“Don’t get your hopes up and don’t get too mad if they lose,” my dad admonished as I threw on my lucky Eli Manning jersey. It was a fair statement to make – I was in ninth grade, where the only thing that mattered besides girls and Monday’s biology test was the New York Giants.
Big Blue’s thrilling postseason run had shaped a routine amongst my friends and I. Every Sunday during the playoffs, we would huddle together at someone’s house, shudder and cross our fingers for four quarters, then explode into pure, unadulterated celebration as the Giants pulled off yet another road upset. But this time, though we didn’t want to admit it, we all knew it would be different. The Cowboys and the Packers were formidable opponents, but they weren’t the Patriots – the undefeated, record-shattering New England Patriots that many football fans had loathed all year.
We watched the first half in almost complete silence, save for my mom, who thought that halftime act Tom Petty’s rapid aging was far more interesting than anything happening on the gridiron. But as the second half progressed, I began to look over at my father with increasing excitement. “Still shouldn’t get my hopes up?” I asked with a grin as Eli connected with David Tyree for a go-ahead touchdown with 11:05 remaining in the game.
“Seriously, since when is he still on the team? That’s gonna be the biggest play of his whole career!” my dad responded.
Watching the G-Men’s final drive probably took a collective decade off of our life expectancies. When Eli appeared to be sacked five yards behind the line of scrimmage on a crucial third down play, we all turned our heads and grimaced. “NO! HE GOT AWAY!” my dad shouted. We turned our heads to watch our beloved quarterback deliver one of the most storied passes in NFL history, a 32-yard completion to none other than Tyree, who held the ball on his helmet as he jumped over Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison. “HE CAUGHT IT! THIS IS IT!” Dad said.
A few plays later, Eli delivered the winning score to Plaxico Burress, and with just 29 seconds remaining, the Patriots could not reciprocate offensively. In true ninth grade fashion, we ran into the street, jumping and shouting for what felt like a full hour before returning inside to watch the post-game interviews.
“There’s no way I’m going to school tomorrow!” I told my dad.
Once again, he said, “Don’t get your hopes up.”