They had teased their fans with success and disappointed them with failure and then, before it was too late, win or lose, made them so proud to cheer their Giants.
Now they were a 36-yard field goal from the Super Bowl. The Giants, their fans – a 36-yard field goal from clinching one of the biggest wins in franchise history.
Lawrence Tynes trotted onto the raw field and, following a Packers timeout and a high snap, line-drived a kick into the net, left of the goal posts as time expired, and the Lambeau crowd erupted with screams into the minus-3 degree air.
You can bet at that very moment that the 72,740 fans, most ever at Lambeau, expected Brett Favre and the Packers to beat the Giants in overtime. In fact, be honest now, how many Giants fans thought the same thing, especially when Green Bay won the coin toss and Favre tucked his hands under center, ball on Green Bay's 26.
Time to go win the game.
Except anyone who expected the Giants to fold up forgot that these Giants, these unbelievable Giants, are at their best when the heat is on. And minus-3 degree temperature or not, there was no hotter moment than the one right there, Favre under center following the blown field goal.
"This team,'' Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce would say later, "has never given up.''
True, but maybe this was the time when the opponent would make one more play than the Giants. Favre had the ball and was ready to go. So was the Lambeau crowd.
"But defensively,'' said R.W. McQuarters, who clinched the previous two wins with interceptions but almost cost the Giants dearly with two fumbles, "we went out and said, ‘Hey – no!' McQuarters slapped his hands to make the point. "It was sudden death.''
Favre handed the ball to Ryan Grant and he ran for 2 yards to the 28. That's when Favre dropped back and tried to hit Donald Driver on a deep out pattern. But the ball floated, probably because of the conditions, the conditions that were supposed to favor Favre and the Packers instead of Eli Manning and the Giants, allowing cornerback Corey Webster to close ground on Driver.
It was Webster, the bust-turned-breakout player out of LSU, an early season goat who lost his job after game three, one game after he had a rough time against Green Bay almost four months ago.
Webster kept closing, the way the Giants kept closing on the competition beginning that Saturday night against New England at Giants Stadium. He intercepted the pass intended for Driver and ran it to Green Bay's 34-yard line. The Giants were back in business.
And what better representative of these Giants than Webster, who picked himself off the ground early in the season and helped carry the Giants to a definitive run late in the season?
Time to go win the game.
"As a team,'' Webster said. "we have just been grinding it out. I got a good jam on (Driver) at the line of scrimmage and then I was able to jump the route a little bit.''
The Giants, as they did at Tampa Bay and then at Dallas, had given themselves another chance. The Packers had made the lethal mistake of giving a bunch of growling football players another shot.
In a season of second chances, the Giants were about take the opportunity all the way to Glendale, Ariz., for Super Bowl XLII.
Tynes lined up for a 47-yard field goal after Ahmad Bradshaw had runs of 4 yards and 1 yard. This time Jay Alford's snap was true and Jeff Feagles softly set it down before Tynes swung his right leg.
The ball floated, not like Favre's pass but end over end, finally sailing through the uprights and the Giants won 23-20. Lambeau Field went silent. Up in the press box, Giants president John Mara and brother Chris, the vice president of player evaluation, and general manager Jerry Reese delightfully screeched and hugged.
The Maras, once criticized for giving Tom Coughlin another shot to coach this team, and Reese, once criticized for doing little to improve the team, absorbing the moment in a room full of media critics.
A team that wasn't supposed to go anywhere this season is going to the Super Bowl.
"It doesn't matter what the odds are,'' Coughlin said, his face red and smiling. "They just keep scrapping and believing and working to find a way to win. As two or three of them mentioned to me when we were in the locker room, they believed, we believed. Not many others did, but we did, and that's the reason we're here.''
Almost an hour since the ball floated through the uprights, a few hundred Giants fans gathered in the stands overlooking the Fox TV booth at the far end of the Giants sideline. Several players, including Eli Manning and Amani Toomer, came out to join the party, the young and the old of a team that played as loose as kids in the backyard.
The Giants have one more away game, 10 straight road wins and counting. Now they go to Arizona to play New England for the championship of the NFL.
The Giants will be underdogs once again, just the way they like it.
Kevin Gleason covers the Giants for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y.
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