Super Bowl loss bitter pill for 2000 Giants
No one should need a reminder of the stakes in a Super Bowl, but in case today's participants would like one, they can contact any Giant who participated in Super Bowl XXXV.
"There is no such thing as a second-place trophy in this business,'' coach Jim Fassel said 10 years later. "You're remembered for finishing it off and winning it.''
Such is the harsh reality of all sports championships, but none more so than in the NFL.
There might be no better example than the 2000 Giants, the only New York-area team ever to lose a Super Bowl and the only one to lose any league title game since 1963.
What about the 12-4 record? The No. 1 playoff seed? Fassel's famous guarantee of a playoff berth?
What about a staff that featured future Super Bowl head coaches John Fox and Sean Payton? (And a backup quarterback, Jason Garrett, who later would coach the Cowboys.)
What about the 41-0 dismantling of the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, followed by trash talk from Wellington Mara during the trophy presentation?
All mostly gone.
"It's a forgotten year despite how successful it was except for the Super Bowl,'' running back Tiki Barber said. "When I'm asked about it, it's only about the Super Bowl.''
Oh, that. The Ravens won, 34-7, with the only Giants points coming on a kickoff return.
Even for defensive end Michael Strahan and receiver Amani Toomer, who seven years later earned rings in Super Bowl XLII, their first visit still stings.
"That experience hung with me,'' Toomer said. "When Lawrence Tynes made that field goal , the first thing that went through my mind was, 'Oh, crap, we have to go back to the Super Bowl.' It was that horrible of an experience.''
Said Strahan: "I think the magnitude was overwhelming to us, whereas the second time, I remember myself and Amani Toomer had a chance to address the team and we told them, 'Hey, it's just a game. Everything around it is great, but let's not get caught up in it.' "
As much as that game defined a Giants era, it particularly defined their quarterback.
Kerry Collins, who had gone 28-for-39 for 381 yards and five touchdowns against the Vikings, went 15-for-39 for 112 yards and four interceptions against the Ravens.
"When you think great Giants quarterbacks, Kerry had some phenomenal times during that run and he doesn't even get brought up in the conversation,'' Toomer said. "But when I look at that game, I don't point the finger at Kerry; I point it at the game plan.''
Toomer lamented that the Giants changed the aggressive approach that landed them in Tampa, turning "tricky'' in a desperate attempt to counter the Ravens.
"You can't tell me until the day I die that coach Fassel wasn't scared of that Ray Lewis-Tony Siragusa defense,'' he said. "It makes me mad to this day.
"It was the worst game plan I have ever been a part of - college, pro, high school, elementary school.''
One strategy that bothered Toomer was trying to run around the Ravens rather than at them. The futility was best illustrated when Lewis ran down Barber at the sideline before he could turn upfield.
But Barber said running straight ahead was no solution, "not with Siragusa and [Sam] Adams in the middle.''
Fassel, who has coached the Las Vegas Locomotives to the first two UFL championships, said that as proud as he was of that season, "I don't go a week where I don't think about that game.''
He wonders if he was "maybe a little too rigid'' with players leading up to the game, but as for the plan and those Ravens: "Their defense was incredible. I never coached against a defense that good - never, never, never, never.''
Said Barber: "Kerry would call a play, get up to the line of scrimmage and look up, and it was a completely different defense.''
The Giants' lone chance to make a game of it evaporated when an interception return for a touchdown by Jessie Armstead that would have tied it at 7 was erased by a holding call against Keith Hamilton.
Unlike the 2007 Giants, Strahan said, that team was less suited to overcoming adversity in that setting.
Strahan recalled a penalty for having 12 men on the field in Super Bowl XLII, after which coach Tom Coughlin was "turning beet-red.''
Said Strahan, "I grabbed him and said, 'Don't worry, we got it.' . . . The first Super Bowl? I think it would have been like, 'Oh my goodness, that's the death sign.' "
The morning after the game, Fassel said, "We had a great year and a bad day.'' A decade later, he said he feels the same way.
But the penalty for that bad day was stiff.
"Our season was totally forgotten about, which is a shame, but to the victors go the spoils,'' Toomer said.
Said Barber: "I think it's lost. People don't talk about it. I think they have a vague memory of us being in the Super Bowl in 2000, but they don't appreciate that season.''
Strahan, who will analyze Sunday's game from the Fox set, said: "Very rarely do you remember second place. Unfortunately for one of these teams, they'll be forgotten.''
With Tom Rock