Giants Ring of Honor member Amani Toomer looks back on the team's run to Super Bowl XLII:
Amani Toomer is the most prolific wide receiver in Giants history. A second-round draft choice in 1996 from the University of Michigan, he spent his entire 13-year career with the franchise. Toomer owns the Giants' career records for receptions (668), and receiving yards (9,497), and touchdowns (54). His streak with at least one reception in 98 consecutive games in which he played from 1998-04) is another mark he holds. Toomer is also the Giants' career leader in postseason catches (44), yards (609), and touchdowns (seven).He had 21 receptions for 280 yards and three scores in the Giants' four-game postseason run in 2007 that culminated in their victory against New England in Super Bowl XLII. Toomer was a member of the Giants' original 30-mmeber class of the franchise's Ring of Honor in 2010.
Q: Amani, there was a lot of Giants turmoil in the summer of 2007. Tiki Barber, who had retired after the previous season, publicly criticized Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning. Michael Strahan didn't report to training camp. You were trying to return after a season in which you played only eight games. Did that help pull the players together?
Toomer: "Definitely. When Tiki said what he said about our coach, we knew that we had a lot of veterans, we knew that this was a time that we would be able to grow and develop because of all the free agents that we got in that offseason. It was a now or never time. We knew that this team wasn't built to stay around for a long time. And I was coming off of a knee surgery, so I was just focused on proving myself again and getting on the field, and being able to contribute."
Q: Did you sense a shift in Coughlin in the '07 training camp in 07, and what did you notice?
Toomer: 'I don't want to say that he let things go, because that really wasn't what he did, but he delegated to his coaches a little bit more, and allowed them to do the coaching, instead of being on top of everybody at all times. I think he began to trust the players that he had been around for a couple years. When he first got here, I don't think that he trusted anybody. He didn't know who he wanted to keep, who he wanted to let go, and it was a very contentious relationship between the coach and the players, and we ended up conceding a little bit. (In 2007), we had a (leadership) council where we would meet with him on Fridays. I don't think we really made any decisions or anything, but at least he let us hear what he was thinking, and I think that communication really helped us get over some of the things when we (previously) didn't know why he was doing what he was doing."
Q: In the opening game you went to Dallas and scored 35 points. But the Cowboys scored 45. Despite the loss, were you encouraged by the offense's potential?
Toomer: "I remember after the game going over to coach Coughlin and saying, 'We should not have lost that game. We can't score 30 points and lose.' We played too well to lose the game that night, and that is when as a team I think that we felt we had something going, we had something special."
Q: So what was the feeling the next week when you lost by three touchdowns to Green Bay at home?
Toomer: "That was a complete shock, because the Packers at that time were not projected to be a good team. They had Brett Favre and they had a couple great players, but other than that we thought that we would take them easy. We didn't think that it would be much of a fight. I think that was a real reality check for us in the sense that no matter how good we thought we were, if we come out and play uninspired football and mistake-ridden football with the penalties that we had, then we are going to lose."
Q: After enduring difficult seasons like 1998, 2001, and 2003, were you worried the week before the third game in Washington that if you didn't win you'd be 0-3 and potentially staring at another one of those years?
Toomer: I knew that our defense was better than it had been. I knew that if we could hit on all cylinders we would be really good. There was a belief when nobody really believed in us, that we could win. It was one of those situations where you think, 'As a player, Whatever is going on around me, I still have to focus on what I have to do and do my job and contribute the way that I know how.' I think that is what focused me. We had a lot of veterans on that team that knew if we lost this game and went 0-3 there would be a lot of changes, and the changes would be that we throw up the white flag and try to build for the future. And I don't think Coughlin really had that option, because of the fact that he was under fire. I think with some of the other things that went on in the media, it was a very slippery slope for everybody, the coach, the quarterback and every player on that team."
Q: You won the game in Washington with an inspired goal-line stand. Were you a fan at the end of the game, standing on the sideline, hoping the defense would get a stop?
Toomer: "I am hoping beyond hope, and I know that hope is not a strategy, but I was hoping that we were going to pull it out. And I will never forget Kawika Mitchell's stop on that fourth down to really clinch that game, and after that good things started happening. We started rolling again." Most of the time when there is a championship team or championship run in any sport, it has more to do with not only the team being good enough to be in position to be a champion, but a little bit of luck has to come our way. And that little bit of luck came in the game down in Washington. That gave us an opportunity to show what we really always knew we could do."
Q: One of the big games that season was a hard-fought game in Chicago on Dec. 2 in which you rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter. The team suffered injuries in the game, but you fought through against a good Bears defense.
Toomer: "I just remember that was a very hard fought-game. It was a very physical game. I remember making a play to score the touchdown in the end and then I remember (wide receivers) coach Sullivan coming up to me, and he wrote on his little press thing, 'Remember this feeling.' I knew that our team, if we kept executing and coming to play at that same focus point that we would be a good team."
Q: On Dec. 23, you played in Buffalo with a chance to clinch a playoff berth. The game was played in miserable conditions, with all kinds of weather. But you found a way to win the game.
Toomer: "We definitely fought up there. It was really cold and I remember looking at the Bills and they looked cold and I am thinking, 'They are the home team and they live up here. If they are cold, then that is all of the motivation that I needed.' And we had a playoff berth on the line, we had a wild card berth on the line, so I think that when Ahmad Bradshaw broke that (88-yard) through the middle of the field, a lot of pressure was relieved and we are going to go to the playoffs, and it was just excitement at that time."
Q: Then you went home to play the undefeated Patriots. Did it matter to you if you ended their perfect season?
Toomer: "Yes, because I remember we went to the meeting and everybody was worried that we had a playoff spot locked in, the Patriots had a playoff spot, so we were we going to sit our players. Coach Coughlin gets up there in the meeting on Wednesday and says, 'We are going to try and win this game.' I don't remember what else he said, but the rest of the week I was fired up, because I remember we had beaten the undefeated Denver Broncos in '98. So it was kind of something that I took pride in and something that I felt our team really took pride in in stopping these streaks, II felt like it was time to do it again and all of the cards were in our favor; we were at home, they were going to overlook us, they had a playoff game, we had a playoff game the next week and I just remember after Coach Coughlin said we were going for it, I was so excited and I think the rest of the team it kind of put all the noise around about who is going to play and who is not going to play and put it all aside, and we played and we actually got better in that final week being able to compete and play in the way that we did against the Patriots (losing 38-38). That kind of gave us the motivation that if we could play against the Patriots then we could play against anybody.
Q: After defeating Tampa Bay in the first round, you traveled to Dallas to face the top-seeded Cowboys. Early in the game, you took a short pass and turned it into a 52-yard touchdown. What you remember about that play?
Toomer: "It was a hook route. I came out of my break, I caught the ball and I was on balance, so I figured, let me see if I can make some people miss. I remember dipping my shoulder for some reason, I don't know why I did it, and then I just remember getting a head of steam up and heading down the sideline. Then I just remember running as fast as I could on two broken knees trying to get down to score. I think that really set the tone for the game. I don't think that the Cowboys really took us that seriously, because they had beaten us twice. I think that was the first kind of jab to say that we are here to play today, even though you beat us twice this season, we are ready to come."
Q: The following week you were in the Green Bay to play in the NFC Championship Game in minus-23 degree wind chill. What was your normal pregame routine, and what was your routine that day in Green Bay?
Toomer: "Normally, I would go out with Eli and Plaxico (Burress) and we would throw some routes. But I remember going outside in Appleton to go to the game, and (team V.P of team operations Jimmy Phelan had a cup coffee in his hand going to the bus. He throws it up in the air and it comes downs like snow and I was like, 'You didn't have to do that. We know that it is going to be cold.' I remember going out there and running around and thinking that it is not that cold and we are throwing some passes and I remember looking at Eli, looking at Plax and it was like, 'I am good. Are you good? Are good? Le'ts go inside.' Because it was that cold."
Q: On the Giants' first offensive play, Brandon Jacobs steamrolled Charles Woodson runs over Woodson, How much of a tone did that set and let the Packers know the Giants were not messing around?
Toomer: "It really did, because I think that when you go to Green Bay and it is that cold, I think they look on the other side and see if they are going to compete or are they going to crawl up into a little ball. I don't know if I had ever been in a game where the weather was that much of a factor. But when Brandon Jacobs hit Charles Woodson, I know that everybody on both sides was like, 'Well, Brandon is not cold, so I can't be cold. And that is kind of how the mindset of players works. Sometimes it will be a play and someone will get a big hit and, 'Well, he is ready to play. I have to match up to his level.'' And that is kind of how that went."
Q: You were on the Giants team that lost badly to Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVVV. When Lawrence Tynes' field goal went through the uprights and you were returning to the Super Bowl seven years later, what went through your mind?
Toomer: "My first experience in the Super Bowl was so terrible when we lost to the Ravens that the first thing that went through my mind was, 'Oh, no, we're going back to the Super Bowl again.' I had such a hurt from losing that game. It took me years to get over that. Strahan and me were the only two that had been on the Super Bowl before, and we talked to the team about horrible it was to lose a Super Bowl. In my mind, we tempered it all down to saying, 'Yeah, it is great that we are going to the Super Bowl, but you do not want to lose the Super Bowl. You do not want to experience what it feels like to lose a Super Bowl, and all the confetti is going off and everybody is excited. You have equipment people crying, family members coming on the field, but not any of the family members on your team. The confetti is coming down and it ain't for you.' So it is a very much a gut-wrenching experience to lose a Super Bowl and I was trying to let people know that.
"It was dread and then I was happy that we won the game, and then it was the excitement of the whole Super Bowl week, because we knew what to expect. It was a pretty good deal. It was a pretty good feeling."
Q: Before the Super Bowl, the team spent a week in Arizona. A lot of things are going on, the practices and you are trying to get into your own thing, but you also want to bond and the team wants to try to stay loose. How much did watching Tom Coughlin eat an In-n-Out burger after media day loosen up the team?
Toomer: "I remember there was an In-n-Out Burger truck, and it was a fun thing to do to break the monotony, and to just let the coaching staff and organization say, 'Thank you guys for getting us here. We are in it together, we just want to win.' It was like a little bit of a bonding thing for everybody, just to kind of reflect on how successful this season has been and what an opportunity we did have at that point in time."
Q: Did it surprise you or was it just another in the progression of Tom Coughlin really coming to bond with you guys?
Toomer: "I will tell you what: Tom Coughlin dealt with that Super Bowl perfectly. Right when we got to Arizona he gave this speech and showed us the history of the old Giants in 1986 and the 1991 team. He told us, 'You are part of something big, you have an opportunity to do something big, it is bigger than you and it is not even really about you, it is about your family being able to come and see you in this spot.' And I think that really kind of calmed everybody down from the beginning. I think it just focused us in on what was actually important, and not letting us get all caught up in all of the things that surround Super Bowls. It was a powerful speech, and then the speech that he gave the night before the game - it was his finest hour of coaching, in my opinion. It was getting guys that could easily be distracted in some areas because we had seven rookies on our team that actually contributed and played and getting everybody focused on winning that Super Bowl. Because the first time we went to the Super Bowl it was not that way."
Q: Burris hurt his knee early I the week and the David Tyree couldn't catch a pass in the Friday practice. Did you think, "What's going on here?"
"No, because I knew that Plaxico was coming back. If we were going to have to rely on David, I would have been more worried. But I remember after practice going up to Plax and saying, 'Are you playing?' He was like, 'Yeah,', so I thought, 'Okay, we are fine.' And we had played so well, we had done some much, we had come so far, we had played this team and that really is what made us feel comfortable. I knew on defense that we could stop them, and we could hold them down. I knew their team was not that strong defensively because, put up a lot of points the first time we played them."
Q: You are losing starting the fourth quarter and Eli threw to Tyree, and he caught it for a touchdown that gave you the lead.
Toomer: A: (Laughs) "It was a great catch, too. People talk about the helmet catch, but that touchdown catch was pretty good. He made a good play."
Q: Randy Moss scored a go-ahead touchdown with 2:42 to go. Now you have to go back out there and win. Strahan tries to pump up the offensive line. What are you thinking?
Toomer: "Get the first first down, because we can drive on this team, their defense is not their strong point, and we still have a chance. Was it a long chance? Yeah, but you know what? Play in, play out, just focus on the play that we can control at that point in time and let's go. We felt like we had a good opportunity."
Q: Take me through your vision of the Tyree catch.
Toomer: "Plaxico and I were on the back side. I was running a deep in at a basic cross and he was running a deep in behind me, so we were running double ins. It was going to go bottom to top and I was open, so I was like, 'Oh, I am getting the ball.' I was right at the sticks, so I thought, 'I am going to get the first down, and we are going to move on.' I looked and I couldn't find Eli, because he was scrambling. Then I saw his shoulder go up and I am like, 'What is he doing?' He threw the ball and I was like, 'What is he doing?' When I talked to Plaxico after the game he said he saw the ball go up he was like, 'Man, fourth-and-10.' Then David caught it, and I couldn't really see it. I just saw him go up and then I saw him with his hands on the ball, and then I saw him awkwardly shift and I am like, 'Oh, he dropped it.' Then they said that he caught it. The referees were spotting the ball, so I remember running up to the side yelling, 'FedEx,' because every time there is a (reviewable) play, before they can replay it we say, 'FedEx.' It's a (quickly-run) power play, so they can't go back and review the play. So I am like, 'Everybody get up.' And Eli said, 'Calm down guys, we've got this.' I saw it on the replay and I saw it on slow motion and you see it never hit the ground. I remember talking to Plaxico and Plaxico was like, 'Man, we can't lose this game now.' I think that is when we really thought that we were going to win this game, because there is no way that we are going to make that play irrelevant."
Q: Steve Smith made a big third-down catch on the sideline and now you are in position to win. As Eli throws the ball to Plaxico for the game-winning touchdown, did it feel like the ball was in the air for a long time?
Toomer: "All game, they didn't blitz in the red zone, and that is what the Patriots were known for -- in the red zone they are going to bring an all-out blitz, and they didn't the whole entire game. They blitz, and instead of running a slant like most of the times you run when the blitz comes, he runs a sluggo, a slant go. I didn't know they were blitzing, because I was on the other side. But as soon as that happened and as soon as that triggered, Eli was going to the back side, but on the front side I was running a corner, Steve Smith was running the arrow to the flat, and I think Dave Tyree was running a curl, so we were going to high/low the safety. That is the play that I caught on Friday to end practice, to end the two-minute drill. So I am like, 'I am going to end the two-minute drill again.' (Laughs) The next thing I know, the ball is going up and I am like, 'What? Yay!' And then we score and win."
Q: The game ends and after all of the trial and tribulation, Amani Toomer is finally a Super Bowl champion. What was the first thought that went through your mind?
Toomer: "I was just relieved. I couldn't believe it. I just remember thinking, 'We did it again. We knocked off another undefeated team.' And I remember feeling like we had some much good mojo, like everyone wanted us to win and no one wanted the Patriots to win, and I felt that whole good energy that everyone had toward us. I think that everyone was a Giants fan that day, because that was when SpyGate was going out, and they were undefeated. I think that a lot of people just didn't like what was going on up in New England, and the fact that they are so successful. And to stop them from being immortal and from being the only 19-0 football team in the NFL, for them to be the worst one-win team in all of history, because every other one-win team in NFL history has won a Super Bowl. This was the first one-win team that didn't win a Super Bowl, so really to put them back on the back burner for that short period of time, I took solace in that. And also the fact that we went on the road four times - the Super Bowl we were on the road, we went to Tampa, went to Green Bay, went to Dallas, all wins and I always wanted to do it that way, just because I felt like it would be more fun to do it that way, the hard way."
Q: You fly home and two days after the Super Bowl, the team is honored at a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan. Did it exceed your wildest expectations?
Toomer: "I remember coming out of the Holland Tunnel and we were in a bubble, so we don't know how big it is. We do not know how big this parade is going to be. And we get in the Holland Tunnel and as we are going in there were people lined waving flags and we are like, 'Oh, that is great.' We get out of the Holland Tunnel and we make a turn and there is a block just full of blue and white and everyone on that bus went quiet, just amazed that there are so many people that care in New York City about one thing, because in New York City there is so much stuff to do. You have the Jets, the Giants, the Yankees, the Mets, the Rangers, the Devils, there are so many things and so many teams. You have Wall Street, you have fashion, you have all of this stuff. But for them to all come together to see us … I remember being a Giant when you walked into a club and I was like, 'I play for the Giants. Can I come in?' It was like, 'The Giants? Get in the back.' In '96, nobody cared about the Giants. So from that whole turn from then to now and to where everybody is galvanized to watch us and celebrate our success, it was unbelievable. It exceeded every bit of my expectations."