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Monday, February 04, 2008

NFL: Pat's dream for 19-0 season ended in a nightmare

Pats' dream season ends with nightmare

By Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports
February 3, 2008

GLENDALE, Ariz. – In the end, the bathrobes were spoiled.

As the New England Patriots packed their bags in a silent fog Sunday night, countless mementos lay orphaned in every corner of the locker room. Most carried the emblems of Super Bowl XLII – sparkling programs, hats, T-shirts, and even pricey white bathrobes, rich with embroidery to commemorate this moment. But after having arguably the greatest season in sports history aborted against their will, those little Roman numerals represented little more than the searing end of a cattle prod.

"This will always linger," Patriots defensive end Jarvis Green said following his team's 17-14 defeat to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII at University of Phoenix Stadium. "We can't do anything about it. When we go home, we're going to be the losers of Super Bowl XLII. Whenever we see that Super Bowl, every time we think about it, we're always going to be the losers. We'll have to learn to deal with that."

Surely it will be an uncomfortable place in history, filed away alongside some of the biggest upsets in all of sports. New England's failure to achieve perfection will be debated with the likes of James "Buster" Douglas' knockout of Mike Tyson, Villanova's upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship, and perhaps even the Soviet Union's hockey loss at the hands of the U.S. in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

And like those defeats, Sunday's win by the Giants revealed characters and moments that will be replayed forever. There was Plaxico Burress' game-winning touchdown catch, coming only days after he was vilified for predicting a Giants win. And defensive end Justin Tuck's early play, harassing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and announcing himself as a player to be reckoned with for years to come.

But none will look larger than the fourth-quarter signature moment delivered by Giants quarterback Eli Manning. There was his impossible spin away from Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour on third-and-5. He followed the escape with a floating pass – seeming to arc high enough to tickle the retractable roof of University of Phoenix Stadium. And finally, the unfathomable 32-yard catch by Giants wideout David Tyree, which left the entire stadium leaning in and wondering, "Did he actually catch that?"

Afterward, Seymour only could shake his head in disbelief as he packed his belongings.

"I don't know what happened," Seymour said. "I thought I had him. I just don't know."

Every historic upset has to have its moment, and this was Sunday's. In its own way, it shared a common thread with the furious combination from Douglas that downed Tyson, cracking the glowering champion's façade of invincibility. In Manning's moment, the unshakable legs of the Patriots and their 18-0 season summarily buckled. Suddenly, it felt as if it would take a miracle to keep the Giants from winning this game.

"Every team is beatable," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "You never know. The right moment, the right time, every team is beatable."

And that is precisely what the Patriots were left to cope with afterward, in a locker room that emptied out the way a town would if a freight train carrying toxic waste had overturned in the middle of it. While the Giants' confines were bursting at the seams in jubilation and players were staring at their fingers and imagining the gleam of a world championship ring, the Patriots were evacuating the stadium in silence. Brady and wideout Randy Moss dressed side by side for 10 minutes and didn't share a single word. Linebacker Junior Seau crouched in a corner and struggled to speak with a broken voice.

Laying in tatters around them were the remains of a season. All those impressive records – from Brady's 50 touchdown passes to Moss' 23 touchdown receptions to the highest-scoring offense in NFL history – were washed away by the single blemish on an 18-1 record.

"The season means nothing now," Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "It means nothing to me. As far as these players and great coaches I am around, this organization, I love them to death. But we didn't accomplish what we wanted to. Time after time when you continually win and so many people are out there not wanting you to win – to lose at the very end just hurts. You know it is all for nothing."

Yet that's an emptiness the Giants won't feel in the coming months. In the upcoming days, they will be serenaded with congratulations and a parade through Manhattan. Aging veterans like defensive end Michael Strahan and Amani Toomer will hold tight to the Super Bowl rings that deliver the cap on impressive careers. And Coughlin will have led his own team to a world championship after so few believed he could only a few months ago.

"I told the players last night about my experience in 1990," Coughlin said, recalling his Super Bowl win as an assistant with the Giants. "When you realize you are the world champion, other than your family and your children and those types of things, there is no comparison to the feeling. You could walk around six feet high, and it would be appropriate."

And it will be appropriate – both the highs the Giants experience and the lows the Patriots struggle with. Both are only the first moments felt after a game that will be remembered forever.

Maybe Patriots defensive back Brandon Meriweather summed it up best when he was headed for an exit Sunday night. As he passed safety Rodney Harrison, he nodded and offered one last thought.

"Don't worry," Meriweather said. "We're going to be back here next year, brother."

Meriweather is more right than he knows. From a larger perspective, New England will live this moment again. In the same vein the Patriots will be remembered for being this period's dynasty, this team will be granted an equal measure of infamy. While stinging mementos can be discarded, history never forgets a loss like this.

Charles Robinson is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Charles a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

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