Giants’ Two Minute Memory Honors Owner Wellington Mara
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – At the end of three-quarters, the score of Denver 23, New York 10 looked ugly for the home team. It had been quite a while since the Giants erased such a deficit -October 31, 1999, to be precise-; they made up 14 points in the fourth quarter and, ultimately, soared past the Philadelphia Eagles, 23-17, when Michael Strahan’s returned an interception 44 yards for the clincher in overtime.
But, that was so long ago, Eli Manning was still a redshirt freshman at the University of Mississippi.
“This was some kind of finish!” Coach Tom Coughlin exclaimed after Manning spotted Amani Toomer for the tying touchdown with six seconds left and, immediately after, Jay Feely sent home 78,516 delirious fans with the deciding PAT.
“I was kidding with Eli [later, in the lockerroom] that, now, we have to wait until the middle of the fourth quarter before we mount any kind of drive.”
New York’s come-from-behind 24-23 victory not only Bronco-busted the visitor’s five-game winning streak, but it also proved to be the final send-off for Wellington Mara. The legendary owner passed away Tuesday morning at the age of 89.
“We always wait until the last minute,” said Jeremy Shockey, whose 24-yard reception on 3rd and 10 led to the winning score. “But, we never give up –we show that week in and week out. We did everything we could do at the end to win.”
They had last met here, inside Giants Stadium, on December 13, 1998. The Broncos, 13-0 at the time, were ahead 16-13 in 48 seconds remaining in the game. Then, Kent Graham tossed a 37-yard touchdown pass to Toomer for the winning margin.
And, before that, New York and Denver had only met twice since January 25, 1986. Super Bowl XXI was won by the Giants 39-20, as MVP Phil Simms completed a record 22 of 25 passes for 268 yards and three TDs. Then, in Colorado for a Monday night showdown [and the first regular-season game at INVESCO Field], on September 10, 2001, the Broncos broke open a 14-14 third-quarter tie with 17 unanswered points. However, the 31-20 final score would soon be a mere footnote; within hours after its conclusion, a nation would mourn.
Sometimes, though, the cheers last long after the final gun. “This was phenomenal,” said Tiki Barber, who carried 19 times for 86 yards and scored on a four-yard run to cut the Broncos’ lead to 23-17 with 9:07 still on the clock. Later, New York’s defense forced Denver into a three-and-out and Todd Sauerbrun punted to the Giants’ 17 with 3:29 remaining.
Manning completed nine of 13 passes for 74 yards and had marched his team to the Bronco 8. A six-yard pass to Barber advanced the ball to the two. New York called timeout with 10 seconds remaining. Coughlin and Manning [23-42, 214 yard, 2 TDs and 1 INT], together with Offensive Coordinator John Hufnagel, prepared for a meeting of the minds.
“As an offense,” Manning said, “we feel comfortable in a two-minute drill because we work on it a lot. We practiced it all the time during training camp and each week since. A lot of these plays have been run over and over again. So, everyone knows what to do. We had a good idea what they were going to do defensively and guys made big plays when we needed it.” “I heard the play come in and was very excited,” said Toomer. “The entire drive, I had a feeling that I would do something special.
“We were just scrapping out there. We were watching the clock and playing football. We didn’t say anything; we were just playing. This was a great comeback, probably one of the best that I have been involved in. This was beautiful.”
Manning, who actually threw the game-tying pass from the Denver 15, required a key block by Barber on blitzing linebacker D. J. Williams. Those extra seconds allowed Toomer to spring in front of rookie cornerback Domonique Foxworth.
“This is what we practice for and hope to execute right,” said Barber. “In the huddle, we were telling everyone to stay calm. Eli was phenomenal. He was composed and made the throws when he had to. We needed to make plays and Amani came up big. The last two drives were phenomenal. That was a clinic on how to run a two-minute drill.” This is the latest point in a game that New York had scored a come-from-behind game-winning touchdown in the last 52 years. On Nov. 1, 1953, Arnold Galiffa threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rote with 0:07 remaining to defeat the Cardinals in Chicago, 23-20.
“It was a play we put in this week,” Manning noted. “It wasn’t really meant for that coverage; it was meant for a cover-2. They played a single-high man and blitzed the weak side. Amani tried to find a lane while I tried to find someone open. The offensive line did a great job blocking and Tiki did a great job picking up that block. I saw Amani flash across the end zone, so I tried to throw it where he could get it.”
“Eli was absolutely incredible,” marveled Michael Strahan. “He hit all the guys that needed to be hit. We are one of those teams that fans will have to watch until the end of the game to see exactly what happens.”