First and foremost is the Cinderella story of Marshall's Ahmad Bradshaw, who led all rushers in the game with 45 yards on nine carries for a five yards per carry average in a game controlled by New England's and New York's defenses. Bradshaw, who rushed for nearly 3,000 yards and scored 31 rushing touchdowns in just three years for the Herd, had the key play of the second quarter.
NY quarterback Eli Manning hit Bradshaw in the chest with a hand-off, and the ball appeared to be recovered by New England's Pierre Woods. But the 5-foot-9, 198-pound rookie wrestled the ball from the 250-pound linebacker and kept the Pats from having a first-and-ten at the Giant 30-yard line. Manning's play-fake to Bradshaw froze the defense just long enough for the Giants' second touchdown, a five-yard pass from the quarterback to David Tyree on a quick post. Bradshaw also earned a penalty, but saved a possession when he was flagged for batting a ball forward that Steve Smith recovered for the Giants on a fumble by Manning on a sack.
Many Herd fans thought Bradshaw, just finished with his junior year, was making a mistake by declaring for the draft last spring. Then, many predicted his pick in the seventh and last round, to a team with five backs, would doom his chances. But Bradshaw worked through a miscue or two on kickoff returns, but also a flash of what he could do in the open field, to become a key component of the wild-card Giants' road drive to a title through Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay.
The running back from Bluefield, Va., who played for Graham High School just over the West Virginia-Virginia border finished with 175 yards rushing in four playoff games, after just rushing for 190 in the entire regular season. "It's taken a lot of mental toughness and it's been a process, waiting to learn and taking time to learn a lot from the older guys," Bradshaw told Anthony Hanshew of Huntington's The Herald-Dispatch. "It was a big advantage being on the kickoff return team to show what I can do with the football. It helped gain their trust and it helped me tremendously."
One of the reasons Bradshaw ended up at Marshall was the legacy of players in the National Football League like Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich and Randy Moss. Moss, who set an NFL record with 23 touchdowns in his tenth season in the league, had only caught two passes in two playoff games, as the San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars both gave the Patriots the underneath passes while taking away Moss.
Appearing in his first Super Bowl, Moss delivered five catches for 62 yards, and his catch with two and one-half minutes left appeared to give the Patriots an inside track at winning the fourth title since 2001. Tom Brady attempted two long passes to Moss after the Giants took the 17-14 lead but the Giants smothered the All-Pro with double and triple coverage. Moss was helped when Wes Welker tied a Super Bowl record with 11 catches, so the secondary had to adjust to slowing the Pats leader in receptions. That left Moss in single coverage for the six-yard touchdown.
Also appearing in his first Super Bowl was punter Chris Hanson, who appeared in two national championships, two league championships and two bowls while at Marshall, and was a teammate of Moss in 1996, on the 15-0 undefeated I-AA National Championship team, and in 1997, on the team that won the Mid-American Conference in Marshall's first year at the I-A level and advanced to the Herd's first bowl in a half-century. Hanson punted very well for the Patriots, hitting four punts for a 43.8 yard average in the game.
Also on the Patriots sidelines for his first Super Bowl was tight end Jason Rader, who spent this season on the New England practice squad. Rader, who played two seasons for former Marshall coach Jim Donnan at Georgia, then two seasons for Bob Pruett at Marshall when Donnan was forced out with the 'Dawgs, is a Kanawha Valley resident like Moss. Rader grew up and played in St. Albans, W.Va., on the western end of the Kanawha Valley, while Moss grew up in Rand on the eastern edge of Kanawha County while starring at DuPont High School.
Finally, Troy Brown was at his fifth Super Bowl with the Patriots. Interestingly enough, the Pats are 0-2 when Brown, who set NCAA records for returns that still stand in the Southern Conference, is inactive. He did not dress Sunday, having only dressed for one game this year while spending much of the year on the "physically unable to play" list following off-season knee surgery. In 1997, he did not dress for the Pats loss to the Green Bay Packers while former MU teammate Mike Bartrum did. Brown won titles with New England in 2001 against the St. Louis Rams, in 2003 when New England beat the Carolina Panthers and in 2004, with Bartrum dressing as the long snapper and tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles in that last title game.
NOTES: Brown now has been on teams that have advanced to five NFL title games. The Marshall record is seven for Frank Gatski, with the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions, and Frank Ulinski, a coach for the Browns 1954-72...With the loss, the 1972 Miami Dolphins (17-0) and the 1948 Cleveland Browns (15-0) are the only undefeated championship teams in professional football history. The Dolphins won the NFL title, while the Browns won the All-American Football Conference for four straight years before joining the NFL...Eli Manning of the Giants and Payton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts become the first set of brothers to win the Super Bowl MVP in back-to-back years...Giants finished the season 8-1 in the white (away) uniforms, and are the first NFC team to win the title as a wild-card entry. Three AFC teams have done it, with the last being the Steelers, and this is the first NFC team to win a title in five years...New England is the first 18-1 team to not win the title. The Bears and the 49ers both were 18-1 after winning the Super Bowl...Giants' punter Jeff Feagles wins a Super Bowl in his first appearance in his 20th year in the league…It is the seventh NFL title for the Giants back to the organization's first in 1927. The Giants lost the championship in 1933 in the first title game ever held to the Bears, 23-21. New York won the title game for the first time in 1934, beating the Bears 30-13 and are now 6-9 in NFL championship games, 3-1 in Super Bowls…New England is now 3-3 in title games, losing to San Diego in the AFL championship in 1963, then losing the Super Bowl to the Bears in 1985 and the Packers in 1997.