FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2008, file photo, New...

FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2008, file photo, New York Giants receiver David Tyree (85) catches a 32-yard pass in the clutches of New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison (37) during the fourth quarter of the NFL football Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Ariz. The game was highlighted by Tyree’s miraculous “Helmet Catch" for 32-yards. (AP Photo/Gene Puskar, File) Credit: AP/Gene Puskar

Wan’Dale Robinson’s first football memory came on Feb. 3, 2008, when the Giants beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. It wasn’t the iconic David Tyree helmet catch that caught his 7-year-old attention, nor was it the game-winning touchdown catch by Plaxico Burress, who wore the number 17 that  Robinson one day would sport for the same team.

Rather, it was the 50 pushups he had to do in his aunt’s Kentucky living room that night.

Robinson was rooting for the Patriots, he admitted in hushed tones in the locker room this past week, rooting for a perfect season from Tom Brady and Randy Moss. Robinson had bet his relatives on the game with the only collateral he had. So when Big Blue finished off its 17-14 victory, he hit the deck.

Jason Pinnock was a little older, so he has better recall of that game and the Super Bowl rematch a few years later. He  grew up in Connecticut, which was pretty much the dividing line between Giants and Patriots fans. But he always rooted for the Jets, so he tried to block those games out as best he could.

Other Giants have recollections of those moments, too, although some are fuzzier than others. Second-year players Micah McFadden and Dane Belton sat at their lockers trying to figure out which key plays — plays that they know mostly from YouTube highlights and annual retrospectives — occurred in which of the two Super Bowls between the teams.

Mostly, though, those images — ingrained in the minds of so many Giants fans as the pinnacles of their team’s accomplishments this century — are mere flickers of thoughts for the current players, who were barely old enough to stay up late and watch those epic Super Bowl games and grew up scattered around the country without as much interest in the teams.

All of them must have recognized just how intertwined the Giants and Patriots have become the moment they first walked into the facility in East Rutherford, though. Just about every hallway and meeting room is emblazoned with images of great moments in Giants history, and nearly all of those — at least the ones in vibrant color — are against the Patriots.

Etched in the glass of the cafeteria is Eli Manning throwing that pass to Tyree with New England defenders clawing at him. On the wall outside the weight room is a mural of past players tackling, blocking and running over Patriots. Two of the four Lombardi Trophies in the lobby are etched with the final scores and show New England as the vanquished opponent.

On some level, because of all the propaganda, they come to understand. The Patriots aren’t a division foe. They are something bigger. They are a defining foe. And on Sunday they’ll get the opportunity to make their own impact on this special rivalry . . .  even as the fates of both participants have rendered it something it hasn’t been since before many of the current participants were born: an afterthought.

This isn’t Eli Manning against Tom Brady for all the marbles, as it always seemed to be whenever they met.  Instead it’ll be the first game since 1999 without one or both of them playing. It’ll be Tommy DeVito against whichever of the three unimpressive names New England starts at quarterback. It’s the three-win Giants hosting the two-win Patriots. There is more jockeying for draft position going on in this contest than anything close to a playoff impact.

“It’s inconsistent with where the rivalry has been in the past for sure,” Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton said, “but there are some games that regardless of the circumstance have history and have a little bit more there.”

This still is one of them. But barely.

It likely means a lot more to the coaches involved. Bill Belichick gave Brian Daboll his first NFL job as a defensive assistant coach in 2000, and while Daboll has coached against Belichick more than a dozen times during his career since then, this will be their first head-to-head meeting as head coaches.

“I haven’t talked to Bill for a while, but it’s a good relationship,” Daboll said this past week. “I see him, say hello to him. Obviously, I’ve learned a lot [from him]. Got a lot of respect for him and everybody [in New England].”

That the coach Daboll replaced with the Giants, Joe Judge, is on staff with the Patriots and will be facing the Giants for the first time since he was fired brings another layer to the meeting.

Of course, Belichick himself has a long history with the Giants, having been the defensive coordinator for two Super Bowl-winning teams here (the two that didn’t come against the Patriots, obviously). But he has always spoken fondly about his time in New York coaching with Bill Parcells and Lawrence Taylor and the rest of the legends.

But no one is going to get a trophy on Sunday. No matter the outcome, neither team will paint its walls with images from this game. Amid a thick holiday plate of games in the course of four days this long weekend, Giants-Patriots is destined to be the yams at the dinner table. They’ll be served up more out of tradition than any desire for tastiness. No one will be asking for seconds.

The Giants and Patriots used to always mean something. A few times it even meant everything. Now it’s just another game in a forgettable season for both franchises.

It’s a bit sad to see this once vibrant, hostile, meaningful rivalry reduced to its current state of inconsequence. The Giants' collapse has been in the works for a while, but the Patriots’ fall has been much more precipitous since the departure of Brady after the 2019 season.

Giants rookie receiver Jalin Hyatt had to strain his mind to recall some of the details from the games when all eyes were on these two teams. He said he had a sense of “Eli doing his thing” against the Patriots, but he was just 6 years old when that first happened. It wasn’t a clear vision.

“It’s been a while,” he said, trying to squint into his own memories. “It’s been a long, long time.”

For those who remember with more clarity, whose lives as fans and as people were changed by those outcomes, who can rattle off the rosters and plays and mimic the radio calls of those games as if they had occurred last week and not approaching decades ago, Sunday’s shell of what used to be likely will make those days seem even longer ago than that.

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