Before Sunday's nail-biting 20-17 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Tom Coughlin inspired his New York Giants with this quote from General George S. Patton: "I am a soldier, I fight where I am told, and I win where I fight." The Giants fought hard, and they won a tough battle with the tougher-than-tough 49ers. While Coughlin's quote proved prophetic, the Giants had to overcome words uttered by the other New York football coach, though, when Rex Ryan predicted the Giants would best the 49ers. We all know Ryan's success when it comes to prognosticating the future, but even that couldn't stop Big Blue's steamrolling momentum.
There were many heroes for the Giants (and one poor goat for the 49ers): We can start with the indestructible and unflappable Eli Manning, who, despite his offensive line guarding him in a matador-like fashion unable to stop the furious 49er pass rush, threw an AFL-like 58 passes in the rain and fog (completing 32 of them), tossed two touchdown passes and, most importantly, didn't turn the ball over. Meanwhile, his counterpart, Alex Smith, led an NFL-from-1953 offense, throwing only 26 passes (and his final stats were somewhat Tim Tebow-like: 12-for-26, 196 yards, 42 rushing yards), with the 49ers gaining 150 yards on the ground. Victor Cruz, Ahmad Bradshaw, Bear Pascoe, Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and Travis Beckum on offense, Devin Thomas, Jacquian Williams, Lawrence Tynes and Steve Weatherford on special teams and the whole defense (except for the blown coverages on the pair of 49er touchdowns) pitched in with key plays in the win. We can't forget the coaching jobs done by Coughlin, Perry Fewell and Kevin Gilbride. And let's give kudos to Ann Mara, who, looking like Marie Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond uncomfortably butting in to defend one of her sons, passionately scolded Terry Bradshaw in the post-game ceremonies for never picking the Giants to win. It's doubtful the Giants' offensive line would have been able to contain her either.
So the Giants' Groundhog Day season continues on to the Super Bowl. There are a number of parallels and themes to choose from when it comes to the 2011 edition of Big Blue. This year's NFC Championship Game was a close facsimile to the one the Giants and 49ers played 21 years ago, with Tynes playing the part of Matt Bahr (and the father-and-son combo of Zak and Steve DeOssie as long snappers), Williams imitating Erik Howard with a late, key forced fumble, Thomas channeling Lawrence Taylor with the fumble recovery and the Giants returning to the Super Bowl four years after an earlier appearance. The eerie repeat of the 2007 miracle season is also still in play, with everyone picking up that storyline and running with it. And Coughlin's 2011 mantra of "Finish" remains relevant, as it took them past regulation to do it this time around, but finish they did, with one final piece of the puzzle to complete. 1990-'91, 2007-'08, 2011's emphasis on avoiding collapses -- take your pick. Compare the amazing run the Giants are on to whatever you choose. They're all valid, but now all the Giants need to do is win the Super Bowl. Finish.
And now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports (and for all your Super Bowl wants and needs, click here).
Overtime (Part I): Saturday's New York Rangers-Boston Bruins matinee was a throwback to the early '70s, when the two teams were two of, if not the, best teams in the NHL. They hated each other then and they hate each other now. Well, if they didn't, they do now after what the suspended-for-three-games Andrew Ference did to Ryan McDonagh (though it was more an error in judgment than a premeditated dirty hit). Though the shots on goal were almost even and the Rangers outhit the Bruins (27-12) and blocked more shots than Boston (22-14) in the 3-2 Ranger win, the Bruins carried the play more than the Blueshirts. But the overtime penalty by Ference put the hockey gods on the side of New York, and with 3.6 seconds remaining in overtime, Marian Gaborik backhanded the puck into the net, winning one for McDonagh, as well as Eddie Giacomin and Bill Fairburn and Jim Neilson and Walt Tkazcuk and the rest of the old-time Rangers. The Blueshirts kept their solid play going on Tuesday, with a 3-0 shutout of the Winnipeg Jets, to go into the break atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Overtime (Part II): After an embarrassing, humiliating, humbling (take your pick) 100-86 loss to the winless-on-the-road Milwaukee Bucks on Friday (with could-have-been-a-New-Yorker Brandon Jennings starring for the Bucks), the New York Knicks took the Denver Nuggets to double overtime on Saturday, but the result was the same, another loss. The Nuggets were chock-full of old Knicks (Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Al Harrington) while Carmelo Anthony faced his old team for the first time. Though he caught fire at the end of the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime, Anthony was booed by the Garden crowd as he chucked up 30 shots, only hitting 10 of them. Gallinari, meanwhile, scored 37 points in his return to New York. Anthony has become the black hole of the Knicks' offense (or is it the Bermuda Triangle?), where the ball goes but is never seen again. Amar'e Stoudemire took all of one shot in the fourth quarter and both overtimes combined. The two stars had a powwow between that game and Tuesday's 111-78 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, and, lo and behold, a completely different Anthony showed up for that contest. In a whole new concept for the Knicks, the ball was spread around to Stoudemire (18 points), Tyson Chandler (20 points, 17 rebounds) and Landry Fields (18 points) while Anthony scored all of one point, on 0-for-7 shooting. He contributed with 11 rebounds and four assists, though. How long will that type of offense last? Not long as it turned out, as they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, thanks to 22 turnovers, no offensive flow and poor shooting from all over the floor. And their coach, the isn't-he-supposed-to-be-an-offensive-genius Mike D'Antoni, stated that he doesn't have a clue how to fix things. In other Knick news, while one player was lost for six weeks (Josh Harrellson), another will soon be making his Knick debut (Baron Davis).
Overtime (Part III): John Tavares and Evgeni Nabokov have become the New York Islanders' dynamic duo. They starred in Saturday's overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Tavares scored the regulation goal that tied the game, and then won it in overtime. Meanwhile, Nabokov has become a brick wall in the nets, rarely allowing a goal, as the Isles have been riding his hot streak, and are trying to sneak into playoff contention (5-3-1 in their last nine games). They hit a speed bump in the first leg of a home-and-home against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, though, getting shut out 3-0, but they gained a point in Tuesday's rematch, losing 4-3 in overtime. P.A. Parenteau tied the game with 12.2 seconds left when the puck ricocheted right to him after a wild bounce off the boards. The Isles weren't crazy about the fact that the Maple Leafs didn't have one penalty called on them in either game, though. Jack Capuano stated, "I'm not one to comment on officiating. It is what it is."
Overtime (Part IV): The New Jersey Devils took the ice at the Rock on Saturday afternoon, but in the first half of a forgettable doubleheader for the Newark teams, they fell to the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1, with third period troubles again rearing their ugly head along with the lack of a productive power play at home, and it continued their recent streak of being unable to beat the teams ahead of them in the standings. The only bright spot was a goal by the just-acquired-from-the-Hurricanes Alexei Ponikarovsky. The Devils continued the parade of overtime games for the local teams when they fell to a team below them in the standings on Tuesday, losing to the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1, in a shootout in their last game before the All-Star break. And in a Fred Wilpon-like move, owner Jeffery Vanderbeek is in talks with the NHL in hopes of getting a loan from the league so he can meet payroll.
Overtime (Part V): The New Jersey Nets completed the Newark doubleheader on Saturday with an 84-74 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. And Deron Williams will be happy to be leaving the Prudential Center (one way or another, going to Brooklyn or wherever he ends up next season). After the game, he stated, "I don't like this arena one bit. But, it's a good thing it's not our arena next year. Even last year, it just doesn't feel like our home arena. I don't know why. It just doesn't feel like it. It just doesn't have good vision. The depth perception's not there." He may be on to something, as the Nets only shot 31% in the game. That was just the first of a back-to-back-to-back, though, with New Jersey having better luck in the middle with a 97-87 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, but they lost to the league's top team, the Chicago Bulls, 110-95, on Monday, doomed by another slow start. It was their turn for an overtime game on Wednesday, when Williams came up with a clutch, scintillating drive to the basket to tie the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the end of regulation, and then he finished off the Sixers in overtime with a dagger of a three-pointer. The Nets are sneaking up on the Knicks in the standings, and Williams is proving to be the anti-Carmelo Anthony, coming up big and making the players around him better. In injury news, MarShon Brooks missed the last two games, and Damion James has been lost for the season.
NHL All-Star Game: Henrik Lundqvist, an assistant captain on Team Alfredsson (who'll be coached by John Tortorella), chose a couple of locals, Dan Girardi and Tavares, while Gaborik ended up on Team Chara in Sunday's All-Star Game in Ottawa. Carl Hagelin will also be there, as he replaced Adam Henrique, and Adam Larsson won't be going either.
Amazin' Hall of Famer: The New York Mets announced that John Franco will be inducted into the team's Hall of Fame on June 3rd. He'll be the 26th member to be enshrined, and the fifth pitcher, joining Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw and Dwight Gooden. Franco spent 14 seasons with the Mets (1990-2004), saved 276 games, had an ERA of 3.10, a 1.365 WHIP, a 48-56 record, 12.8 WAR and an ERA+ of 132.
No. 20 in Your Scorecard but No. 1 in Our Hearts: Jorge Posada officially announced his retirement on Tuesday, and we'll let the New York Yankees great have the last word: "Playing for the Yankees has been an honor. I could never have worn another uniform. It was just priceless. I will forever be a Yankee."
And that's the New York week that was.