Super Bowl XLII preview

January 22, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The toughest part is over for the New York Giants and the New England Patriots. That would be winning their conference championships, as the AFC and NFC title games are the toughest games to win all season, because those are the games that "get" you to the Super Bowl.

It's also the toughest game to lose, as you fight all season for that one goal, of reaching the big game, and lose when you're one step away. Almost every player I have spoken with over the years would rather lose in the Super Bowl because at least you can say you were there!

So the stage is set. It's like the Yankees and Red Sox; New York vs. Boston in Super Bowl XLII. Yes, we have an East Coast bias from this year's big game, but at least it's being played in Arizona, west of the Mississippi.

Two definite story lines are brewing for this year's game. Can the Patriots become the first team in NFL history to go 19-0 or can the Giants increase their NFL record of 10 straight road wins to 11 against the Patriots? On top of this, what are the chances that a father, Archie Manning, could possibly have both of his sons, Peyton last year and Eli this year, win back to back Super Bowl titles? Their is definitely an added mystique to this year's Super Bowl with these story lines which will make this game even more interesting.

The Patriots are already 14 point favorites, which is exactly what the Giants like, as they have been underdogs all season. No one would have thought this team would have made it to this year's big game with their head coach, Tom Coughlin, almost shown the door after last season, and QB Eli Manning has been dealing with bad press since he arrived in New York four years ago. But the Giants are there and 30 other teams are at home watching. So there!

So who is this year's team of destiny? The Patriots jump right out at you for this claim, but they have already clinched a spot in NFL history with their record as no team has ever been 18-0 going into the Super Bowl. They have the league MVP in QB Tom Brady and a supporting cast that any coach in the history of the game would kill for.

However, there seems to be a groundswell brewing for the Giants. Their ability to win on the road, a QB that has always been second banana to his brother Peyton, the other QB who won his Super Bowl last year, and a defense that has respect around the league, but not like the Patriots. Everyone loves an underdog and when their opposing team has won three Super Bowl titles in the last six years, fans tend to say, "hey they've won theirs. It's someone else's turn." I'll let you make that call.

In terms of the match-ups, I have said all season that the Giants are built for the post season -- a great run game, a solid QB and receivers and a defense that can control the line of scrimmage with their four man front. If the Giants had a weakness it would be their secondary. But the last four weeks this group seems to have taken that talk personally and have played as well as they have all season, with game ending interceptions against the Cowboys and Packers. The Patriots receiving corps may be the toughest to defend in the league, as they all have different strengths which makes it hard to match-up. But the Giants' defensive front seven, especially their defensive ends, can put pressure on Brady and make him move around in the pocket, which he does not like to do.

I thought the Patriots would struggle in the post-season with a lack of a running game, but Laurence Maroney and Kevin Faulk proved to be a good combination that surprised the Chargers. The Patriots' fourth ranked defense always gets lost with their offensive juggernaut and if they have one weakness it's their inability at times to stop the run.

As you can see, this may be one of our better pairings in a Super Bowl that never promises to make it a great game, but with the match-ups we are talking about, it could be a classic.

However, the pressure is definitely on the Patriots. They have a date with perfection -- one win away from a 19-0 season and accomplishing something no team has ever done in the NFL. That pressure seems to be wearing on them as the past four games they have had to find ways to win instead of just running away from the pack. Can their luck or skill, as some would call it, continue? While the Giants will be feeling the pressure like any other team playing in a Super Bowl, but they seem to have this attitude that distances them from the pressure -- playing to win -- but doing it in a conservative nature. Almost like they don't seem to care or don't seem to feel it, and that's probably due to the fact they have a good mix of veterans and youth on their roster.

New England has been here before with most of their roster, whereas the Giants' roster has a few players that have made it to the big game, but sometimes that can work for you as they don't know any better.

I remember the 1981 49ers, a team that did not have the talent (I was on that team... case closed) that most of the league had that year, but we played collectively as a team better than most teams and as a result, we came away with the 49ers' first of five Super Bowl titles. Joe Montana was not a household name until he and Dwight Clark hooked up for "The Catch" beating Dallas to reach our first Super Bowl, and we didn't have any other "name" stars on the roster. Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright were rookies, Jack Reynolds and Fred Dean had been around the league, but were not considered superstars be any means. I see a lot of similarities in the New York Giants and I think they appreciate each other, as we did, and play well together as a result. Not that the Patriots don't, but they are driven by a lot of talent and that sometimes can get in the way. It hasn't yet, but it's possible.

The final stigma to this Super Bowl will be "Spygate," the fact that the Patriots were busted early in the season filming the other team's hand signals, trying to gain an advantage during games. That has dissipated a bit since early in the season and former Miami Dolphin coach, Don Shula, didn't help this cause when he said if the Patriots win they should have an asterisk by their title due to being "cheaters." I think we are at the point where everyone is over that and we all just want to see a good game in Super Bowl XLII.

Let the hype begin as players and coaches will have to forget about football for the next week and a half, dealing with all the press, tickets, issues, families and travel. But as we get down to February 3rd, player's minds will start playing tricks on them as it finally hits you that you are in fact playing in the biggest game of your life, the Super Bowl. And once you hit the field in Arizona and they play that National Anthem pre-game, your nerves will be shot and it becomes pure instinct as you try to join the most exclusive club in football, something only 55 players a year will be lucky enough to secure -- a Super Bowl ring. It's something that can never be taken away from you, the fact that you are a Super Bowl champion.

Good luck to both teams as the Giants look for the upset of the century while the Patriots look to make NFL history.

-- Mike Shumann, Super Bowl XVI champion