Friday, November 4, 2011

NFL Picks Week Nine: I'm Reliving The Greatest Night Of My Life Sunday

My friends, the date was February 3, 2008. Justin Bieber was not yet legal, Michael Jackson was not yet dead and the United States was still under the "leadership" of President George W. Bush. We were young. Naive. We didn't know just how good life could be.

And then it happened.

I sat in my basement on that incredible night with 10 close friends and watched as the New York Giants, the first team I ever cared for, the first love I ever had, the team that had broken my heart with one painful loss after another over the previous 15 years, pulled off the greatest upset in NFL history, against the greatest team in NFL history in the most dramatic fashion humanly possible. Super Bowl XLII was everything I thought it could be and more, and if you read this blog with any frequency you know just how amazing a moment it was for me. Congratulations came in from old friends -- and exes -- ranging as far away as California and Australia.

Any bad memory I ever had related to the Giants was forgotten. Gone was the 1997 postseason collapse against Minnesota. Gone was Emmitt Smith's brilliant division-clinching win in overtime with a separated shoulder. Gone was the brutal postseason drubbing to San Francisco in 1994. Gone was the blown 24-point lead against those same 49ers in the playoffs eight years later. Gone was Jay Feely's three missed field goals against Seattle. Gone was Mathias Kiwanuka's missed sack of Vince Young and a 21-point lead that evaporated in less than 10 minutes. Gone was Super Bowl XXXV.

All of it had been superceded, overwhelmed and replaced by the greatest win in the history of the franchise. The pain was worth it. The joy was that good. There was nothing that could replace the moment that was Eli's thrilling last-minute drive, David Tyree's helmet catch, Plaxico Burress' end zone touchdown. Nothing could replace 18-1.

I bring this all up now because, some of you might have noticed, that there have been a lot of Super Bowl rematches this season. In fact, a shockingly large amount. Of the 45 Super Bowls that have been played 20 of them will be rehashed this year. Given the amount of Super Bowls that have been played, some rematches are inevitable, but 20 is an awful lot. And none of them will be bigger than this Sunday's showdown at Gillette Stadium between the Giants and Patriots.

Sure, I might be viewing that through some rose-colored lenses, but the Giants and Pats are both fighting to maintain leads in their divisions and this will be the very first time the two teams have met in a competitive setting since that wild night three and a half years ago. And perhaps most importantly -- in fact, no perhaps, absolutely most importantly -- I will be there.

That's right, kids. This Sunday, in a game that I have been looking forward to perhaps more than any other over the past four years, I will cross team No. 42 off the list as I take a bus up to Boston -- and a train down to Foxboro -- and see the New England Patriots for the very first time in a game that not only has far-reaching implications and is between two of the marquee franchises of the League, but also one that will rekindle memories of a night that probably defined my sports fandom more than any other. There are simply no words for how excited I am for this game. And not just because the Giants seem to pick up more accolades by the day.

What's more, despite the fact that the Patriots are favored and almost certainly a better team overall, the Giants -- at least in my mind -- are uniquely well-suited to match up well against them. The Steelers gave a blueprint last week for defeating them, which essentially revolved around clogging the middle of the field where the under routes are run by the likes of Wes Welker and putting enough pressure on Tom Brady to disrupt his timing. The Giants happen to feature, according to Brady, the best front four in the League. The Patriots' defense, meanwhile, has given up passing yards and points by the bucketful this season. Eli Manning happens to be having what may be the finest season of his career throwing the ball.

Even people with deep connections to the Pats think a repeat upset is possible.

So yeah, you could say I'm excited -- so excited that I haven't even spent that much time thinking about Jose Reyes' free agency, the Mets changing their outfield walls for next season, the Devils' thrilling shootout win in Philadelphia last night or the fact that the World Series actually ended last week.

Team No. 42 comes off the list in 48 hours in Foxboro, Massachusetts. And I can't wait.

Last week: 5-7-1
Season: 53-56-7

NY Giants (+9) over NEW ENGLAND
NY Jets (+2) over BUFFALO
DALLAS (-12) over Seattle
Atlanta (-8) over INDIANAPOLIS
KANSAS CITY (-5) over Miami
Tampa Bay (+9) over NEW ORLEANS
San Francisco (-4) over WASHINGTON
HOUSTON (-11) over Cleveland
Cincinnati (+3) over TENNESSEE
OAKLAND (-9) over Denver
ARIZONA (-2) over St. Louis
SAN DIEGO (+6) over Green Bay
PITTSBURGH (-4) over Baltimore
PHILADELPHIA (-8) over Chicago

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