Quarterbacks Eli Manning of the Giants and Tom Brady of the Patriots will… (Photos by Getty Images )
Reporting from Indianapolis -- Two indisputable things can be said of Super Bowl XLVI:
A pair of elite quarterbacks will be in it. And neither team will be out of it.
Time and again, the New York Giants and New England Patriots proved this season that big deficits can be overcome, and dire situations can be conquered.
The Patriots came back to win after trailing 21-0 against Buffalo, 17-0 against Miami, 10-0 against Philadelphia and 16-7 against Denver.
Just as Eli Manning established himself as spectacular, especially in the fourth quarter, the Giants somehow pulled out of a tailspin of four consecutive losses.
"We have an unbelievable sense of resiliency and belief in one another to go ahead and get the job done," said Giants tackle Kareem McKenzie, whose team was 7-7 before winning its last two do-or-die regular-season games.
In a way, the up-from-the-ashes resolve of these teams is reflective of the league at large, which emerged from its first labor crisis in more than two decades to post a stunning season — one that included a 10-year labor agreement and record-breaking extensions to the TV contracts.
All arrows are pointing up for the league, and now two of its biggest markets are meeting on the grandest stage.
What's more, the game is a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, when the Giants shockingly denied the Patriots' plan to put the finishing touches on an unprecedented 19-0 season.
That game was a stepping-out party for Manning, whereas this one could be a big step in the direction of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Beating the Patriots again would give him a second championship ring, one more than his big brother, Peyton.
New England quarterback Tom Brady, meanwhile, already has three rings and could match San Francisco's Joe Montana and Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw were he to win a fourth. Brady and Bill Belichick have already carved their own spot in league history, becoming the first quarterback-coach tandem to make it to five Super Bowls.
Brady is 3-1 in Super Bowls, with the loss to the Giants being the one that got away. And yes, it still bothers him.
"Every loss hurts," he said. "When we lost to the Colts in the AFC championship game, that hurt pretty bad. Last year losing to the Jets, you see other teams advance and you're staying at home, they all [stink]. You have to move on, and use those as opportunities to learn. I think this team has done that. We're a very mentally tough team. That's probably one of the strengths of this team."
In the week leading up to the game, perhaps the biggest concern for the Patriots was the health of Rob Gronkowski's left ankle. The second-year tight end who caught 17 touchdown passes this season — more than anyone who has played his position — didn't make his first appearance at practice until Thursday, after suffering a high ankle sprain in the third quarter of the victory over Baltimore in the AFC title game.
For the third year in a row, the AFC participant in the Super Bowl experienced drama over a star's sprained ankle. Two years ago, it was Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney. Last year, it was Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey. The Patriots probably wouldn't like to be reminded that both the Colts and Steelers wound up losing.
But many New England players also believe there's a special purpose to this season, an angel on their shoulder. They have dedicated their season and Super Bowl run to Myra Kraft, late wife of team owner Bob Kraft, and will continue to wear her initials — "MHK" — over their hearts.
"She is a woman who has been smiling down on us over the course of this season," Brady said. "I think Mr. Kraft and his family have had a challenging six months. Mr. Kraft said the other day that he is a very spiritual person, and hopefully we can go out and get a win for him. I think it would make this year very special for him and special for his family."
The Giants, three-point underdogs, posted a 24-20 victory over the Patriots in Week 9. In that game, the Giants sacked Brady twice and intercepted two of his passes. They are very confident in their ability to contain him.
"He thrives on mismatches and I think we match up well with them," defensive lineman Justin Tuck said. "They are going to do some things that we may not be ready for at the beginning of that football game and it is going to come down to adjustments. Hopefully we will be able to make those adjustments to whatever they have shown that we haven't seen and making it a close game and keeping them kind of stopped on offense."
The Giants have their own arsenal of standouts on offense, including receivers Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and the salsa-swiveling Victor Cruz.
Like the Patriots, they feel as if they're never out of a game.
"Eli and Tom are two of the more elite quarterbacks in this league and when you have people like that leading the charge, you are never out of a football game," Tuck said. "It says a lot about these teams and their 'no quit' attitudes.
"If you ask the Patriots that same question, I am sure they will say the same thing. In the fourth quarter and it is close, they feel like they are going to bring it out because they have a quarterback like Tom, and we feel the same way."