Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Giants turn chills to thrills

Mike Lupica
New York Daily News
Monday, January 21st 2008, 11:03 AM

GREEN BAY - So this is how it ended for the Giants in the cold of old Lambeau Field, how it ended for one of the greatest games of football any Giants team has ever played, in the middle of one of the greatest stories any Giants team has ever written.

It ended with a kicker named Lawrence Tynes getting one more chance, because sometimes it happens that way for a kicker in football in what looks like one of those heartbreak games that stays with you forever.

It ended with Lawrence Tynes' kick hanging there in the cold night air, an epic cold even for Lambeau, the ball hanging there for what seemed like an eternity, floating along on the magic the Giants have going for them right now, before it fell through the goalposts at the Lombardi Avenue end of this place and sent the Giants back to the Super Bowl.

Nearly 50 years after Alan Ameche ran off tackle for the Colts and beat the Giants in overtime in what was then the most famous pro football game ever played, it was the Giants in overtime this time in Green Bay. It was Corey Webster of the Giants picking off the great Brett Favre at the start of overtime after the Giants had lost the toss, after the Packers had gotten that reprieve on a high Giants snap and a bad hook from Tynes when he was 36 yards away from the Super Bowl in Arizona with four seconds left in regulation.

So that is the way it ended, a game for all time between the Packers and Giants that put away all the ghosts and all the other famous football games these two teams had ever played, a game that was played at such a high level for most of the evening in these low, low temperatures. An amazing NFC Championship Game, one that will be talked about forever, but not because Tynes missed one with four seconds left.

Giants 23, Favre and the Packers 20. The Giants go to Arizona now and get another crack at the Patriots, and Favre does not.

When it was over, finally, as they were filing out in a Green Bay night that now made this seem like the coldest place on Earth, here outside the Giants locker room was Eli Manning, the best quarterback in the game last night, by a lot, standing with his mother and his fiancée and his father, Archie Manning, who never came close to a day like this in pro football.

Archie hugged Eli, then pulled away and said, "I'm awful proud of you."

Michael Strahan and the Giants celebrate at Lambeau Field.

His youngest son had completed 21 of 40 on this day for 254 yards, and moved the ball against the Packers all game long. So now the Giants have won 10 in a row on the road and won a game at Lambeau that goes in there with everything that has ever happened to this team, all the way back to old Tim Mara.

Somebody in the crowded hallway asked Eli Manning what he thought when it was all set up for Tynes to win the game in regulation and then he hooked it bad and hooked it left and the Giants and Packers were still playing in Green Bay on the last pro football Sunday before the Super Bowl.

"I thought, 'Well, we got another shot,'" Eli Manning said. "We'd been making plays all day long. We'd just have to find a way to make another."

Eli Manning smiled again and said, "I just told myself we were going to have to win the game all over again because we sure weren't losing it."

The Giants defense gave up a 90-yard touchdown pass from Favre to Donald Driver, but gave Favre all he could handle all the way into overtime. Plaxico Burress, even though he dropped one near the goal line late in the first half, played one of the best games any Giants receiver has ever played in a game like this (11 catches, 154 yards). And again, Webster stepping in front of Driver and picking off Favre when the Packers got the ball first in overtime.

But most of the time when it is all on the line, you need your quarterback to be the best in that game. Eli Manning was all of that yesterday, and all he has ever been, doing it in the cold of Green Bay, doing it when the wind chill factor was trying to get to 30 below at the end. Think about the way the kid threw the ball in weather like that, all game long.

"I'm still not sure who he is as a quarterback," Archie Manning said quietly before he got to his son, and then smiled and said, "but Eli Manning will sure have to do for now."

This wasn't the Giants coming from behind in one of those road games against an NFL nobody. This was the Packers at Lambeau, in what was supposed to be Favre's year. They seemed to have gotten a long touchdown run that would have won it, and then Ahmad Bradshaw's six got called back because of a hold. Eli Manning kept going.

Eli hit Steve Smith. Bradshaw ripped off another run. Tynes had the Super Bowl 36 yards away. Hooked another one. The Giants and Packers played on, on the second coldest day of football Green Bay has ever had, the coldest the Giants have ever had.

Eli was asked about the cold and said, "I stayed next to those heaters all day. I wasn't gonna get cold." He looked at his dad and said, "I was not gonna get cold."

He doesn't have to hear about his big brother Peyton today, or about the quarterbacks the Giants passed up to get him. The Giants don't have to hear about the famous Giants games of the past. Now they have this one of their own, 23-20 in overtime at Lambeau.

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