INDIANAPOLIS — While attending Indiana State University as a football star back in the late ’70s, I never thought in my wildest dreams, while majoring in radio-TV communications and my teachers talked about cable, satellite, TV, Internet, cell-phones, and digital pagers, that a Super Bowl would ever be played in Indiana.
Not where the world’s most famous speed race, the Indianapolis 500, is held annually. Not where universities like Notre Dame, Indiana, Purdue, Butler and Ball State have grabbed the college basketball spotlight.
Indiana is famous more for Gary and the steel mills and things like the Ku Klux Klan and NCAA headquarters. It’s where Timothy McVeigh was put to death and Larry Bird played basketball at Indiana State. It’s the home of the NFL Combine, the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning. Now it will be famous for hosting Super Bowl XLVI, the most-watched event in television history.
More than 166.9 million people watched on Sunday — that’s 47 percent of U.S. households. The New York Giants are the champions of football after rallying again to deny their rivals from Boston, the New England Patriots, 21-17.
Peyton’s little brother Eli confirmed for all those who have denied his greatness that he’s got the right stuff. Both Mannings have led their teams to two Super Bowls. However, Eli has won both of his against the legendary three-time champion Tom Brady.
And in both his games he has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, just like four years ago when the 18-0 Patriots lost 17-14 after Manning engineered the final drive with the touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.
This time the Giants became the first 9-7 regular-season team to capture the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The Giants are also the first team in NFL history that scored fewer points than they allowed, 394-400, to ever win a championship.
All this after the long, hard-fought lockout staged between the owners and players in collective bargaining ended in July. Teams had to come together fast without workouts, mini camps or OTA’s. Rookies had no briefings on what to expect.
Some teams with veteran leadership staged their own private workouts and were ready physically when camps opened without coaches’ whistles and watchful eyes over the summer.
Green Bay (15-1), New Orleans (13-3), San Francisco (13-3), New England (13-3), Baltimore (12-4), Pittsburgh (12-4) — but in the end it was the Giants led by Manning throwing for 4,933 yards and 29 TD’s, proving indeed he is an elite quarterback. He enabled the last team to qualify for the 12-team Super Bowl playoff tournament to prove once again that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
The Giants were 7-7 in week 15 and beat the New York Jets 29-14 for the city championship of New York. They beat Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys 31-14 the following week for the NFC East title. In the playoffs they smothered Atlanta 24-2, then went on the road to upset 15-1 Green Bay 37-20 and survive San Francisco in overtime 20-17.
Sunday ended the Patriots’ 10-game win streak 21-17 when Ahmad Bradshaw fell backwards in the end zone with 57 second left to erase a 17-15 Patriots lead. In this rematch, Brady knew had he won he would join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only four-time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.
But it was Brady who made the mistakes — he took a safety in the first quarter throwing deep from his own end zone to no receiver, giving the Giants a 2-0 lead. It was Brady who threw an interception with a 17-15 lead in the fourth quarter trying to hit gimpy tight end Rob Gronskowski deep one-on-one with linebacker Chase Blackburn, who out-leaped and muscled him for the ball. It was the only turnover of the game, and it was critical.
Manning was 30-40 for 296 yards and one TD. He was selected the game’s MVP for the second time. He has one more Super Bowl win than his brother Peyton, and also one more Super Bowl MVP. Don’t shed any tears for Peyton; he’s the NFL’s only four-time MVP.
When I first met Eli at the Heisman Trophy event in 2003 in New York, he was a finalist with my son Larry, Jr., who was runner-up to Oklahoma’s Jason White. He would be the number-one pick in the 2004 Draft after San Diego traded with New York.
Giants Head Coach Tom Coughlin, at age 65, is the oldest Super Bowl winning coach. It’s the fourth Super Bowl for the New York Giants, joining Dallas, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Green Bay, all winners of at least four. This being Black History Month, let’s also note that Giants General Manager Jerry Reese now becomes the first Black general manager to win two Super Bowl championships.
The Patriots join Buffalo, Minnesota and Denver as teams to lose four Super Bowls. Indianapolis did a super job hosting the Super Bowl; it was a job well done. People were everywhere. I’ve covered 32 now, and this one was one of my favorites.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2), and you can follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to [email protected], or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.