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Fact or Fiction: SBXLII best upset in sports history?


1. Super Bowl XLII is the biggest upset in sports history.

John Schmeelk: Fiction -- Sorry, Giants fans. Super Bowl 42 might have been the greatest upset in NFL history, but nothing is going to top the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid. The United States sent a bunch of inexperienced teenagers and college kids to play against the rugged and dominant Soviet national team that was considered the best in the world. Somehow, Team USA won in an upset. There is never going to be an upset in any professional sport that tops that.

I do think the Giants beating the undefeated Patriots was the greatest upset in NFL history, surpassing the Jets win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. A bigger surprise than the Giants winning the game was that they held the Patriots, one of the best offenses in league history, to only 14 points. I don't blame Tom Brady for being incredulous when Plaxico Burress predicted the Patriots would score under 20 points. During the regular season, New England never scored fewer than 20 points and only scored fewer than 30 points four times. The Patriots put 38 points on the Giants defense just a month prior to close out the regular season. Even though Eli Manning won the MVP, it was the Giants defense than won Super Bowl 42.

Dan Salomone: Fact – I guess I'll be the homer here, which is ironic because I'm the only one of us not from New York or New Jersey. "Miracle on Ice" obviously had geopolitical implications and therefore meant more. But strictly talking sports, whistle to whistle, between the lines, sure, slaying the Patriots dynasty is the biggest upset in sports. The Giants were just the fourth team to start a season 0-2 and reach the Super Bowl. They were also the first team with a losing home record ever to make the Super Bowl and became the first NFC Wild Card team to win the Super Bowl. They were the third team to reach the Super Bowl by winning three road playoff games and set the NFL single-season record with 11 consecutive victories away from home.

Lance Medow: Fiction -- The Giants knocking off the Patriots and spoiling New England's perfect season was certainly an upset, but to say it's the biggest upset in sports history is hyperbole. While the Patriots were a dominant team throughout the regular season, they played several close games: four contests were decided by four points or less, including their Week 17 matchup with the Giants (38-35). That means a quarter of their season came down to the wire. On top of that, the NFL, unlike any other professional sports league, is defined by parity. In a one-game playoff structure, anything can happen because there's not a great disparity between most teams. When you consider the entire history of sports, Super Bowl XLII is in the conversation, but I'd put the 1980 "Miracle on Ice," N.C. State's win over Houston in the 1983 NCAA men's basketball national championship game, Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson in 1990, and the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets ousting the top seed Seattle Supersonics in the first round (five-game series) of the 1994 NBA playoffs are all ahead of the Giants' first of two victories over the Patriots in the span of five years on the NFL's biggest stage.

View iconic photos from the Giants' Super Bowl XLII victory over the undefeated Patriots.

2. The most important play in Super Bowl XLII was not "The Helmet Catch."

Schmeelk: Fact -- This is an impossible question to answer for a few reasons. Does the Tyree completion turn into an incompletion? If that's the result, it is 4th and 5 and the Giants have a chance to convert a reasonable 4th down attempt. If that's the case, the play isn't quite as essential. If Manning is sacked, however, it's fourth and impossible on the wrong side of midfield with only one timeout remaining. The game would be in serious peril in that situation.

It's also important to remember that three plays prior to the Tyree catch, Brandon Jacobs converted a 4th and 1 on a two-yard run. Three plays after the Tyree catch, Manning converted a 3rd and 11 on a pass to Steve Smith. Earlier in the game, the Giants defense held the Patriots on a 4th and 13 in Giants territory and Justin Tuck's forced fumble before halftime kept the Patriots from scoring to close out the second quarter.

Salomone: Fact – What makes football so special is the butterfly effect. What happens on an innocuous handoff has repercussions in the fourth quarter of the biggest game in American sports. I'm talking about the botched exchange between Eli Manning and Ahmad Bradshaw midway through the second quarter with the Patriots leading 7-3. The Patriots seemed to recover the ball, but somehow Bradshaw came out of the scrum with possession. "It was like my life was up under there," he would recall, "and I had to go get it." If the Patriots had recovered at the Giants 30, who knows what would have happened. That's why you can't pin "most important" on any single play. The game is decided by a handful of them, and that was certainly a big one.

Medow: Fiction -- What happens if Eli Manning doesn't escape the pressure and David Tyree doesn't make that catch? No one has a crystal ball, but it would be fourth down (4th and 5) at the Giants 44-yard line with about a minute to go and the Giants trailing by four. Yes, the Giants would have gone for it and who knows how the drive ends, but let's not forget Big Blue was up against the clock and needed a touchdown. Settling for a field goal wasn't an option. As great as Tyree's catch was, don't overlook the fact that it handed the Giants 32 yards in field position. They went from their own 44-yard line to New England's 24-yard line. While Steve Smith's 12-yard catch on 3rd and 11 three plays later was just as crucial, it's a lot easier for Manning to execute a manageable throw to Smith versus a prayer to Tyree.

3. Jay Alford was the unsung hero of Super Bowl XLII.

Schmeelk: Fiction -- Corey Webster wins this award for me. Only one play after Jay Alford's sack, Corey Webster stays with Randy Moss on a go-route and extends his arm just enough to knock Tom Brady's pass away. If Moss catches that pass, the Patriots have the ball around midfield or worse with a timeout remaining and time for another play before a field goal attempt to tie the game. A runner-up here is James Butler, the Giants' starting free safety. Butler tied for the team lead in tackles, and more than one defensive coach told me after that game that he played perfectly from an assignment standpoint. He helped Webster and Sam Madison hold Randy Moss to only five catches for 62 yards.

Salomone: Fact – I'm biased here. Jay actually spent time in our digital group last year as part of a Player Engagement program. We put a big poster board of him sacking Tom Brady on the third-to-last play of Super Bowl XLII on an easel near his desk. People often overlook that final Patriots possession. In the pandemonium of what happened with the "Helmet Catch" and the go-ahead score by Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left, Brady – and Randy Moss, mind you – still had a couple cracks at it. New England needed only to get into field goal range to force overtime, but Alford's sack on second down put one of the final nails in the game. There were a few more heart-stoppers from Brady's cannon, but he couldn't connect with one of the best big-play receivers of all time.

Medow: Fiction -- First of all, the Giants' defense deserves credit for its effort against Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. That unit held New England to just 14 points. To put things in perspective, the Patriots hadn't scored less than 20 points in a game all season long, including the playoffs. Jay Alford had a key sack on the Patriots' final possession for a 10-yard loss and backed Brady and company to their own 16-yard line. That play can't be overlooked, but the unsung hero was Justin Tuck, who many felt was the MVP of the game. Tuck recorded two of the team's five sacks, collected six tackles, including five solo and two for a loss, and forced a fumble that Osi Umenyiora recovered when the Patriots entered Giants' territory late in the second quarter. Tuck did a little bit of everything to contribute to the victory.

4. What the Giants did to the Patriots offense in Super Bowl XLII was more impressive than what they did to Jim Kelly and the Bills in Super Bowl XXV.

Schmeelk: Fact -- The Giants held the Patriots to 14 points and under 300 total yards after New England averaged 36.8 points and 411 yards per game to lead the league. The Bills racked up 371 yards of total offense in Super Bowl 25 and scored 19 points. If Buffalo had committed to the run a bit earlier in the game, the result might have been different. The way the Giants shut down all aspects of the New England offense in Super Bowl 42 was a far more impressive performance.

Salomone: Fiction – More irony here. Bill Belichick was on both ends of this debate. His scheme in Super Bowl XXV is stuff of legend. He used extra defensive backs to take away Jim Kelly's deep options and instructed his players to hit hard to limit the short passing game. The plan, which is displayed in the Hall of Fame, limited the Bills to 19 points after they scored 44 in the Divisional Round and 51 in the AFC Championship Game. Of course, the Giants' offense also proved to be a great defense. They controlled the ball for over 40 minutes in that game. 

Medow: Fact -- Thanks to this, we'll avoid the fiction sweep. As I referenced in my previous response, the Patriots' offense was as close to a juggernaut as you'll find in NFL history. New England scored a NFL record 589 points and averaged nearly 37 points per game. That group posted 38 points or better in half of its regular season games. If that's not impressive enough, Brady set career highs in passing yards (4,806), passing touchdowns (50) and completion percentage (68.9). Despite that strong resume, the Patriots managed just 14 points and 274 total yards against the Giants. In comparison, the 1990 Bills scored 428 points (107 less than New England) and averaged nearly 27 points per game (10 less than the Patriots). The game certainly evolved between 1990 and 2007, so you have to take that into consideration, but the Bills scored less than 20 points four times during the regular season, so settling for 19 in the Super Bowl wasn't necessarily stunning.


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