Why Giants fans (already) love this Super Bowl team more than the last one

Victor Cruz in Indianapolis. (nfl.com)
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If one is to assume a perfectly equitable distribution of championships across every team in the league, it would mean that each N.F.L. fan base is “entitled” to one title every 32 years. From this perspective, waiting more than four years seems like a reasonable, mature concession to the idea that you can’t have everything you want in the world.

But I think I speak for many Giants fans in saying that I would be incredibly disappointed if they lost on Sunday. There are two main reasons for this.

First, there’s no getting around the fact that this game represents a double-down on the Giants’ upset of New England in the 2007 Super Bowl. A Giants loss would put a real damper on the confetti-soaked memory of ‘07, kind of like at the end of a documentary when they tell that a likeable subject died shortly after the filming.

This game might not be about “revenge” for the Patriot players, exactly; 47 of the 53 current Patriots weren’t on the ‘07 team. But 16 current Giants were around for that last Super Bowl, and most of those, not coincidentally, were key contributors: Eli Manning, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, plus most of the coaching staff. Rob Gronkowski may not have an ax to grind about '07, but Tom Brady and Bill Belichick sure do.

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But the second reason a loss on Sunday would be crushing is that Giants fans are much more attached to this team than they were to the ‘07 version.

If the ‘07 run was made special because it was so unexpected and out-of-nowhere, this year has been great because Giants fans have completely fallen in love with the players.

Take Manning, for instance. Late in the ‘07 season, it would have been reasonable to characterize Manning as a mild disappointment. He was decent, and had shown his signature mettle in clutch situations, but he hadn’t become one of the league’s better quarterbacks. As late as 14 games into that season, he appeared to be nose-diving along with his team in what looked to be the Giants’ third straight disappointing ending to a once-promising season.

Then he flipped the switch in the playoffs, became the Super Bowl M.V.P., and has since grown into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Eli is our guy now. The slack-jawed goofiness, the ugly-duckling throwing mechanics—where it once made us skeptical and judgmental, it’s now all part of the package we’ve come to love. We would run through a brick wall for him now.

Then there’s Hakeem Nicks, who wasn’t on the ‘07 team. It’s instructive to compare Nicks to his analog on the ’07 team, Plaxico Burress. Burress was great for the Giants, but he was first and foremost an imagination-tantalizer. He was one of those players who is blessed with such visibly obvious natural gifts that he always leaves fans wanting more, and wondering why he isn’t one of the very best receivers in the league.

Nicks, by contrast, is in fact one of the very best receivers in the league, better than Burress ever was. And he accomplishes this with a much more subtle skill-set. Burress was 6-foot-5 and towered over everyone. Nicks looks like a just another football player out there. His only “freakish” attribute is his pair of 10.5-inch hands, which doesn’t really come across when you’re watching on TV.

Still, Giants fans have come to expect amazing things from Nicks. This became obvious three weeks ago, just before the end of the first half of the divisional playoff game against Green Bay, on a Hail Mary pass. I’m not talking about the catch itself, but rather how Giants fans felt when the ball was in the air.

I’ve spoken to several Giants-fan friends about this, and they all experienced the same surge of confidence as I did when they saw Nicks streaking down the sideline, drawing a bead on Eli Manning’s pass. We’ve become so accustomed to Nicks out-muscling defenders and using his oven-mitt hands to snatch the ball that we’ve come to expect it even in the most difficult circumstances.

Speaking of receivers with athletic attributes that were once overlooked, how about that Victor Cruz? Not to get caught up in the hype of the moment, but it’s worth asking whether there’s been a more likable Giant since Lawrence Taylor.

It’s not just that he’s from Paterson and that he salsa dances and that he looks and talks like someone you’d see on the subway. It’s his style of play. Cruz does in real life what kids fantasize about doing: He tips the ball up to himself, he jukes this guy, he hurdles that guy. He’s a schoolyard baller. Every fan-base loves these kinds of guys, but New Yorkers like to claim a unique affinity to them.

Another immensely popular Giant who wasn’t around in ‘07 is Jason Pierre-Paul. What makes J.P.P. so endearing isn’t just his astounding productivity this year and the fact that there’s no reason he won’t do this for the next ten years. It’s his enthusiasm, which seems to have infected his teammates as much as it has the fans.

Whether on the field or talking to reporters, JPP is endearingly uncontainable, a young, raw kid with a quick smile who talks just like he plays: a mile a minute, and all over the place.

We love these guys. And as incredibly great as that unexpected championship was in 2007, this one—if it happens—might be even better.