The 2008 Super Bowl stands out as a paragon of tension, clutch play and a shocking result. As the teams from Boston and New York meet again anticipation for the rematch is just as intense.
The day the New York Giants beat the perfect New England Patriots
Sufficient Super Bowls have been staged, 46 come Sunday, that many NFL fans have forgotten just how wretched this game was for most of its first two dozen stagings.
The event typically was marked by jittery execution and lopsided results, and an industry grew up around pundits who attempted to explain why the league's best teams so routinely produced such an awful spectacle.
For decades, Baltimore's 16-13 victory over Dallas in 1971 was held up as the gold standard for Super Bowl excitement despite the teams collaborating on 11 turnovers and the Cowboys taking 10 penalties for 133 yards. The final score was close and the decisive field goal came late; what do you want, good football, too?
The excitement produced by most of the past 10 championship games, however, has turned those early years into unpleasant memories for ageing Baby Boomers.
In particular, the 2008 Super Bowl stands out as a paragon of tension, clutch play and a shocking result.
New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14, and those of us who were in Glendale, Arizona, are unlikely to forget it.
The subplot which nearly devoured the game was this: the Patriots reached the championship game with an 18-0 record, and they were primed to eclipse the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the greatest team in the Super Bowl era. Those Dolphins went 17-0; these Patriots, overwhelming much the season, were about to be perfect over a longer campaign.
For three quarters, the game was a 7-3 affair led by the Patriots, the 12-point favourites to win. What few appreciated was the damage the Giants, better in both lines, were doing in the battle of big men, softening up the presumptive champions. When the fourth quarter arrived, the best Super Bowl erupted.
The Giants sprinted 80 yards in six plays for a go-ahead touchdown pass from Eli Manning to David Tyree. That was not the biggest play those two would produce.
The Patriots responded with an 80-yard drive of their own, regaining the lead at 14-10 on a touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Randy Moss with two minutes, 42 seconds to play, and that appeared to be that, the more accomplished team doing what they were supposed to do. Thanks, New York, for keeping it interesting.
The Giants, however, stunned the 70,000 in the University of Phoenix Stadium and nearly 100 million watching the game on television with an 83-yard drive that included the most amazing, astounding, ridiculous play in the history of the game.
On third-down-and-five, with the Giants still in their own half of the field and the punt team getting ready, Manning escaped heavy pressure (his jersey was nearly ripped off), rolled to his right and threw a long, desperately improvised pass towards Tyree, who was shadowed by Rodney Harrison, one of the finest defensive backs in the game.
Both men leapt for the ball. Tyree got his gloved hands on it, but one hand came off the ball as Harrison yanked at his right arm.
Tyree contrived to keep possession by pinning the ball, with his right hand, against his own helmet, something few have seen at any level of the game, and by the time he was on the ground he had secured it with both hands. (Replays showed the play to be even more remarkable than it appeared in real time.)
Four plays later, Manning threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds to play, and a superior Super Bowl was in the books.
Four years later, the same teams are back in the NFL's big event, and 2008 is never out of the minds of the protagonists, many of whom confronted each other four years ago. Both coaches, most of their assistants and something like 15 men who started the earlier game return for this one.
The Patriots and their fans see the Giants as the team that kept them from perfection because of the flukiest of fluke plays. The Giants, who again arrive at a Super Bowl in form, believe that if they could beat those Patriots they certainly can beat these Patriots, even if that is not the way most analysts see it.
That one team hails from Boston and the other from New York, cities with bitter rivalries across the spectrum of American sport, only adds to the interest.
But for the average fan, the enticement is this: these teams played the greatest Super Bowl only four years ago, and if they can deliver something like it we will be even more inclined to forget all those early abominations.