That’s that settled, then. The 2008 Superbowl will be between (to no-one’s surprise) the New England Patriots and (to everyone’s surprise) the New York Giants.
In truth, both Divisional Championship games were grim affairs, played out by four teams who were not only wary of taking any chances whatsoever, but who were also being frozen to the marrow. The game between the Patriots and the San Diego Chargers was played in a temperature of 9 degrees. Fahrenheit. That’s -13 Centigrade. And that was the warm game! Later, in Green Bay, the Giants and the Packers endured the third coldest NFL game ever, playing in -1F (-18C).
The first game - the AFC Championship - was decided more by the defenses than the much vaunted offenses. On the Chargers’ side of the ball, this was not much of a surprise, as QB Philip Rivers needed arthroscopic surgery on his injured knee to play at all, tight end Antonio Gates was still playing with a dislocated toe and running back LaDanian Tomlinson managed exactly three plays before going off injured again. This meant that, on the three occasions that they managed to get inside the Patriots 20 yard line, they only managed three field goals. By comparison, on the four visits that the Patriots made to the other end of the pitch, they came away with three touchdowns.
It tells you something about the game that the biggest news was that Tom Brady threw three interceptions, including one intended touchdown pass, the first time he’s been picked off in the end zone since 2005.
A fairly easy 21-12 win for the Patriots, marred only by allegations of foul play against defensive end Richard Seymour, although most rugby players would be surprised that being accused of ‘stomping on feet, slapping heads and elbowing people in the back’ was worthy of comment at all. (And why would you slap the head of someone wearing a helmet anyway?)
The game in Green Bay was so dull that it is hardly worth devoting any time to at all. Two very evenly matched sides slugged it out for the full 60 minutes to finish 20-20 at full time. It shouldn’t have been like that, as the Giants’ Scottish kicker Lawrence Tynes managed to miss two very kickable field goals which would’ve won the match for them in normal time, including one with the last play of the fourth quarter.
The drama all came during overtime, the fifteen minute period of extra time where the first score wins. Green Bay started out with the ball, but Brett Favre threw an interception. The Giants failed to obtain a first down and were left with the choice of punting the ball away, or attempting a 47 yard field goal. A lot of people are talking about how brave Giants coach Tom Coughlin was to take the latter option, especially considering Tynes’ earlier misses. In fact, a 47 yard field goal means that the ball starts on the opposition’s 32 yard line, as the kick is normally from a point 15 yards behind the point where the ball is ‘spotted’ at the end of the previous play. It is almost impossible to punt from so close to the goalline, so the options were to try again for a first down and risk handing the ball over on the 32 if you fail, or try for a field goal and risk handing the ball over on the 32 if you fail. In first-score-wins overtime, what are you going to do? Tynes nailed the kick and the Giants won 23-20.
So little Eli Manning gets to go to the Superbowl, just one year after his big brother finally got there. Moreover, he goes with a better record than Peyton did - Manning Snr being the first player to go to a Superbowl having thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. Who will win? Come back next week and I’ll tell you.
- Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy has confirmed that he is, after all, going to stay with the team for one more season;
- Buffalo Bills’ player Antony Hargrove will be taking next year, off, though, after being suspended without pay for twelve months, having clocked up his third breach of the NFL’s anti-drugs policy. He was suspended for four games earlier this season for his second breach and the year ban is automatic for a third offence;
- Speaking of banned players, some good news at last for Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones - the latest woman to accuse him of assault has withdrawn her complaint;
- Finally, four players have been nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Named after the legendary Chicago Bears running back, who died of a rare liver condition ten years ago, the award recognises players for their contribution to the community. Hines Ward, Jason Taylor, Jason Witten and Brian Waters are the four, and you can read more about their respective foundations here: