The name of the building has changed, and Lord knows so have the people who will shape this Super Bowl in the Arizona desert. But Giants fans will smile next Sunday when the cameras beam images of State Farm Stadium into their living rooms and dens.
They can see their old spaceship-looking friend only as University of Phoenix Stadium, and they can picture the combatants only as the underdog Giants and the 18-0 Patriots. Fifteen years later, what Giants co-owner John Mara called “the greatest victory in the history of this franchise” remains a memory for fans to cling to, and an example of how a team that seemingly isn’t a serious contender can win it all with a lot of determination and a little luck.
“You have to start with the plane ride to Arizona,” said Lawrence Tynes, the man who sent the Giants to Super Bowl XLII with one of the NFL’s all-time field goals — a 47-yarder to beat the Packers in overtime in subhuman conditions at Lambeau Field.
The Giants landed and deplaned dressed in black, an idea supplied by one of their linebackers.
“Antonio Pierce just said, ‘We’re going to wear black because we’re going to the Patriots’ funeral,’ ” Tynes recalled.
While Bill Belichick and Tom Brady headquartered in Scottsdale, the Giants stayed at the remote Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Chandler. Their coach, Tom Coughlin, took a liking to the isolated resort. Tynes thought the sanctuary was a net positive as the Giants prepared to face perhaps the greatest team in NFL history, a team it nearly defeated in the Meadowlands in their regular-season finale.
Feeling the burdens of trying to become the league’s first 19-0 champ, the Patriots had a lousy week of practice. After one such session, Belichick brought his players together and said, “The Giants got ahead of you today.” He wasn’t kidding.
Coughlin and Eli Manning had a good week, outside of a final practice lowlighted by a series of drops from receiver David Tyree.
“Balls were ricocheting off his helmet,” Coughlin said, “and Eli had to pat David on the butt and remind him he was a clutch player who could come through for us in the game.”
Tynes recalled that Tyree dropped five or six passes while running the same route. “You’ve never seen anything like it,” the kicker said, “and an eerie silence fell over the whole practice.”
On Super Bowl Sunday, Coughlin rose at 5:30 a.m., 90 minutes before his grandchildren barreled into his room and doodled all over his game plan. Family meant everything to the coach, even on the biggest day of his professional life.
The night before, Coughlin told his players about his Super Bowl experience as Bill Parcells’ assistant, about how he opened a back locker room door to let his sons run into the celebration the night the Giants upset the Bills during the Gulf War.
“What I want for all of you is that feeling,” Coughlin told them. “It’s not just about you. It’s your whole family that feels it. Your whole family, whether it’s your dad, your mom, your brothers, your sisters … your wife. They’re all world champions. It’s the greatest professional feeling in the world.”
Coughlin also told his players this about the Patriots: “I know they’re a hell of a football team. They’re 18-0. … But I know the heart of the people in this room, too.”
And then the Giants showed the world that beating heart. They were supposed to be overmatched by New England’s record-breaking offense even before star receiver Plaxico Burress slipped in the shower early that week, adding a knee injury to his ankle injury.
It seemed possible Burress wasn’t going to dress as he prayed at his locker, head down. When longtime trainer Ronnie Barnes gave Coughlin the news that the receiver could play just before the Giants’ deadline to hand in their list of inactives, the coach didn’t ask any questions.
“I didn’t go talk to Plax,” Coughlin said, “didn’t even look at him, didn’t give him the ol’ ‘Can you give me a play here or there?’ Once I heard he could play, that was all I wanted to know.”
Giants fans know how the story goes from there. Burress scored the winning touchdown after Tyree scored their only other touchdown (on the same throw he kept dropping in practice) and after Tyree made his famous helmet catch (after Coughlin reported that balls were bouncing off said helmet in that same practice).
During Manning’s stunning escape on the Tyree pass, center Shaun O’Hara admitted to stopping Patriots pass rusher Richard Seymour by “squeezing his trachea as hard as I could.” Seymour let go of Manning because O’Hara wouldn’t let go of his throat.
At the Wild Horse Pass after-party, one Giant ran through the hallway wearing only his underwear and helmet. “It was 4 a.m.,” Tynes recalled, “and Eli was peeking his head out the door.”
It was the Giants’ best night and early morning ever. Fifteen years later, with the Super Bowl back in the Arizona desert, the memories are worth more than a field-level seat at the 50-yard line.