Tom Coughlin and El Manning will forever be bonded by the two Super Bowls – and counting? – they have won together. The Giants' dramatic 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVI further solidified to the football public the strong connection between the coach who has won two Super Bowls in five seasons and the brilliant quarterback who was voted the Most Valuable Player in each of them.
But at separate news conferences here this morning, Coughlin and Manning demonstrated that what they share above all else are a set of values. Hard work is critical. The goals of the team always supersede those of any individual. The focus should always be on winning football games.
Coughlin and Manning were each asked – not just Monday, but throughout the week prior to the game – about their legacies, about individual achievements and what winning the Super Bowl means. Invariably, they deflected the questions, steered their responses to those that included the larger Giants group and didn't just try to deflect the spotlight away from them but turn it off entirely.
A second Super Bowl triumph, both over New England, and his 154 total victories will make Coughlin a strong candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, when and if he ever decides to retire – and yes, he was asked that question. And yes, he will return to the sideline.
But it's certainly not to strengthen his candidacy for a bust in Canton.
"No, I don't really think about that stuff, to be honest with you," Coughlin said when asked, perhaps for the 20th time, about his legacy. "It's not about me and this is what we talk about all the time. We're about team, we're not about individuals. We're about the team and what's in the best interest of our team, and we feel that all our power is generated from team. We're certainly very cognizant of some of the superior individuals that we have on our team, thank goodness, but it is the team that provides us with our strength, and our ability to perform under pressure, whether it is good or bad, and that's the way we think."
Manning was also queried on a subject he'd rather avoid, his older and accomplished brother Peyton. It isn't because he doesn't love and admire his brother. He certainly does, and as always he was cordial and accommodating, even when the question was phrased thusly…"When was the last time you had bragging rights on Peyton?"
"This isn't about bragging rights," Manning said. "This is a lot bigger. This is about a team, an organization being named world champions, and that was the ultimate goal. That's the only thing that's important, is the team finding a way to get a victory. That's the only thing I care about and Peyton and I both know that's what the goal is every year. It's not about anything else."
Coughlin couldn't have said it better.
Manning's team-first approach was also evident when he was asked if either of his – er, the Giants' titles won with him – was more special that the other.
"A championship is a championship," Manning said. "Each one is special. Each one has special moments during the season and, obviously, different teammates. This year, I am just happy for a number of guys getting a championship, whether it's rookies, whether it's offensive players. Hakeem Nicks getting his first championship, Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz. Those guys weren't a part of that last championship, so (I'm) happy for those guys. Rocky Bernard on defense is a guy who has played a long, long time. He has lost a Super Bowl. Antrel Rolle, Deon Grant, those guys who had opportunities to win before, have had great careers and never got the opportunity to say they are world champions and have that feeling in a locker room after winning a Super Bowl. I am happy for a number of guys on this team. I know that they are excited, and that's why you play. You play for your teammates, you play for your coaches, the organization. To give them that opportunity for these next five or six months, we can say, 'Hey, we are the best. We are the champs.' That's a pretty nice feeling."
Coughlin was asked what he said to Manning in the aftermath of the thrilling victory here. The answer is very little, because of media obligations after the game and the desire to spend time with family members after that. Despite Coughlin's fierce admiration for Manning, he typically answered a question about an individual by mentioning several other people.
"I haven't really had many opportunities to take Eli aside and express myself to him," Coughlin said. "I did say to our team on Saturday night how proud of them I am and I mean that sincerely. What these young men have done, and the key thing when I say pride is that the way the team has come together, the way that we support, trust and believe in one another, the way they play for each other and support each other.
"I think Chase Blackburn is a great example of that. He's probably the best on-the-field, during-the-game, cheerleader that I've ever seen. Well, Michael Strahan was like this, too, but he (Blackburn) is up and down the sidelines cheering for the special teams and the offense, doing his job defensively. It's heartwarming to see guys who want it so badly and perform themselves at such a high level. (It) means so much to our team. But really share, instead of sitting over there on the sideline and conserving your energy, share that energy with everyone else."
Manning, meanwhile, turned the tables on Coughlin so they could find the common ground where they both reside so comfortably.
"I congratulated Eli and of course being Eli he said to me after winning the MVP that, 'All I want to do is help our team win,' which is so consistent with the way he is," Coughlin said. "I thought, again, this business is about elite quarterbacks, I think that question's come and gone. I don't think we'll hear much about that again, but I thought that his response to that was one of the…if I could have spent hours scripting what I would say to someone in that same category, what he said was incredible: 'I'm just trying to be the best football player, the best quarterback I can be and help my team win,' and I think that says it all."
Coughlin took his team-first theme a step further. When the Giants won Super Bowl XLII four years ago, he quickly considered how the added attention on him would benefit the Jay Fund, the charity he founded in 1996 to benefit families of children stricken with cancer. He was thrilled this morning when asked about the Jay Fund.
"What this Super Bowl championship will allow us to do is to reach out and help others because of this forum," he said. "That's what you pray for. Jay Fund has been very successful in reaching out to families who have children with cancer. To help them in their time of desperate need, many times families don't have any place else to go. When a child has cancer, everyone runs to the side of the child. Many times people can't go to work, they're there for the support of the child. But as we know, life doesn't stop. There's many times where there are other siblings, mortgage payments, car payments, grocery bills and all the things that happen within a family that have to be taken care of, that's where the Jay Fund comes in. Hopefully, with the recognition again of the opportunity to take full advantage of the Super Bowl championship to make sure people understand even more about the Jay Fund, that we can do more to help people in need and families in need."
Manning has a similar venture, raising millions of dollars for the Eli Manning's Children's Clinic in Jackson, Miss. For Coughlin and Manning, it's always team-first – both inside and outside of football.
*The Giants' coach and quarterback were asked about several issues at their news conferences. Here's a sampling:
*Coughlin on the traits the Giants have that enables them to play so well late in games:
"Mental toughness, resiliency, resolve. We keep playing, we keep fighting, and we're highly competitive. We do have great trust in each other, great belief that we can finish, and that if we keep playing one play at a time as hard as we can go that we will find a way to win."
*Coughlin on coaching in 2012:
"I certainly hope so. My intentions are to be that way. I do have some ownership that has to give approval, but I'm looking forward to it."
*Coughlin on whether he would have played the Giants' last offensive possession differently had he known the Patriots would let them score – to give them more time for a potential game-winning drive of their own:
"In the back of my mind always was the touchdown. I didn't care how much time was left. We had 35 seconds a few years back and I was worried about that. When that ball went down the field in the seam twice with 35 seconds left, and they only needed a field goal – so the thought about the touchdown was always there. Would I have orchestrated it differently? Perhaps, you certainly don't want to leave that much time on the clock (57 seconds). But anything that would have become as a result of that would have been my fault because I really didn't instruct the runner not to score. But having scored and having the four-point difference, and the way our defense played at the end, although we certainly kept the drama involved with the fourth-down completion, it turned out the right way."
*Manning on what Peyton said to him after the game:
"I got to be with Peyton a bit and he was proud of me. He was proud of the team. A quarterback like Peyton is, he knows the game well and he asks questions a lot of people won't ask. Like the touchdown to Victor Cruz, he asked me if I saw the middle linebacker running out there, and I didn't. He can see there and tell it how it looks. It was 'single-high' and he kind of jabbed to my right a little bit before running left and looking up Victor. Under center, you know they're bringing a blitz. It is tough to see that, but luckily, he never looked back at me and I threw it right off his shoulder and Victor did a good job of concentrating and making the catch. Then he talked about the (critical 38-yard) throw to (Mario) Manningham. He was mad, he said everybody was talking about how great of a catch it was. He said it was a pretty good throw, also. It's a brother looking out for me. He was proud of me and happy for me."
*On what he saw on the throw to Manningham:
"They were playing Cover-2. They really had our Cover-2 beat to the right side with Hakeem (Nicks) and Victor Cruz in a two-man route. The Patriots did a good job of jamming both receivers, throwing off the timing of the route. They do have a tendency, their safeties will read my eyes, so I did look to the right pretty long. I didn't like what I was seeing, so I slid up in the pocket. I was going to see where that safety was to the left. I saw he had cheated in, I saw a little window for Mario Manningham where he would catch it or nobody and he made a great catch. A good job staying inbounds, keeping his two feet inbounds, knowing he was going to get hit on the sideline and holding onto the ball. So a big play in the game right there, obviously. When you're backed up in that situation, when you get a 40-yard gain, that changes your play-calling. You can run the ball, you can be a little more patient. You feel like you're getting close to field-goal range right there, which was all we needed. But, (there were) a couple of other big plays. Mario had another catch later in the drive, Hakeem Nicks on a slant, and then obviously, Ahmad (Bradshaw) on the touchdown run. Just a great drive and a great way to finish the game."
*On when he realized New England might let the Giants score on their last drive.
"Right as I broke the huddle, I kind of had a feeling, under the circumstances, that they were going to let us score. It's a tough situation right there as you are thinking about what to do. I think you have to score a touchdown right there. That's the goal. That's the ultimate goal – to score a touchdown. As a quarterback, I have great confidence in Lawrence Tynes and kicking field goals. Obviously, he has kicked game-winners for us, but you just don't want to leave anything to chance in that situation. We could have kneeled and run out the clock and kicked a field goal with 10 seconds left, but if you get a bad snap or if they block it or if something fluky happens and you miss that field goal, you feel terrible. In that situation, as I am handing the ball off, I saw that their defensive line was standing up and not rushing. I am yelling not to score. Maybe you get down to the six-inch line, make them use their last timeout and then try to score on third down, hopefully score a touchdown to give you a bigger lead and get the four-point lead, five-point lead possibly and take it from there. Looking back, we did the right thing. I think you have to score a touchdown in those circumstances."
*On what he yelled to Bradshaw on the six-yard touchdown run with 57 seconds remaining:
"I just yelled, 'Don't score! Don't score!' Obviously, he heard me (because) he thought about it. I know it's tough for a running back. They see a big hole right there going for a touchdown. I think something almost had to pop into his head like something was up. This is a little bit too good to be true. I am yelling, and he obviously had heard me. He thought about kind of going down, but I think he didn't quite know what to do. He said, 'Hey, I have a touchdown, I am going to take it.' I am glad he did."