Sunday, January 20, 2008

Don't stop believing: they still might be Giants

Today's astonishing New York Giants win over the heavily-favoured Green Bay Packers sets the stage for what could potentially be a fantastic Super Bowl. I must admit I was hoping Brett Favre and the Packers would triumph, setting up the old era-new era clash between Favre and Tom Brady, two of the all-time greats. For a while, it looked like they had a shot, especially at the end of regulation when there was a distinct chance "Wide Left" could enter the sports lexicon (it would have been nicely symmetrical, too). However, Favre threw an overtime pick, the Giants hit a field goal, and the rest is history.

The next act could be even more epic, though: Giants - Patriots II. As MSNBC's Mike Celizic pointed out after the original clash in the last week of the regular season, the Giants showed that beating the Patriots is indeed possible. "The Giants haven’t been accused of being the best team in the NFL," Celizic wrote. "Nor, for that matter, were the Eagles or the Ravens. But all three teams followed the template, and all pushed the Patriots to somewhere that might be near the limits of their extraordinary abilities. All had chances to beat the team that remains — so far — unbeatable. ... . Just because the Patriots have not been beaten doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable. It’s not easy, but nobody ever said it would be or should be. It requires a perfect game. Nothing more and nothing less."

Celizic is absolutely right here: beating the Patriots is still possible. The Patriots are far superior on paper, in every stat imaginable, and in roster depth, but the Giants still have a chance. As previously mentioned, this is why they actually play these games out instead of simulating a season on computers. Sure, a Patriots win may seem almost inevitable, but the Giants' chance for success still is there.

It would be so right on so many levels if the Giants were somehow able to come up with a win. The team that made a heroic effort but failed to stop 16-0 gets a shot to stop 19-0. It would be perfect to see the much-maligned Eli Manning do what his famous brother couldn't this year. It's David versus Goliath (but with the Giants as underdogs), 300 Spartans against a Persian horde, a small group of colonials rebelling against the might of Britain in her prime, the Rebel Alliance against the Galactic Empire. The sporting world proves that such events do happen from time to time: see the Miracle on Ice, Man O'War's loss to 100-to-1 underdog Upset (an appropriate name, to say the least), or more recently, Appalachian State v. Michigan.

The underdog appeals to much of humanity, just because it's so contrary to how things normally play out: we like to see the 97-pound weakling take down the 300-pound bully, the Luton Towns of this world able to compete with the Liverpools. Sure, most of the time it doesn't happen outside of the cinema, but when it does, it's magical.
Underdogs like the Giants represent all of us who have been kicked around by the world in some way or another: those passed over for jobs or promotions, those cut from the team, those told they weren't up to snuff for whatever reason. They can't compete with the big boys for supremacy over the long haul of a regular season, but they don't need to. On any given Sunday (or Saturday, or whatever day games are played on), anything can happen.

Sometimes, nice guys do finish first, empires can be stopped in their tracks, and you don't need secret video tapes to win a Super Bowl. It can't be that way all of the time, of course, as that would diminish the value when the unexpected does happen. Still, hope remains: sometimes it works out, and the tiny snubfighter blows up the battle station, the cold backup goalie stops Iceland's best shooter, or a pair of unknown journalists bring down a presidency. For all those who like to see the little guy come out ahead, as Journey famously wrote, don't stop believing. After all, they still might be Giants.

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