February 21, 2018

From Automatic Jack to The Galloping Ghost: The 1933 NFL Championship Game

Chicago Bears 23, New York Giants 21

Sometimes a championship game lives up to its name—and the first one ever played in the National Football League did. Wilfrid Smith wrote in the December 18, 1933, edition of The Chicago Tribune: “Bring out all the superlatives and shuffle them like you would a jigsaw puzzle. All will fit in a description of this championship game.”

1933 was a landmark year for the National Football League. After a dozen years of a revolving door existence, the NFL stabilized into two divisions of five teams each. The winner of each division would face off in a never-before-played NFL Championship. As it turned out, the game was played on December 17, 1933, on Wrigley Field in Chicago. The Bears (10-2-1) won the Western Division, while the New York Giants (11-3) won the Eastern Division.

Chicago was a fitting place for that historic event, because Bears founder, owner, and coach George Halas was a pioneer in the founding and developing of the NFL. Halas would, decades later, become an original inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Joining Halas on the 1933 Bears were fellow future Hall-of-Famers: legendary fullback Bronko Nagurski, end Bill Hewitt, left tackle Link Lyman, right tackle George Musso, and halfback Red “The Galloping Ghost” Grange, a legend who was on the downside of his career.

The visiting Giants had their own list of future Hall-of-Famers: halfback/kicker Ken Strong, end Red Badgro, end Ray Flaherty, center Mel Hein, and right tackle Steve Owen, who also served as the team’s head coach.

Players in those days deserve special commendation because the game was a lot less specialized, meaning the men played both offense and defense. Think the Wildcat formation with the running back taking the snap is something new? Think again. Back then, it was far more common for a running back to throw a pass, a quarterback to catch a pass, or an offensive lineman to run down field in hopes of catching a lateral.

In front of 26,000 fans at Wrigley Field, the players took the field. Sports historian Jeff Miller writes in his book, Papa Bear: “The Giants wore blue jerseys with red trim and white numerals, red pants, and blue helmets. The Bears came out in white jerseys, blue piping, and 20 orange helmets for the 22-man roster.” Miller also points out that Hewitt and Musso liked to play without helmets.

According to a website called Golden Rankings, the high temperature that day was 42 degrees. “A light rain fell in the first half with mist and fog hanging over the gridiron as the game began. The field was slippery, especially in the grassy spots.” Did the wetness dampen the game? It doesn’t appear that it did.

In the opening quarter, the Bears scored first on 16-yard field goal by “Automatic Jack” Manders. (Back then the goal post was located on the goal line.) Soon afterward, Automatic Jack hit a second field goal, this one from 40 yards out.

The Giants got on the board in the second quarter, when Harry Newman hit Badgro with a 29-yard touchdown. Strong kicked the extra point to put the Giants up, 7-6.

Just before halftime, Grange gained 17 yards on a gallop to the New York 9. However, Jack wasn’t Automatic, as he missed a field goal to allow the Giants to take their one-point lead to the half.

In the third quarter, the Automatic Jack put the Bears back up, 9-7, with his third field goal of the day.

Then the game turned into sandlot football.

The Giants scored on a 1-yard run by Max Krause to go back up, 14-9. The Bears had an answer.

Think Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles catching a touchdown in the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII win over the New England Patriots is something new? Think again. 84 years earlier, the Bears’ quarterback did something similar. On a fake punt, punter George Corbett threw to quarterback Carl Brumbaugh, who ran 67 yards to the 8-yard line. On the next play, Nagurski faked a run up the middle and threw a jump pass to rookie end Bill Karr for the touchdown. Automatic Jack’s extra point made the score, 16-14.

The Giants then drove to the Bears’ 8, and the third quarter ended. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Newman handed off to Strong, who lateraled back to Newman and took off for the end zone. With the Bears defense fooled, Newman hit a wide-open Strong for the touchdown. Strong’s extra point made it 21-16, Giants.

The Bears, refusing to let the Giants stay up, drove to the New York 33. Nagurski took a direct snap from Charles “Ookie” Miller and fired a bullet up the middle to Hewitt for 14 yards–and the play was not over. Hewitt lateraled to Karr 19 yards away from the end zone. Strong was in position to stop Karr, but George Ranzini cut him off, springing Karr for the touchdown. Automatic Jack kicked the final point of the day to make the score 23-21.

The Giants had one more chance. On the last play of the game, Newman, who finished 12 out of 17 for 201 yards, hit Dale Burnett with a long bomb. The Giants’ Hein ran downfield hoping to get a lateral. Grange, who was still a fine defensive player, wouldn’t have it. Grange wrapped Burnett up and took him down. Papa Bear Halas called it the best defensive play he ever saw. In front of the hometown fans, the Bears prevailed, 23-21.

Just Can’t Win, Baby

For their week ten match-up, the Oakland Raiders headed east to take on the New York Giants.  The Raiders were coming off a filthy and disgusting 49-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and the Giants were coming off a bye week.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowski had been suffering from sore ribs and didn’t look like he was feeling too well.  So, instead of his usual deep kick, he sent a knuckle-ball down the right side of the field.  It was picked up by wide receiver Jerrel Jerningan at the four-yard line and as he started to head up-field, the ball was knocked loose by cornerback Taiwan Jones and recovered by wide receiver Andre Holmes.  If Holmes had cut back inside, he most likely would have found the end zone.  But he was pushed out of bounds at the New York five-yard line.  Running back Rashad Jennings took the ball up the middle and was stopped at the one-yard line.  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor took matters into his own hands on the next play and dove over the top of the pile for a Raider touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 7-0 with 14:07 to go in the first quarter.

The Giants went three and out on their first possession and punter Steve Weatherford didn’t get off a very good punt.  But the ball did manage to get a good roll and was downed at the Oakland 27.  A 16-yard completion to tight end Mychal Rivera and a nine-yard scramble by Pryor had the Raiders in New York territory.  But a holding call on left tackle Khalif Barnes moved them back ten yards and the drive stalled.  Marquette King came on to punt and it was blocked by rookie defensive end Damontre Moore.  Safety Cooper Taylor picked it up and took it the rest of the way for a Giant touchdown.  Replay showed that Moore wasn’t even touched by a blocker and that led to probably one of the easiest blocked punts ever.  Kicker Josh Brown made the point after and the score was tied at seven with 9:22 to go in the first quarter.

The Raiders got the ball back at their 20 and only accumulated 16 yards on their drive.  King punted and the Giants took over at their 15.  Quarterback Eli Manning found wide receiver Victor Cruz for a gain of eight and running back Andre Brown ran up the right for seven more yards and a first down at the 30.  On second and nine from the 31, Manning was sacked by linebacker Sio Moore for a loss of 11 yards.  The ball came loose but Manning recovered it.  On third and 20, Manning tossed a screen pass to running back Peyton Hillis and he was hit by several Raiders.  The ball popped out and was recovered by defensive end Lamarr Houston.  This gave the Raiders great field position at the New York 21.  However, three plays netted exactly six yards and Janikowski was brought in for a 33-yard field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Raiders led 10-7 with 3:21 to go in the first quarter.

The teams traded punts and the Giants took over at their ten-yard line with 14 minutes to go in the second quarter.  Some big gains on the ground by Brown and completions to Cruz and wide receiver Rueben Randle moved them quickly to the Oakland 45.  Then it was time for wide receiver Hakeem Nicks to get in on the action and he caught two passes for 18 yards and the Giants were knocking on the door.  On third and four from the 17, Manning looked for Cruz, but the pass was incomplete.  But, fortune smiled on the Giants as Houston was flagged for jumping offside.  There is no excuse for jumping offside.  It’s pure stupidity and shows a lack of discipline.  That gave the Giants a first down at the 12.  On third and three from the five, Manning found Randle in the end zone for another Giant touchdown.  Brown made the point after and the Giants led 14-10 with 7:36 to go in the second quarter.

Jones had a good kickoff return and the Raiders started at their 41-yard line.  Two runs by Jennings moved the ball to the New York 48.  And then the flags came.  As the game wore on, I could tell that Pryor was nowhere near 100 percent.  He hurt his knee last week and was wearing a brace in this game.  With his patchwork offensive line letting defenders by on a regular basis, he was scrambling all over the place.  He was flagged for intentional grounding and then our good friend Barnes was flagged again for holding after a nice 20-yard run by Jennings.  On third and 34, Pryor looked for Streater and the pass fell incomplete.  That was a “drive” that started out with some hope and ended in total disaster.  King punted and the ball was downed at the New York three-yard line.  A couple of runs by Brown and a 25-yard pass to Randle got the Giants moving.  But on first down from the 37, Manning looked for Cruz up the right side and his pass was picked off by cornerback Tracy Porter and returned for a 43-yard touchdown.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 17-14 with 1:18 to go in the first half.  The Giants had some time to try and get in field goal range, but head coach Tom Coughlin opted for a couple of running plays.  That didn’t go over too well with the crowd and they let him know it as they headed for the locker room.

The Raiders started at their 20 and a nine-yard pass and a short run by Jennings got them a first down at the 30.  On third and two from the 38, Jennings took it up the right side for a gain 18 yards and a first down at the New York 44.  Two completions to wide receiver Denarius Moore netted another first down at the 13.  Another short run by Jennings and a neutral zone infraction on the Giants made it second and three from the six.  Jennings ran up the middle again and was dragged down at the one by safety Antrel Rolle.  But it got them a first down and they only had one yard to go.  In these kind of situations, I prefer to bring in the heavy formation.  Get as many big bodies in front of the running back as you can and plow a hole for him to run through or even have the quarterback take it over the top like they did in the first quarter.

I guess offensive coordinator Greg Olson doesn’t see it that way.  Jennings was stopped on first down.  No big deal.  Try running it again.  My wife was sitting there yelling “Give it to Reece!”  No.  Reece was nowhere to be found.  Then they called a passing play which was incomplete.  Then Barnes decided that no one was paying any attention to him and he decided to commit a false start penalty.  That moved them back to the six.  From the six, Pryor looked for Streater and the pass fell incomplete.  Another flag made an appearance and Jennings was called for holding.  The Giants declined it and Janikowksi made his 24-yard field goal attempt.  That put the Raiders up 20-14 with 6:56 to go in the third quarter.  How the hell can you move the ball 79 yards without much of a problem and when you have three opportunities to get one yard, you can’t do it?  Those three plays from the one were absolutely pathetic and should be used as an example of how NOT to score from the one-yard line.

The Giants went nowhere on their next possession and Weatherford’s punt went only 27 yards.  That gave the Raiders some nice field position at the New York 48.  On second and twelve from the 50, Pryor found Reece for a gain of 16.  They gained one yard on the next two plays and on third and nine, Pryor committed the ultimate sin.  Streater was wide open breaking across the middle, but Pryor looked for Moore on the right side and his pass was picked off by cornerback Terrell Thomas at the 30.  Thomas was dragged down by Holmes at the Oakland five-yard line.  As he was being brought down, the ball came loose and rolled through the end zone.  That would have been a touch-back, but Thomas was ruled down at the five.  Three plays later, Brown took it in from the one.  See?  The Giants know how to score from the one-yard line.  Brown made the point after and the Giants now led 21-20 with 2:15 to go in the third quarter.

The Raiders took over at their 30 and Pryor connected with Streater for a six-yard gain.  Then Barnes was flagged for holding again.  Maybe we should have Barnes switch sides and play for the Giants.  He’s hurting the team he plays for and he’s helping the team he’s playing against.  After that, the drive stalled and King punted again.  It was fielded by Randle at the 15 and returned to the 25.  On second and 14 from the 21, Manning hooked up with Nicks for a gain of 25 and a first down at the 46.  A 15-yard completion to Cruz and some more tough running by Brown got them a first down at the Oakland 21.  They would get as far as the five and have to settle for a field goal attempt.  The kick was good and the Giants now led 24-20 with eight minutes to go in the game.

Neither team did much with the ball on their next possessions.  With just under five minutes to go, the Raiders had one more shot to find the end zone.  Starting at their 33, Pryor was sacked by linebacker Keith Rivers.  From the 31, Moore caught a short pass and turned it into a gain of 15 yards and a first down at the 46.  The next two plays got them nowhere and on third and ten, Pryor had all the time he needed to find a receiver.  He stood tall in the pocket and he stood there and he stood there and he stood there.  I was having flashbacks to the days of JaMarcus Russell and screaming “THROW THE DAMN BALL!”  He didn’t throw it and eventually, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka threw rookie right tackle Menelik Watson aside and sacked Pryor.  The ball came loose and was recovered by defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins.  That pretty much sealed the deal and the Giants ran the clock out and came away with a 24-20 victory.  The win was their third in a row and their record improved to 3-6.  The loss was the second one in a row for the Raiders and they dropped to 3-6.

For the Raiders, Terrelle Pryor completed 11 of 26 for 122 yards, zero touchdowns and one very costly interception.  He also added 19 yards on the ground and ran for a one-yard touchdown.  Rashad Jennings did an admirable job filling for the always injured Darren McFadden.  He gained 88 yards on 20 carries and had 19 yards receiving.  As a team, the Raiders rushed for 107 yards on 25 carries.  Denarius Moore and Marcel Reece tied for the lead in receptions with three and Moore had the most receiving yards with 45.  Sio Moore led the team in solo tackles with eight and he also had a tackle for a loss and a sack.

For the Giants, Eli Manning completed 12 of 22 for 140 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  Andre Brown carried the ball 30 times and led the team in rushing with 115 yards and one touchdown.  All totaled, the Giants rushed for 133 yards on 38 carries.  Hakeem Nicks led the team in receptions with five and Rueben Randle had the most receiving yards with 50 and a touchdown.  Antrel Rolle led the Giants in solo tackles with ten and he was also credited with a sack and one tackle for a loss.

Unlike the game against the Eagles, the Raider defense played well enough to win this game.  They sacked Manning three times, forced turnovers and played very well overall.  The big problem was penalties.  The offside call on Houston on third and four was huge and kept a drive alive.  As I said before, Khalif Barnes had a horrible game with false starts and holding penalties.  The Giants should give him an honorary jersey for helping them out.  Still, the offensive line as a whole played badly and Pryor who was already nowhere near 100 percent rarely had time to find a receiver.  Here’s one more fun fact for you to chew on.  That loss was the 11th straight for the Raiders in the eastern time zone and they have not won a game in the eastern time zone since December of 2009 when they squeaked out a win in Pittsburgh.  That’s beyond pathetic.

Up next is another road trip and they will be heading to Houston to take on the Texans.  The Texans suffered their seventh loss in a row yesterday to the Arizona Cardinals and running back Arian Foster is lost for the year.  But, if the offensive line cannot contain J.J. Watt and the Houston defense, it’ll be another long day for the Raiders.  Maybe left tackle Jared Veldheer will be back to help them out.  We’ll see.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy


They Really Weren’t Giants, After All

After beating the New York Giants in a Thursday night affair the Chicago Bears have an opportunity to make it two straight wins over NFC East opponents when they visit the Redskins in Washington.

It used to be that beating the NFC East was difficult, dangerous and rare.  Now it’s mostly a matter of just showing up and not wearing a Jaguars jersey.

The Bears were not stellar in that 27-21 victory over the G-men, letting Brandon Jacobs step out from behind the counter at Arby’s to run for 106 yards and getting an extreme case of the lazydaisies before halftime by settling for a field goal and scoring just three points in the second half.

But Chicago did find the formula which has worked perfectly against the Giants this season: playing the Giants.

The Giants are terrible. Like, warm Diet Rite terrible.  And despite the Bears playing at times too tentative, being without All-Pro cornerback Charles Tillman and having just a few days rest after getting kicked in the bad bits by the Saints, they survived and are now 4-2.

Now, it’s on to the Redskins who are 1-4 and should have no playoff hopes except for the fact that they play in the NFC East where the first team to seven wins might be the winner and everyone else will be riding the Jadeveon Clowney wagon.

The big hope for the Bears entering this season was that, under Marc Trestman, they would finally become a potent passing team.  But with all the injuries on defense, a defense that was already showing a bit of age, Chicago might not be able to survive many shootouts and may have to return to its old smashmouth ways.  Run the ball, eat the clock, and give the defense time to rest and keep Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris on the sideline.

It’s an old strategy, but it might be a winning one.

Wednesdays With Football

Wednesday is a tepid sort, stuck in the middle of the week and invoking neither passion nor peril.  Like Indiana, the gallbladder or VH1, Wednesday just “is.”

The only good thing about Wednesday is its moniker, “hump day,” which causes children to snicker and men to daydream of their art teacher from middle school.  But other than that, Wednesday is merely a vehicle to get us from Tuesday to Thursday without having to live through Monday again.

Wednesday is so dumb and banal that the NFL hasn’t deemed it worthy of a game since the Rams defeated the Detroit Lions, 44-7, at the Los Angeles Coliseum on Wednesday, September 22 of 1948, back when L.A. actually had a football team, Jerry Jones had his original face and Tom Coughlin beat up his first punter.

Tom and Jerry were on center stage when the NFL finally returned to Wednesday as the league christened the 2012 regular season in the middle of the week so as not to overshadow President Obama’s Thursday speech at the Democratic National Convention.  Roger Goodell also got a really good deal on “Wednesdays Are for Jason Witten” bumper stickers.

In Wednesday’s tilt, the Dallas Cowboys beat the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, 24-17, in New Jersey, a state that in 1966 came frightfully close to outlawing Wednesdays.  The ‘Boys looked good as Tony Romo threw three touchdown passes, two of them to Kevin Ogletree whose contract stipulates that he only scores on days that begin with “W.”

The Giants were so-so which means they’re destined to finish 9-7 and win another Super Bowl.  The Super Bowl will be played in New Jersey in 2014 by which time cornerback Justin Tryon will have been burned by every receiver from Miles Austin to Austin Collie and perhaps the ghost of Don Hutson somewhere in-between.

But it’s just one game and, really, there should be no worries anywhere.  Not even about the replacement officials who blew their whistles a lot on Wednesday but didn’t seem to blow many calls.

Football is back.  And Wednesday returns to normal.

Poor thing.


The Draft From The Couch

It is 30 minutes before the beginning of the 2012 NFL Draft.  I have been watching the draft since ESPN started televising it long ago.  I saw many of those early drafts without planning on seeing them.  Skipping school was a frequent event in my middle school and high school days.  I just put on the TV and once again the draft was on.  Now the draft is in “Prime Time” as Chris Berman would say.  Berman has been at the draft since I was a kid.  Now, at 45, I still watch Berman host this well-watched event.  For us football junkies, the draft is an event which now calls for a few beers, a few cheers and a few jeers.

As I wait to see Andrew Luck get picked number one, I wonder who the Giants will draft.  Last season, the Giants and their GM were ripped for not signing a tight end and a wide receiver.  Well, we all know what happened (I will remind those who don’t remember – Super Bowl Champions!!)  Jake Ballard excelled early in the season, making us Giants fans forget about the reliable Kevin Boss.  With the loss of Steve Smith and early injuries, it looked like the receiving corp was going to be weak and Eli was going to throw a few extra picks like the 2010 season.  Then came Victor Cruz.  Steve Smith who?  Cruz became Manning’s go-to guy.  Fans of the Jets figured that out late in the season.  Mario Manningham came up big often as well.  His catch in the Super Bowl is legendary.  So here we are a year later.  The Giants are in the same situation.  Ballard looks like he will be out all of 2012 and Manningham is now a 49er.  Hakeem Nicks and Cruz leave the Giants with one of the best one-two punches in the NFL but that third receiver and a top-notch tight end are needed to keep the Giants offensive attack potent. 

The Giants also lost their all-time leading rushing touchdown leader, Brandon Jacobs to those 49ers.  So “Earth” and “Wind” are gone, leaving “Fire” alone in the backfield.  “Earth” is Jacobs and “Wind” was Derrick Ward.  “Fire” or Ahmad Bradshaw is a good back and can be great at times, but he needs help.  I am not sad to see Jacobs go.  I can tolerate some of the off the field issues and the media outbursts, but watching him stop and run sideline to sideline instead of running straight ahead without stopping and flattening out would-be tacklers drove me crazy!  (Wow, Gary Clark, Jr. is playing the opening of the draft with rapping Ray Lewis.)  So, good-bye Jacobs.  Thanks for the memories but bring on the next Giants back.

The Giants need more than a receiver, a tight end and a running back.  The offensive line could use a little help.  Special teams need a real threat.  (Luck is now a Colt!)  Will Domenik Hixon return healthy and return kicks?  After a few years of injuries, he should probably only be a receiver.  A back who could return punts and catch some passes out of the backfield would be good.  On defense, the G-Men could always use another defensive back.  Terrell Thomas will be back.  He should have been in the Pro Bowl for the 2010 season he had.  The early season injury last year was devastating.  (RG3 is now a Redskin. I look forward to watching him against the G-Men for many years.)  I also think the Giants could draft a future replacement for either or both Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka, who will both be unrestricted free agents after the 2012 season.

Since the Giants will be drafting late in the rounds, they will be looking for the best player available that fits their many needs.  Although they have needs, the Giants will be fine.  They are usually competitive and I feel that expectations are higher than after they won the Super Bowl in February 2008.  (Trent Richardson is now a Brown! I really like Richardson and feel he will be in Canton one day if he can stay healthy.  Sorry Jets fans.)  Manning is probably the reason for those higher expectations.  He was stud last season and looks ready to play consistently at a high level. 

The Vikings are up and they will most likely pick Matt Kalil, the OT from USC.  (They just did.)  It is sad to see how the Vikings dropped to just 3-13 last season.  I bet Vikings fans miss the 2009 Brett Favre .  (Jaguars pick Justin Blackmon with the 5th pick.  Too early to pick him?)  Who will be the first defensive player picked?  (Good time for me to get a beer.)  Now we know, the Cowboys pick Morris Claiborne.  If any team needs a defensive back, it is Dallas. 

Looks like the Rams are collecting picks.  The Bucs pick Alabama safety Mark Barron.  He is going to punish a few receivers during his NFL career.  I like this pick and reminds me of those days when the Buc defense was dominant. (Fans are chanting “Dolphins suck”.)  The Dolphins are up next and should pick Ryan Tannehill with the eighth pick. Yup, they did.  Big guy.  Panthers select tackle-machine Luke Kuechly, a linebacker out of Boston College.  Solid pick.

So nine picks are in.  Bills are up.  They select CB Stephon Gilmore from South Carolina.  He skipped his senior year and gets picked tenth.  Good move on his part.    The Chiefs select DT Dontari Poe from Memphis.  Wow!  He is wearing a huge, sparkling watch.  Not a fan of the watch.  I stopped wearing a watch several years ago since cell phones have the time.  Why the watch?  The Eagles pick a DT too.  It is Fletcher Cox out of Mississippi State.  Twenty more picks before the G-Men.

The Cardinals pick the big WR out of Notre Dame, Michael Floyd.  I like Floyd more than Blackmon.  He is a nice complement to Larry Fitzgerald.  No giant watch either.  Great pick!   Will the Rams pick or make another trade?  I am a Rams fan.  I have been since the days of Fred Dryer, Lawrence McCutcheon and Jack Youngblood.  The Rams do pick and select Michael Brockers,  a DT out of LSU.   Great beard.  Lebron, your beard sucks compared to Brockers.  6’5”, 322 pounds!

Bruce Irvin is selected by the Seahwaks.  He is a pass-rushing linebacker with off-the-field issues from West Virginia.  Mel Kiper is going nuts saying he is a second-round pick.  Go Mel!  Up next, the Jets.  Here we go.  Will the crowd jeer or cheer?  Will they pick another quarterback?  Will they take LaMichael James since they could not trade up for Richardson?  No, they go DE by picking Quinton Coples from North Carolina.  Will he be better than Vernon Gholston?

Cincinnati is on the clock.  Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are young stars and need a third young star at the running back position.  But the Bengals go Dre Kirkpatrick, the CB from Alabama.  The Bengals drafted here for a need.  I don’t like it.  They could have grabbed a CB in free agency and picked the best available player in the draft.  I would have went with an offensive lineman instead like David DeCastro from Stanford or Riley Reiff out of Iowa. 

The Charges pick DE Melvin Ingram from South Carolina.  He is quick and physical.  Nice pick for the Bolts.  He should bring back memories of a healthy Shawne Merriman.  The Bears pick LB Shea McClellin from Boise State.  He beats Doug Martin and Kellen Moore off the board.  The Titans are up next and the Pats moved up to the 21st pick.  The second Baylor Bear is picked.  The Titans take WR Kendall Wright.  The Pats pick Syracuse DE Chandler Jones as their choice.  Good pick by the Pats who need some help on defense.

The Browns are up next and pick 28-year-old Brandon Weedon!  Wow!  Is the Colt McCoy era already over?  Madden cover-star Calvin Johnson announces Riley Reiff as the Lions pick.  Great pick!  Matthew Stafford should be happy.  He is almost 6’6” and 313 pounds.  Steelers pick DeCastro.  Awesome!  I am also a Steelers fan and love this pick.  Will they pick a back with their next pick?  The Pats got another pick and select Dont’a Hightower, the LB from Alabama.  Again, the Pats pick a defensive player and that is what they need to do.  Patriot fans should be happy with these two first-round picks.

I’m getting nervous.  Will TE Coby Fleener be available when the Giants pick?  Fleener (6’6”, 244 pounds) would give the Giants the TE they desperately need.  Whitney Mercilus gets picked by Houston with the 26th pick.  He is a big DE that may help fill the void left behind with the loss of Mario Williams to Buffalo.

The Bengals are picking again and take Kevin Zeitler, an OG from Wisconsin.  So they get the offensive lineman I suggested prior.  Wisconsin plays a pro-style offense so he should easily take his place on the line to protect the young Dalton.  They should take the best available back with their next pick. 

Green Bay is up next.  Will they take a running back?  Doug Martin might be a good fit.  But it is probably defense.  It is and they choose Nick Perry from USC.  He was a DE in college but will probably be a LB in the NFL.  Up next are the Vikings, the 49ers, the Bucs and the Giants.  The Vikings select Harrison Smith, a safety from Notre Dame.  OK, two more picks and then the G-Men.   The 49ers go WR with A.J. Jenkins out of Illinois.  Now the Bucs after trading up.  They pick Doug Martin.  Good pick for them.  Martin and LeGarrette Blount in the same backfield.  Not too shabby!

The Giants are up next with the 32nd and last pick of the first round.  Will they take the TE Fleener?  Or do they surprise and take LaMichael James?  Or what about offensive line?  Here is the big moment.  The Giants take RB David Wilson from Virginia.  Well, I wasn’t expecting that.  I thought the big tight end would be the pick or an offensive lineman.  Wilson is fast and a great athlete.  He also returns kicks and catches passes.  So I am happy to have the next Giants back but I am anxious to see if we get a tight end, an offensive lineman, a few defensive players and another receiver.  (At least we are all set at punter.)  Well, that is why the draft is so great.  More rounds to come.  But that is tomorrow night.  I can now go to sleep and dream about future Giants and future Super Bowl championships.

Peyton, Out of Place

Imagine Magic Johnson wearing a Celtics jersey, or Yogi Berra playing for the Dodgers.  How about Walter Payton with a “G” on the side of his helmet or Richard Nixon skinny-dipping at the Kennedy Compound?

More strange sights, actual ones, are ahead now that Peyton Manning is leaving Indianapolis to play for the Jets?  Dolphins?  Jaguars?  Chiefs?  Broncos?  Seahawks?  Pride of Southland Band?  Old number-18’s departure from the Colts was inevitable and it’s the right move for Indianapolis.  Only the late-great Al Davis would give a $28 million roster bonus to a soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback with a bad neck and possibly no chance of growing a mustache.

The Colts might not be better off this season without Manning but, in the long-run, it had to happen.  If Indy only owed the four-time MVP, say, $10 million, and two potentially great quarterbacks weren’t available in the draft, and if the Colts didn’t have the number one pick, and if Curtis Painter didn’t have that cool hair well, then, Peyton should be staying put.  But things are far different.  It’s sad, it’s tough, but it’s necessary.  If Manning plays another three or four years or more at a Peyton Manning-level then the horse shoes will look like a horse’s ass.  But what are the odds that a guy who has been in the league since the Clinton years can continue to excel into Rick Santorum’s first term? (Joke! Just a joke! We all know Ron Paul is going to win.)

So where does Mr. Manning and his 54,828 yards, 399 touchdowns, fragile vertebrae and bruised ego go?  Do you think he’ll call Ryan Leaf for advice?  Maybe Peyton’s father, Archie, can engineer a deal with the Giants.  Whoops, too late, that was the deal for the other son and a damn good one for both Eli and New York.  So maybe, Archie convinces little Peyton to go to the other New York team, the Jets.  Is New York big enough for two Mannings? (Plus one Jeremy Lin?)  Next season’s Super Bowl will be played in New Orleans, which is where Eli and Peyton grew up.  The year after that it will be held at the Meadowlands.  A Manning v. Manning Super Bowl on their home turf.  Wow!  Chris Berman is already excited and the rest of us are already nauseated.

Speculation as to where Peyton will go will get more attention over the next few weeks than Ann Romney’s Rolex collection.  But whatever happens, it probably won’t feel as funky as we fear.  In 1973, the Colts traded Johnny Unitas to the San Diego Chargers.  In 1920, Babe Ruth went from the Red Sox to the Yankees.  Khloe Kardashian used to be a man.  Things change.  People move on, old storylines die, new ones emerge. And, just so long as Gregg Williams isn’t mad at us, we’re all going to survive.



Super Bowl Week Experience: The Real Game Before The Game

The National Football League, the greatest marketing machine in the Western Hemisphere, held it’s biggest event of the year a few Sundays ago in Indianapolis. The Super Bowl has become known not just for the game, but for its ability to become the epicenter of North America, for one week every year wherever it is held. This year the New York Giants and New England Patriots faced off on February 5, 2012 for the NFL title, but the real game came well before those two teams faced off to see who would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

The NFL schedules the Super Bowl two weeks after the NFC and AFC champions are crowned for several reasons. The first, being for the scheduling of travel arrangements for the teams participating in the game and their respective families. The second, being to drive up the hype for the game by using the media to keep the NFL in the spotlight and in the hearts of its fans.

This year Indianapolis became one of the few cold weather cities ever to host a Super Bowl. Lucas Oil Stadium, the home field of the Indianapolis Colts for those that have never been there, is one of the most beautiful stadiums you will ever see. The sight lines from every seat in the stadium are breathtaking, making every fan feel as if they have the best seat in the house regardless of where they are sitting. The stadium is decorated with murals and photographs of Peyton Manning everywhere you look making it clear that this is the house that Peyton built. Unfortunately, the way it looks now Peyton may have played his last game as a Colt, but that is a story for a different day.

The NFL adopted new policies during several of the pre-game events. The first being the selling of tickets to the media day event. This event is set to give the media covering the event access to the players for a specified amount of time, helping to fill notebooks and tape recorders for that week’s news stories. The bigger the star the bigger their presence at media day. Eli Manning and Tom Brady are supplied with a podium, microphone, and signage to identify them. The unknown offensive lineman is left wandering and hoping someone notices them and wants to hear what they have to say. Now that it is open to the public, for a fee, the event has more professional autograph seekers present than media.

The other event that the NFL opened to the public was radio row in the media center. Every year the NFL designates a hotel or convention center for the media to use as a base of operations. The Super Bowl media center is where every public relations guru wants to be, pushing their movie, book, or whatever project they may be involved in. Where else can you see Tim Tebow, swimsuit model Kate Upton, and comedian Adam Sandler standing within a few feet of each other. This year the general public was allowed into the center of the radio area and were now able to watch the who’s who of entertainment and sports making the rounds at all of the different broadcast tables. While I am sure that the fans were glad to have this look behind the curtain, it just made an already chaotic event that much more difficult for both the broadcasters and their guests. While most fans in attendance were respectful, there were professional autograph seekers with duffel bags full of items, looking for autographs to sell on eBay. After seeing these professional stalkers in action, I can see why some celebrities now refuse to sign autographs for fans. It appeared that the bigger the broadcaster, the larger the space they were allotted in the center. The Jim Rome Show, Sirius NFL Radio, and ESPN had the largest areas on radio row, while some of the smaller 1000 watt AM radio stations were left with a five-foot table and just happy to be in the room. The biggest thrill was not meeting Curt Shilling, Adam Sandler or any of the other celebrities in attendance, but instead the realization that if you had a media credential you could take all of the bottled water, coffee or ice cream sandwiches you could consume. Now I know how the other half lives.

The Super Bowl’s biggest fan event that week was the NFL Experience at the Indiana Convention Center. The NFL set up several events in the convention center, including events where you could test your throwing and kicking ability — all for a twenty-five dollar daily entrance fee and the signing of a liability waiver. The event was a football fan’s dream with appearances by the biggest stars in the game, including Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Tony Gonzalez and many others. They signed autographs and took pictures with fans, for get this, no additional fee. The only drawback was that the average line to wait for one of these free autographs was over an hour and for the bigger stars, such as Drew Brees, well over two. It was at this event that I realized that I, like many more of the fans inside, had become hypnotized by the machine known as the NFL. Throughout the convention center there were refreshment stands set up because you were not allowed to bring any type of food or drink inside, which was enforced by event security through intense bag checks. When I felt parched, I approached a refreshment stand and asked for a Pepsi, which was in a twenty-ounce bottle. The worker at the kiosk said that the Pepsi cost four dollars. With a smile on my face, I handed over a five-dollar bill without a complaint. As I turned away from the refreshment stand it crossed my mind, if I had been anywhere else and they told me a Pepsi cost four dollars, I would have complained and walked out just on principle. However, the NFL had all in attendance somehow hypnotized into thinking this drink deal was a bargain. I did draw the line at the twenty-dollar popcorn bucket that was smaller than medium size movie popcorn. The best way to describe the NFL Experience would be Disneyland for football fans. You will have a great time, be exhausted when it’s over, and horrified when you later realize how much you spent.

Super Bowl week is also known for its collection of celebrity parties. Several organizations hold events for charity and deliver as promised, such as Ron Jaworski’s Jaws Youth Playbook foundation and the Gridiron Greats. Events like those bring fans together with celebrities for a good cause. These organizations leave the fans in attendance fulfilled with the experience of meeting their childhood heroes, while raising money for a good cause.

On the other hand, for every great organization looking to raise money for charity, there is a party promoter trying to pull a fast one. All through the city you will hear of events where the top celebrities will be partying and you too can attend these exclusive events if you are willing to fork over $500 to $1500. Many of these parties have fine print on the admission ticket saying that the celebrities listed on the ticket were only invited and that there was no guarantee they would actually attend. Most pre-Super Bowl parties are bait and switch events where you have horrible bar food, bottom shelf liquor and a wave from a B-list celebrity, who leaves as quickly as they entered, often collecting a cash envelope for that brief appearance. I would recommend that if you have any intention of attending the Super Bowl that you thoroughly research events and look for feedback from others that have attended the parties thrown by these organizations/promoters in the past.

Now to the big game, which after all of the hoopla and exhausting events on the days leading up to the main event, now almost seemed secondary. The price gouging in Indianapolis on game day was incredible with parking garages around the stadium charging $200 to park. To avoid the obscene parking prices, many fans took taxis to the stadium. A quarter-mile ride was twenty dollars, but seemed a bargain to the parking cost. The security to enter a Super Bowl stadium took hours to navigate and is just as strict as what the TSA employs at major airports. Many fans enter the stadium up to four hours early just to make sure they are inside for kickoff. Just imagine if you had to get 70,000 people through a TSA checkpoint at the airport in time for a flight. If you try to get in less than an hour before kickoff, odds are you will miss most of the first quarter.  Despite all of the difficulty getting in, the game did not disappoint with the Giants hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. As soon as the confetti fell, the battle to get home began. The taxis lined up outside Lucas Oil were trying to charge fifty dollars for the same ride I paid twenty dollars for just hours earlier. After haggling and the threat of calling a state trooper, who was working the security detail, over to the taxi the price dropped considerably. As fast as the city of Indianapolis became the center of the world, it just as quickly emptied and within a day was back to business as usual.

The events before the Super Bowl are each an event unto themselves. If you have the opportunity to ever attend “The Big Game”, be prepared, be rested and have a wallet full of cash and an available credit line. While I am still a huge fan of the game of football, the look behind the curtain has opened my eyes to the fact that it is really only a business. While you can love the NFL with all of your heart, it will only really love you back if you have enough money. Knowing that, I still plan on watching football every Sunday next season, but now with my eyes wide open and one hand firmly on my wallet.



January 24, 2012

The New York Giants entered the postseason with the worst record of any NFC playoff team and now, a few weeks later, they’re headed to the Super Bowl and are building their resume as perhaps the greatest franchise in the history of the NFL.

Let’s look things over:

The Giants are playing in their fifth Super Bowl, trailing only the Dallas Cowboys, (8) Pittsburgh Steelers, (8) New England Patriots, (7 including this year) and Denver Broncos (6) and are tied with the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins.

And, as Giants fans who are little gray around the temples and/or fans of ESPN Classic will tell you, the G-Men were also involved in big games long before they called them Super Bowls and debuted the “A-Team” afterwards.  Between 1933 and 1963 the New York Giants appeared in the NFL Championship game 14 times, basically every other year, and more than any other team.  The problem is the Giants sported a record of just 3-11 in those title games and, yes, there were a lot fewer teams competing back then.  But still, all told, the Giants are now one of the last two teams standing for 19th time in their history, more than any other team.

And while the Giants are certainly not proud of that 3-11 championship game record, some of those losses came in epic games including “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” which was New York’s 23-17 overtime loss to the Baltimore Colts in the 1958 title game at Yankee Stadium.

The Giants were voted NFL champions in 1927 back before title games were played, then won three NFL championship games and then three Super Bowls.  Add it up and the Giants have won it all seven times, putting them only behind the Packers, who have won 13 titles, and the Chicago Bears, who have won nine.

How about great players?  The Bears lead the NFL with 30 Hall-of-Famers, the Washington Redskins are next with 28 (some guys are listed twice on the Hall of Fame website, or on two different teams, it’s very confusing but this is the best true calculation I can come up with) and the Giants are next with 27.

What about cultural impact?  The Giants hail from New York and if you can make it there, so the song says, you can make it anywhere, and succeeding in New York seems to hold greater weight than being the top dog in Green Bay or Denver.  No, the Giants aren’t icons like the New York Yankees and have never been sexy like the Cowboys or flashy like the Los Angeles Lakers but they have been consistent contenders since the days of Babe Ruth, probably have more fans than any other NFL team except for perhaps the Cowboys or the Bears and once had a player named Tuffy Leemans – how cool is that?

Maybe the Giants aren’t the greatest franchise in NFL history.  The Packers can stake a claim, so can the Bears, Steelers, Cowboys and maybe even the Patriots.  But if a team is measured by the number of seasons it keeps its fans interested until the very end, the number of players it sends to Canton, and looking cool in blue, then the New York Giants might deserve the vote.  And if Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Justin Tuck and the rest of the G-Men can knock off the Patriots on February 5 it won’t just be a victory, but another Giant step toward football history.


A Backgrounder on the 49ers and Giants in the Playoffs

During the ‘80s the 49ers and Giants matched up four times in the playoffs, twice in San Francisco and then twice in the Meadowlands. Here, adapted from my e-book covering the 49ers under Bill Walsh, are summaries of these four games, followed by quick notes on the teams’ three following playoff games and a wrapup of the Giants-49ers playoff rivalry. I do not claim that looking back at these games has any predictive value for the NFC title game Sunday, but the renewal of a rivalry that goes more than 30 years back is a welcome occasion to reflect on the clashes between two of the great teams of the past few decades.

In a game deeply overshadowed by the next week’s title game vs. the Cowboys, the 49ers beat the Giants, 38-24, at Candlestick. In the second quarter, a Ricky Patton 25-yard run produces a 24-7 lead for the Niners. But the Giants come back and, in the third quarter, go on a drive that puts them at the SF 11, hoping to tie the game at 24 with a touchdown. A fine defensive play by Eric Wright and following missed 21-yard field goal by the Giants’ Joe Danelo leaves the 49ers still up 24-17. A 49er touchdown on a short drive and then a second touchdown on a 20-yard Ronnie Lott interception return late in the fourth quarter seals the game.

Afterward, Giants coach Ray Perkins predicts: “Next Sunday the Cowboys will win. The Cowboys are a better football team. That’s nothing against the 49ers, but the Cowboys have been in this situation before and they’re a better football team.”

Giants linebacker Harry Carson: “During the week you only have time to work on so many things. But the 49er passing game is so complex, so sophisticated, there just isn’t time to work on everything that they might use against you.”

49ers tight end Charle Young: “Montana is a winner. I can see it in his eyes.”

As in the 1981 playoffs, the 49ers start their trip to the Super Bowl at home, playing the Giants. Excellent defense and competent but not memorable offense gives the 49ers a 21-10 win. There is not a lot of interesting detail to this game, which in retrospect was a sign that the Giants, who intercept Joe Montana twice, including a 14-yard Harry Carson return for the team’s one touchdown, were ready to handle the 49ers’ complicated offense.

Bill Walsh: “The Giants are definitely a team of the future.”

Joe Montana: “I expected more of Lawrence Taylor coming. I got enough of him, but I expected a lot more.”

The Giants, playing at the Meadowlands, swarm the 49ers for a 17-3 win in the wild card round. The 49ers come into the game banged up from accumulated injuries to Montana, Dwight Clark, Wendell Tyler, and others. An interception of Montana by Terry Kinard sets up one Giants touchdown, and a second touchdown drive gives the Giants more than enough points. Although the 49ers get into Giants territory repeatedly, stout defense and drops by San Francisco receivers prevent the drives from coming to much. A crucial second-quarter, 15-play 49er drive ends in a 21-yard field goal instead of a touchdown.

The Giants get a superb 174 rushing yards, 141 of them from Joe Morris, and put a lot of pressure on Montana, while not allowing him any deep completions.

Lawrence Taylor: “One thing that I think intimidated the 49ers was that long (15-play) drive. They scored three points, and we got three penalties. They were aggressive penalties. We’d get one, and we acted like we didn’t care as long as we were hitting somebody. I think it was enough (for the 49ers) to say, ‘Hey, these guys are crazy.’”

Back in the Meadowlands, the Giants annihilate the 49ers in a 49-3 win. Jerry Rice starts the game with probably his most humiliating play: after catching a slant-in throw from Montana, Rice starts running in the clear, but at the Giant 27, he simply loses the ball from his hands, and Giants strong safety Kenny Hill falls on it in the end zone for a touchback. The Giants respond with an 80-yard drive to go up 7-0, and the second quarter features a midfield interception by the Giants’ Herb Welch to set up Joe Morris for a 45-yard touchdown run, a 57-yard touchdown drive late in the quarter, and a 34-yard Lawrence Taylor interception return for another score just before halftime. On that Taylor play, a frightening hit from future 49er Jim Burt takes Montana out of the game with a concussion. It’s 28-3 at the half, and the rout is really on.

The Giants add three more touchdowns in the third quarter, and so the fourth quarter’s just a matter of running out the clock for both teams. It’s the third-biggest blowout in the history of the NFL playoffs, and the Giants are on their way to a Super Bowl victory.

Rice on his fumble: “I wanted to keep on running into the locker room.”
Lawrence Taylor said that if Rice had scored that “would have made it 49-10.”

Walsh: “We were shattered by a great team. The Giants played a great game. Physically, they just shattered us.”

Giants quarterback Phil Simms: “We were fortunate that we caught them in a few things today, caught them in some blitzes and we made the plays. People say we don’t have good wideouts, but put them across the field and you can’t cover them one-on-one.”

1990, 1993, 2002
After the 1990 season, the Giants came into Candlestick for the NFC title game and won, 15-13, in the most memorable game these two teams have had in the playoffs. A late-game Roger Craig fumble set up Jeff Hostetler to lead about a 45-yard drive ending in a 42-yard Matt Bahr field goal for the win. This game signaled the end of the Montana-led 49ers, as the quest for three titles in a row ended with Montana devastated by a fourth-quarter Leonard Marshall hit, and Craig and Ronnie Lott playing their last game in San Francisco. In 1993, the 49ers to some extent paid the Giants back for 1986 by beating them 44-3 in the division round, a game that featured five Ricky Watters touchdowns. But the 49ers promptly lost their second NFC title game in a row to the Cowboys. And then, after the 2002 season, there was the memorable 39-38 49ers victory in the wild card round, with San Francisco overcoming a 38–14 deficit by scoring 25 points in the second half. A last-minute Giants drive ended with a botched field goal snap and desperation heave to the end zone that fell short.

So in sum, the seven playoff matchups have the 49ers winning four games, the Giants winning three. Gauged by points, the 49ers lead, 161 to 156; the Giants have beaten the 49ers twice on the way to Super Bowl victories, and the 49ers have beaten the Giants twice on the way to Super Bowl victories.

Giants 37, Packers 20

After defeating the Atlanta Falcons at home last week, the New York Giants made it to the next round of the playoffs and headed up to to the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion, Green Bay Packers.

The Giants got the ball first and started at their own 20.  Quarterback Eli Manning completed passes to wide receivers Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz that moved the ball to the Packer 42.  A short run by running back Ahmad Bradshaw and a 13-yard pass to tight end Travis Beckum got the Giants a first down at the Packer 18.  They would get as far as the 13 and kicker Lawrence Tynes made a 31-yard field goal to give the Giants an early 3-0 lead with eight and a half minutes to go in the first quarter.

Packer kick returner Randall Cobb returned the kick to the Packer 21. On the return, it looked like he fumbled, but the replay showed his knee was down.  Two passes from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to tight end Jermichael Finley and a pass to wide receiver Greg Jennings got them to the  Giant 31.  The drive would stall at the 29 and kicker Mason Crosby made a 47-yard field goal to tie the game at three with five and a half minutes to go in the first quarter.

On third and 11 from their own 19, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks caught a pass for 15 yards to move the ball to the 34.  Manning found Nicks again on the very next play.  Nicks caught the pass, bounced off some Packer defenders and ran the rest of the way for a 66-yard touchdown to give the Giants a 10-3 lead.

The kickoff by Tynes went out of bounds and the Packers got good field position at their own 40.  Some running by Rodgers and running back Ryan Grant moved the ball to the Giant 49.  An 11-yard pass to wide receiver Jordy Nelson gave them another first down at the 38.  From the 38, wide receiver Greg Jennings caught a six-yard pass and appeared to fumble.  Replay showed the play over and over again and it sure looked like the ball was coming out before his knee was down.  But the replay official didn’t see it that way and ruled Jennings was down.  An offside penalty on the Giants and a 16-yard pass to wide receiver James Jones got the Packers another first down at the 11.  On second and seven from the eight, Rodgers found fullback John Kuhn for a touchdown and that knotted the score at ten.

With momentum in their favor, the Packers tried an onside kick.  It was recovered by the Giants and they had good field position at the packer 41-yard line.  A pass to Beckum and a nine-yard run by Bradshaw moved the ball to the 21.  That was as far as the Giants would go and a 39-yard field goal attempt was blocked.  The Giants couldn’t capitalize on the good field position and the score remained tied at ten.

After a punt by the Packers, the Giants moved the ball through the air from their own 20 to the Packer 34.  On second and five from the 34, Manning looked for Nicks, but the pass was picked off by safety Morgan Burnett at the 13.  He returned it 12 yards to the Packer 25.

On third and seven from the 28, Rodgers found Jennings for a gain of ten and a first down.  From the 38, Kuhn ran up the left side and the ball came loose.  Safety Antrel Rolle picked it up and returned it nine yards to the Packer 34.  Once again, the Giants couldn’t get the ball into the end zone and settled for a 23-yard field goal to put them up 13-10 with just under two minutes to go in the first half.

The Packers couldn’t get anything going and punted.  The Giants took over with 41 seconds remaining.  A nine-yard catch and a 23-yard run by Bradshaw gave the Giants a chance to try a long field goal from the Packer 37 before halftime.  But the kicking unit stayed on the sideline.  Manning took the snap and launched a bomb to the left side of the end zone where it was caught by Nicks for a 37-yard touchdown to end the half.  At halftime the Giants had the momentum and a 20-10 lead.

Another touch-back got the Packers the ball at their own 20.  A 14-yard pass to Jennings and a 15-yard scramble by Rodgers got the Packers to their 49.  A 16-yard pass to wide receiver Donald Driver moved them into Giant territory.  On first and ten from the 30, defensive end Osi Umenyiora sacked Rodgers and forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Deon Grant.  However, the Giants couldn’t capitalize on the turnover and punted.

Passes to Driver and running back James Starks got the Packers to midfield.  Starks got the call on the next two plays and the Packers found themselves in Giant territory again.  On third and five from the 17, Rodgers fired a pass to Finley across the middle.  Finley couldn’t hang on to it and Crosby was called on for  a 35-yard field goal attempt.  It was good and the Packers now trailed 20-13.

The Giants punted on their next possession and the Packers once again moved the ball into Giant territory.  But, on fourth and five from the Giant 39, Rodgers was sacked by linebacker Michael Boley for a loss of six yards.  Clinging to a seven-point lead, the Giants knew they had to get a drive going and get some more points.  Passes to Cruz and Manningham and a defensive holding penalty moved the ball to the Packer 28.  Another pass to Cruz put the ball at the 17.  Runs by Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs inched the Giants a little deeper into Packer territory.  But on third and five from the 12, Manning was sacked by linebacker Brad Jones.  Tynes made his 35-yard field goal attempt and the Giants now led 23-13 with just under eight minutes to go in the game.

On second and five from the 34, Rodgers found Grant for a gain of ten. Grant was hit by safety Kenny Phillips and the ball was picked up and returned to the Packer four-yard line by linebacker Chase Blackburn.  On first and goal, Manning hooked up with Manningham for a four-yard touchdown to give the Giants a 30-13 lead with 6:48 to go in the game.

Facing a 17-point deficit, Rodgers knew he had to get his team going.  On third and ten from the 24, a pass to Driver fell incomplete.  However, a roughing the passer penalty was called on Umenyiora and that gave the Packers a first down at the 39.  A pass to Cobb for 21 and a 16-yard scramble by Rodgers got them down to the Giant 24.  On second and two from the 16, Driver caught a 16-yard touchdown pass to make it 30-20 with 4:45 to go.

An onside kick by Crosby was recovered at the 50 by Cruz and the Giants knew a couple of first downs would get them a win and a trip to San Francisco.  On third and 11, Manning found Cruz wide open for a gain of 17.  Bradshaw ran up the left side for 24 yards to give the Giants a first and goal at the ten.  On second and 14, Jacobs ran up the right side for a touchdown and that gave the Giants a commanding 37-20 lead with 2:36 to go.  One last desperate attempt by Rodgers was picked off by Grant and the Giants came away with a huge playoff win on the road.

For the Giants, Eli Manning completed 21 of 33 for 330 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.  Hakeem Nicks caught two touchdown passes and he and Victor Cruz combined for 12 catches for 239 yards.  Brandon Jacobs ran for a touchdown and he and Ahmad Bradshaw combined for 95 yards on 21 carries.  Defensively, the Giants forced four turnovers, allowed 25 first downs and 388 total yards.  They sacked Rodgers four times and Michael Boley led the team with eight solo tackles, two sacks, three tackles for a loss and one pass defensed.

For the Packers, it was an uncharacteristic day for them as the receivers dropped passes throughout the game and they fumbled the ball away three times.  Aaron Rodgers completed 26 of 46 for 264 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  He spread the ball around to nine different receivers and Donald Driver led the team with three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown.  Rodgers also led the team in rushing with 66 yards on seven carries.  Grant and Starks combined for 77 yards on 14 carries.  Defensively, the Packers allowed 19 first downs, 420 total yards, forced only one turnover and sacked Manning only once.  Safety Charlie Peprah led the team with nine solo tackles and one tackle for a loss.

The Giants will be heading out to San Francisco to take on the 49ers on Sunday at 6:30 eastern time.  They met in week ten at San Francisco and the 49ers came away with a  27-20 victory.  As I mentioned in my Saints-49ers article, they met in the playoffs in 2003 and the 49ers came back from 24 points down and won 39-38.  Will the upcoming meeting be just as exciting?  Time will tell.