GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Oh well, nobody’s perfect. Except maybe Eli Manning.
A masterful magician when the stakes were highest, Manning engineered one of the best drives in Super Bowl history Sunday to help the New York Giants squash the New England Patriots’ run at history-making perfection with a 17-14 victory.
In a game, and a finish, that showed precisely how the Super Bowl has become America’s favorite spectacle, Manning led the Giants 83 yards in just more than two minutes. He capped it with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left, to win what easily could go down as the best Super Bowl ever.
“An unbelievable game and an unbelievable feeling,” Manning said.
“The greatest victory in the history of this franchise, without a question,” said owner John Mara.
It was a scintillating closing chapter to a crazy week that seemed to have everything: the perfect team; the upstart underdogs; the cover boy quarterback; the kid brother in Manning.
America loves an underdog, and the Giants, with their stirring victory, etched themselves as one of the best this game — or any sport — has ever seen.
The star was Manning, the scruffy younger brother of Peyton, who won his own Super Bowl last year, and sat in the corner of a skybox for this one, squirming and agonizing over every play.
Now both Mannings have a championship and Tom Brady — well, he’s still got the looks, the supermodel girlfriend, Gisele Bundchen, and three Super Bowl titles of his own, even though he didn’t come out on top this time.
It means New England finishes 18-1 and the 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the only team to go undefeated from the start of the season through the Super Bowl.
Their coach, Don Shula, was on hand, ready to congratulate the Patriots had they finished 19-0. Instead, he figured to be sipping champagne, continuing a tradition the Dolphins have enjoyed every year when the last undefeated team finally gets its first loss.
They remain alone thanks to Manning, whose 13-yard game-winner came four plays after he somehow escaped a cadre of Patriots engulfing him, threw the ball up for grabs and watched receiver David Tyree somehow pin it between his hands and his helmet for the 32-yard reception.
That kept the drive going, and it will be Manning’s mastery that everyone remembers — not the coolly efficient 80-yard touchdown drive that Brady had completed only moments earlier.
This game was such a back-and-forth stomach-turner that it seems a sure bet to break the record for Super Bowl viewership (94.08 million) and give the advertisers their money’s worth on the $2.7 million they spent for each 30-second spot.
It might even force the watercooler conversation Monday to be about football, not commercials or halftime shows.
For the record, Tom Petty did a four-song halftime set, closing, appropriately, with “Runnin’ Down A Dream.”
Some highlights on the commercial side included Shaq as a winning jockey in a big horse race, Richard Simmons barely avoiding being squished on the highway and Will Ferrell playing a — well — not-so-fit pro basketball player who also likes beer.
Funny as those were, the best show was really on the field.
It was a tight, taut defensive battle for three-plus quarters — yet anything but boring.
Then it was taken over by two quarterbacks — one already a star, the other yearning to escape the shadow his big brother has cast over the family, and the sport, for many years now.
Eli said it was flattering being compared to his older brother Peyton because “he’s at the top of his game, and I’m still trying to get my game up to his level.”
He’s there now, capping a four-week stretch of nearly flawless playoff football during which the Giants were underdogs in every game they played, but won them all.