Throughout the weekend the Giants celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the team's 2007 Championship season:
EAST RUTHEFORD, N.J. – Where were you on the night of Feb. 3, 2008? If you're reading this, you are almost certainly a Giants fan who can undoubtedly recall where you were and who you were with. That night, the Giants upset the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, 17-14, arguably the greatest of the Giants' 709 victories in their 93-season history.
This weekend, the people who engineered the epic postseason run gathered to commemorate the 10th anniversary of that championship season, a celebration that culminated with a halftime ceremony during the Giants' Monday night home opener against the Detroit Lions.
Tom Coughlin, the head coach of that team, four of his assistants, and 43 players participated in the ceremony. The assistant coaches were introduced first, followed by the players – first those whose contributions were less frequent or conspicuous, leading up to fan favorites like Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Brandon Jacobs. The team's captains then took the field – Shaun O'Hara, Antonio Pierce and Jeff Feagles. Accompanied by Coughlin, another captain, Michael Strahan, carried the Vince Lombardi Trophy through a gauntlet of his teammates to a stage set up between the 40-yard lines. O'Hara, Pierce and Feagles waited on the stage for Coughlin and Strahan (the fifth captain, Eli Manning, was in the locker room preparing for the second half).
"What's up New York?" Strahan said to a thunderous cheer. "We have to be brief standing out here, but there are three things that I know. One, we have the best fans in the NFL. The second thing I know is that we proved a lot of people wrong and that we are the Super Bowl XLII champions. And the third thing that I know is we had to go through a lot of teams for this. We didn't just win the game. We didn't just get it done. So I need a little help, what did we do? STOMP YOU OUT! Fans of the Super Bowl XLII 42 champions, it's been 10 great years. You guys are the best in the world. New York City all the way! New York Giants, let's hear it! Thank you!"
Throughout these last four days, numerous players and several coaches from that team have enjoyed reminiscing, catching up, and re-bonding a decade after their unforgettable season.
"Feels like it was yesterday," said wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who caught Manning's game-winning 13-yard touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. "It's great to see so many guys that we went out and made history with. Now everyone is 10 years older and have turned into fine young men. It doesn't even seem like it was 10 years. I say it was the best Super Bowl ever played."
"Some of these guys, you haven't seen them since literally after that game," safety Gibril Wilson said. "Seeing them now and picking back up like it's a normal thing. It's great to see these guys. After winning a championship, there is a lot of bonding and a lot of love that is between the guys. It proves that 10 years later you still have that same feeling you did after you won that game."
The weekend began Friday evening, when approximately 30 players and coaches attended the 13th annual Champions for Children Gala in Manhattan, a benefit for Coughlin's Jay Fund Foundation. The event raised $1.2 million, which the Jay Fund will use to help families of children with cancer. Manning appeared via video. Manning and long-snapper Zak DeOssie are the only players from the 2007 Giants still active in the NFL.
Coughlin, now the Jacksonville Jaguars' executive vice president for football operations, was thrilled to see so many of his former players and recall that extraordinary season.
"Probably everything that we did at that time influenced me," Coughlin said. "The relationship part of the business in terms of how you interact with your players, the leadership council and the outstanding captains that we had. It never was easy. We were 0-2. We battled back. Down the stretch, it was a little bit of a roller coaster ride trying to get in the playoffs. Then, the 17th week came against the 15-0 Patriots. That was a tremendous thing to remember. … Having the mantra of the road warrior team and winning 11 games on the road that year playing very well away from home. So many people giving us no chance. Could've been even that Tampa game. Certainly no chance in Dallas, they beat us twice. No chance in Green Bay in minus-(23) degrees and then the Super Bowl, of course. The great thing was coming into the stadium and seeing the Giants fans with the 18-1 shirts on. It was tremendous. The memories that I have and the lessons that you take with you. Just the success part of it and the things that happened in the end that you share with the players and their families. Great, great memories."
On Saturday, a large contingent of players and coaches traveled to Yankee Stadium, where they received a loud ovation as they carried the Lombardi Trophy onto the field prior to the Yankees-Orioles game. Three of the five 2007 captains – Antonio Pierce, Shaun O'Hara, Jeff Feagles, plus David Tyree - threw out first pitches, with two caveats. Pierce, O'Hara, and Tyree tossed footballs, and Feagles, the most prolific punter in NFL history, kicked his.
"It was funny, because the lady that worked for the Yankees told us that we were not throwing out baseballs, and we are going to throw out footballs," Feagles said. "So immediately I thought that I probably have more accuracy with my foot than I do with my arm. It was a lot of fun."
Pierce, who is serving as a consultant on the coaching staff for the Giants' defense this season, is still as feisty as he was as a player.
"I feel like if any team wants to call themselves undefeated and they need somebody to bring them down, I think we can still suit it up, at least for a half, and give them a good run," Pierce said. "It is good to be back with the boys and reminisce. Different stories, different views of everything that took place. It is just great to reminisce with them, because you'll see it one way and they had a different set of eyes and a different viewpoint. But I think it is amazing to put everybody together here."
For many, the highlight of the weekend was a dinner the Giants hosted for the team Sunday night on Ellis Island, the gateway to the United States for more than 12 million immigrants from 1892-1954. The players ate and drank, danced and laughed, and posed for dozens of team, position, and other photos.
John Mara, the Giants' president and chief executive told the crowd how much the Super Bowl XLII victory will always means to him.
"It's so great that so many of you were able to come back," Mara said. "This was such a special group, and it's hard to believe that 10 years have passed. I'm 62 years old, I've been around this team all of my life, and when we accepted the Super Bowl trophy at midfield, I remember I was caught up with the emotion in the moment and I said that it was the greatest victory in the history of the franchise. And I still believe that today."
Mara then alluded to that team's 0-2 start.
"It didn't necessarily start out that way that season," he said. "It was Jerry Reese's first year as general manager, and there were times when we weren't doing so well and he kept having to talk me off the ledge. I just want to share with you some of the special memories of that season. We lose the first two games and then we were in Washington (in Week 3), and we are behind and we come back and we take the lead, and then they are driving at the end of the game and it's fourth down at the goal line and we made that stop. I think our season started to turn around at that point in time. We would have been 0-3. Instead, it just gave us some lift. There were some rough weeks there in November. I remember the media was all over us. They wanted us to fire the coach, trade the quarterback, trade the owner, everything, and you guys persevered.
"That final game in the regular season against the Patriots, who we played so well but just came up a little bit short. I remember afterwards walking to our locker room in the service level and I run into Bill Belichick, and I congratulate him on going 16-0. But he looked at me and he said something that I will remember for the rest of my life. He said, 'We are going to play again.' And I thought, 'Wow, I would sign for that right now.' I wasn't sure if he was right. But I'm sure he didn't expect us to beat them and ruin their perfect season, but you did and that's something that will always be such a great moment for all of us.
"You guys had a special bond. That's what made this team so different from any other team I have been around. You just had a certain amount of pride and special bond, and I hope you keep that for the rest of your lives, because this truly was a special group, it really was."
A hundred years from now, that will still be true.