recently joined the Packers season ticket waiting list, I used my childhood home in New Jersey. As a result, when I waited anxiously to receive my confirmation letter assuring me that I was officially on the list, I knew the first person to receive it would actually be my mother. I did think it was somewhat odd however that the letter had not yet arrived, and so when in the middle of last week my mother informed me that I had received mail from Green Bay, Wisconsin, I immediately became tight-lipped.
You see, I mailed off the request to join the list in late October, so the fact that it wouldn't arrive until right before the Giants faced the Packers in the playoffs at Lambeau was somewhat curious and potentially ominous in my mind. As a result, I kept it quiet for fear of embiggening my sense of foreboding anxiety. But with that game out of the way and my mother giving me all of my old mail on Saturday afternoon, I felt better when I opened up the letter. Of course, I still was a bit wary since the Giants had this thing called the NFC Championship Game Sunday night.
True to my word I was curled up anxiously on my friend's couch throughout Sunday night's festivities, which constituted, in no uncertain terms, the single most uncomfortable, torturous, emotionally exhausting football game I have ever watched with a vested interest in my entire life. And yes, that includes Super Bowl XLII. This was a game that for three hours was a hard slog between two great teams that refused to give an inch, didn't make mistakes and didn't need the great equalizer of horrendous weather to put either side at even money -- though they got it anyway. The word "epic" is bandied about a little too frequently these days, but this game, with the brilliant performance of Eli Manning, the relentless speed and pressure of what is an absolutely scary 49ers defense and an inability to settle the matter in the given 60 minutes was absolutely, uncompromisingly epic.
I have never felt so drained after watching a game, a fact that was of much relief to my 60-year-old father who assumed his exhaustion afterward was a sign of age. To get cliche, this was a 15-round heavyweight bout with a Super Bowl trip on the line, and when it was all said and done, I collapsed on the floor ecstatic, but mostly just relieved, that it was the Giants who got to throw the last punch. Elizabeth had her own interpretation of the moment.
The best part about that video, of course are the choice words very clearly mouthed by Giants punter Steve Weatherford, who was holding for kicker Lawrence Tynes on the game-winning field goal in overtime. Weatherford had every right to yell and scream given the gravity of the situation, but on this particular Conference Championship-winning day even more so because Weatherford was easily the second-best player on the Giants after Manning -- and an argument could easily be made that he was the best period.
For the final minutes of regulation and the overtime period, much of this game became a field position chess match between Weatherford and 49ers Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee. Weatherford had 12 boots for an impressive 46.4-yard average, just ahead of Lee's 10 punts with a 45.5-yard average. Those kicks were an enormous factor in a field position battle that was all the more crucial given the rainy weather, but even more pronounced than that was Weatherford's game-saving hold on the winning kick after a low inside snap came from Zack DeOssie. This, it should be noted, happened despite the fact that Weatherford was still wearing his wedding ring on the play. His wife ought to appreciate the dedication.
It's hard to know whether or not Weatherford's punting was so good that he managed to induce both of the game-turning fumbles made by hard-luck Niners return man Kyle Williams, a player whose nightmare of a game is among the most tragic things I've seen on an NFL field (other than major injuries) in quite some time. Predictably, the fans have been a kind and understanding group, but Williams can at least be grateful that his horrifying day came just after the equally tragic shanked kick by Billy Cundiff that would have put the Ravens and Patriots in overtime in the AFC Championship Game.
But even if Williams' misfortune played a crucial role in the game turning, due respect must be paid to Manning, who has thoroughly proved throughout this season that not only is he among the best quarterbacks in the game after being much maligned throughout his career for not living up to expectations -- despite a Super Bowl victory -- but he is one tough son of a bitch. In addition to his 32-for-58, 316-yard two-touchdown performance, Manning stood strong in the pocket and got the absolute crap kicked out of him throughout the game. As the Niners' stellar defensive front beat up the Giants' offensive line, Manning faced 20 hurries, 12 knockdowns and 6 sacks. On one notable play at the end of regulation which went for naught, Manning fled the pocket and stood tall to deliver a strike down field to Ahmad Bradshaw nanoseconds before three San Francisco defensive linemen collapsed on top of him.
It was as gutsy a performance as you can have -- way more gutsy than the fraidy-cat curled up display I put on on my friend's couch -- and as a result Eli now gets to reap the benefits along with the rest of the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI against New England. Yes, it's a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, yes it's Boston and New York again, yes it's Manning vs. Brady.... again. But that's all stuff we can get into later. For now I'm going to try and bask in the glory and relief of this one.
And maybe feel anxious again for two more weeks.