. Note the lack, not just of emotion, but of any sort of surprise, on Belichick’s face after victories–as if he’d long since played the game out in his head, and knew its outcome far before kickoff.

Or, perhaps most tellingly, take the case of Randy Moss. In post-game Patriots interviews this year, he dressed flashy, he spoke arrogantly, and he generally conducted himself with swagger. In other words, he was the only person on the team who still acted a little like a free agent, as if his own self-promotion was still just as important to him as the unthreatened success of his team. And on other teams, this wouldn’t seem at all out of the ordinary–Randy Moss is an NFL superstar, and this is how NFL superstars are supposed to act. Sure, they care about winning, but just as much because of what it means for their own careers as what it means for the teams on which they play.

And that’s why I find this business with Randy’s recent battery charges so bone-chilling. Let’s think about this for a second. You’re Bill Belichick, you’ve built the perfect NFL Steam Engine, everything seems to be going as it should, but you can’t help but worry that your star Wideout’s priorities aren’t quite where they should be. So what do you do? You make sure that he’s kept in line. You get some woman to claim he sexually assaulted her, striking fear into his heart not only due to the legal and PR ramifications, but because of what this could mean for his place on a team where taking any sort of attention away from the immediate task at hand could be considered grounds for dismissal. So as we know, before the story leaks, Moss goes hat-in-hands to Belichick, pleading for understanding and forgiveness for his alleged transgression before it becomes a national issue. No doubt, Belichick embraces his sobbing WR, paternally soothing and re-assuring him, while silently celebrating that the final piece of the puzzle is now in place. And in the next couple games, Moss’s contributions are almost entirely marginalized, just to make sure he now realizes his place.

I’m not saying that this is what happened. It probably isn’t. But look at how realistic it seems. Notice how right it feels. That should tell you something, no?

So on one hand we have the Packers supplanting the Cowboys as America’s Team, and on the other we have Patriots establishing the NFL’s equivalent of the Third Reich. And then there’s the New York Giants. Ask people in Week 16–the week the Giants clinched a playoff berth–and I doubt more than 10% of those polled would have expected the Giants to have played any sort of prominent role in the post-season. They just seemed like a non-entity, a team squeaking by into the playoffs more because of an easy schedule and a few lucky breaks than because of any sort of legitimate cohesion or greatness. Just getting by Tampa Bay would’ve seemed like a huge accomplishment.

Watching the Giants play the Patriots in Week 17, however, you knew that something had clicked. Never mind how well they played–though they did play well, arguably better than they had in any other game that season. It was the fact that they came clear eyes, full hearts for the whole game–the fact that they clearly practiced and planned for this game like they would a playoff game, and that they played full-power for all sixty minutes. On a week where the Redskins dropped the Cowboys to the tune of 27-6 and the Colts played Jim Sorgi for three whole quarters, the fact that a team whose playoff status was just as secure as those two teams was still in it to win it should’ve been a sign of some sort.

Still, no one seems to have seen this coming. New York was the overwhelming favorite for elimination against Green Bay, against Dallas, even against Tampa fucking Bay. And so now that New York is one of only two teams left, having proven that Week 17 was no fluke, America is forced to think seriously about the Giants for the first time–what’s the deal with these guys? Do we like them? Do we want them to win? Do they deserve to win? Do they have a Packer’s chance in hell at beating the Patriots?

These are tough questions to answer, because the Giants seem like such a mixed package. Their defense is one of the toughest in the league, yet it’s anchored by a guy with a gap-toothed lisp who does commercials for Subway. They operate in a media market much renowned (and even more despised) for its near-imperialistic cockiness, yet the QB and team leader often seems one pick away from a nervous breakdown. Their coach is even more of a hardass (and looks even more like The Grinch) than Belichick, yet the team appears to be full of free-thinking, overzealous loose cannons. They have diametrically opposed and equally talented running backs. They have a wide receiver that occasionally seems like a Hall of Famer and occasionally seems like he’s playing for a completely different team. They have a kicker who misses field goals from 36 and 43 yards before nailing a game-winner from 47. It’s no wonder that no one’s predicted the Giants to make it as far as they have, since it’s impossible to get a line on what the team even is or does in the first place.

So now that everything finally seems to be going right for the Giants, now that Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride have learned to play Ahmad and Brandon as a tandem attack, now that the defense has perfected the fourth-quarter shutdown, now that Eli and Plaxico are looking more like Peyton and Marvin than Peyton and Marvin–can they finally do what they came closer to doing in Week 17 than any other team had all season? Do we finally have a team that can beat the motherfucking Patriots?

Personally, I don’t think so. I’d like to believe the Giants have a chance–and I do think that no matter who wins, it’ll be a much better game than it would be were any of the other NFC teams in the Giants’ place–but I just don’t think there’s any stopping the Patriots this season. However, there is one thing that gives me confidence in the Giants’ chances. And that’s because while I don’t actually know shit when it comes to predicting pro sports, I do know what I’m talking about when it comes to kids’ sports movies. And let’s look at the Giants’ season as if it was a kids’ sports movie:

A group of ragtags and misfits comes together, led by a guy with something to prove to his better, more popular older brother. Expected to go nowhere, they shank their first couple games, before finding something resembling chemistry over the rest of the season, just barely qualifying for the post-season. They face the team of big, evil bullies that everyone expects to win, and get beaten, but not before proving that they deserve being taken seriously. They have a Cinderella run through the playoffs, winning games in heartpoundingly close and dramatic fashion, until they finally get one more shot against the big, evil bully team, with everyone still doubting that they even have a prayer…

And you’re telling me the Giants are supposed to lose? What the hell kind of ending would that be?

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6 Responses to “Clap Clap ClapClapClap: The Giants Win the Pennant”

  1. Justin said

    Some damn fine sports journalism

  2. Millie said

    I’ve been sitting on a pic of Belichick as Darth Vader that I was going to use on my blog but after reading your I think that he is more like the Emperor.

  3. Chris Argento said

    Clear eyes, full hearts…

    CAN’T LOSE!

  4. hutlock said

    Damn fine job there, Andrew. You should come talk sports at The Arist Formerly Known as Stylus more often.

  5. Dan said

    That Gap-toothed lisp guy happens to have the single season sack record, yet is somehow only the third (!) best defensive end on his team (behind the great Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, the situation rushing menace).

  6. Haley said

    No matter who wins, Eli will have something to brag about at Thanksgiving this year, won’t he Andrew! Just a tiny bit, but something’s better than nothing.

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