EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – One of the Giants' most memorable, if disappointing, regular-season games of the last 15 years was the 2007 season finale against New England. The Patriots arrived at Giants Stadium hoping to complete a 16-0 regular season. The Giants jumped out to a 12-point third-quarter lead before New England rallied for a 38-35 victory.
Of course, the Giants ended the Patriots' perfect season five weeks later in a much grander setting when they earned a 17-14 triumph in an epic Super Bowl XLII.
But for Giants cornerback Sam Madison, the real life-changing event occurred in the regular-season game. No one could have known it at the time, but it was an injury that put him on a path toward participation this week in another Super Bowl, as the defensive backs/cornerbacks coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, who will face the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
Madison now works under two coaches who were with that Giants team – defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and secondary coach David Merritt.
"I think how I really got into it was going into Super Bowl XLII," Madison said this week. "I tore my abs in Week 17 against the New England Patriots. Tom Coughlin never really allows injured guys to travel, but I knew these guys had something special. So, throughout the course of the week, I would go in there, I'd do my treatment, yet still, I was on the football field. I was on the sideline and I was talking to him about this, talking to him about that. Nobody asked me to do it. We had a young football team (including cornerbacks Corey Webster and Aaron Ross). A lot of these guys were either rookies or second-year players, and I knew that they needed that support and that inspiration and to have them continue to work.
"Coach Coughlin, he noticed, as well as Coach Spags. They said, 'Sam, we never really have guys that are injured travel,' and then they asked me to travel. I traveled to Tampa (for the wild card game). We were able to win. Then we traveled to Dallas and won that game. I was able to come back for the NFC Championship Game and play in those last two games. Coach Spags kind of put it out there. When he went to St Louis (as head coach), he invited me to do the (minority coaching) internship for three years. For the last 10 years, I've been doing internships with different teams. Then coach (Roger) Harriot allowed me to come to St. Thomas (Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale) and work with his kids over there for two years (as an assistant coach). Coach Spags ended up calling me in February when I didn't expect or think anything, because I was getting ready for high school football again. It just was something that I was kind of thrust into and something that I've always loved."
"I told Sam back when he was playing for me in New York, 'Sam, you're going to become a coach,'" Merritt said. "'No, no, I'm not going to become a coach.' I said, 'Sam, mark my word, you're going to become a coach one day.' I said 'Sam, you're doing it now.' Little do you know, when we came here to Kansas City, all of a sudden, Spags asked me, he said, 'Dave, who do you have as your assistant right now? Give me some names.' I gave him a couple of names and Spags said, 'Well what about Sam Madison?' He's doing a heck of a job."
Madison had two tackles and knocked away a Tom Brady pass in the Giants' Super Bowl upset of the Patriots. But his overriding memory of the game has nothing to do with any particular play.
"What I remember is the confetti falling down and it was for us," he said. "I heard a lot of stories of guys saying, 'I love that confetti but it only feels good when you're the winner.' To have an opportunity to get that confetti and then now you sit there and you feel it and you're looking, and it's like, 'This is really for us.' You put in a whole lot of work and a lot of dedication, and you finally arrive and you've made it. That was the fun part."
That Super Bowl LIV will be played in Hard Rock Stadium is particularly poignant to the 45-year-old Madison. He played his first nine NFL seasons in that venue for the Dolphins. The Chiefs will use the locker room in which Madison suited up dozens of times. After finishing his career and three-year stay with the Giants in 2008, Madison returned here and worked for the Dolphins in several capacities, including broadcasting.
"It was bittersweet with the teams that we had," Madison said. "We always fell short. This is any player's dream, to play in a Super Bowl. Some guys have never been to the playoffs. You just work your tail off and then however it comes, it comes for you. It just so happens that this will be my second go-round. One as a coach now, and one as a player, and being able to win one as a player. Hopefully, I'll be able to win another as a coach."
Madison said he often thinks of the Giants' 2007 championship season.
"It was a special moment for us," Madison said. "We had an opportunity in Week 17 to knock off the undefeated Patriots. I always have a tie-in with the Dolphins. We had an opportunity to end that run and still have the Dolphins as the only undefeated team and we came up short. Looking back and knowing exactly what the '72 team, what it really meant to those guys, it felt like I let them down because I had an opportunity to really help them. But we were able to get our revenge in the Super Bowl. There's still only one undefeated team in the National Football League, and that's the 1972 Dolphins football team.
"That Giants team, it was really special. We created a bond. Nobody really gave us a chance, gave us a shot or really even put us in a situation to really win that Super Bowl. Because we lost in Week 17, they thought we were going to lose. But we had a chip on our shoulder. Those guys, that defensive line, they went out and they played their tails off. (David) Tyree and Eli (Manning) and Plaxico (Burress), they came up with some big plays in that game to help us get over the hump. I'll always remember that and be grateful for the Giants for even giving me an opportunity, because when I got released here with the Dolphins, I didn't know what I was going to do or if anybody really thought I still could play. They gave me a chance and I just wanted to go out there and prove my worth, and I was able to bring a championship to them."
What can he tell his young players who have never experienced a Super Bowl?
"It's going to be exciting," Madison said. "After the kickoff and all the lights are flashing there going off, it's just a regular football game. There are going to be one or two plays that are really going to determine this football game. You look at XLII, the David Tyree catch, Eli Manning escaping out of the pocket. I don't know who it's going to be, but when you have the opportunity, you just have to go out there and make the best of it and make those plays."
The biggest play Madison made was actually off the field. In 2016, his daughter Kennedy, who was then about to turn 11, suffered from kidney failure. She soon needed a transplant. When Sam proved to be a perfect match, he donated one of his.
"It was a no-brainer," Madison said. "I was like, 'When do we do it? I had over 13 surgeries in my NFL career. One more wouldn't hurt.'" Now, he said, Kennedy "is doing phenomenal."
Just like her dad.