Once upon a time, the New York Football Giants were ground-bound. They were run-first, pass-later -- or never. Remember "Thunder and Lightning"?
But with Eli Manning and the young crew of wideouts who led the team to its second Super Bowl title in four years on Sunday, those days may be gone for good.
It started with Hakeem Nicks, age 24, whose 335 postseason receiving yards and four touchdowns were already franchise records heading into Sunday's game against the New England Patriots. His Hail Mary touchdown catch against defending champion Green Bay may not have only been a defining moment against the Packers, but also for an entire playoff run. So when it came time for the Giants to set the tone Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, it was appropriate that Nicks got things going.
Nicks made 10 catches Sunday, averaging 10.9 yards per grab. Eight of his catches were good for first downs. As he had been throughout the playoffs, Hicks established himself as the Giants’ bona fide go-to receiver from the get-go.
"I couldn't have done it without my teammates," Nicks says. "I couldn’t have done it without (quarterback) Eli (Manning) delivering me the ball and having confidence in me."
But as big as Nicks was, he had plenty of help.
Victor Cruz, 25, continued his steady rise, making four catches -- including a first quarter touchdown that gave the Giants a 9-0 lead. For Cruz, who made a name for himself this season for his celebratory touchdown salsa dances, the moment was just the beginning of a big night.
"It was amazing," he says. "I dreamed of this moment -- I dreamed of being here. I couldn't ask for anything more. This is the best feeling of my life."
The combination of Nicks, Cruz and Mario Manningham (also age 25) proved to be a nightmare for the Patriots' secondary. But the trio made life good for Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, who completed 30-of-40 passes.
"I think it's just a matter of (Manning) believing in us and us getting the job done and knowing what we're capable of doing," Nicks says.
The Giants receiving corps proved its worth throughout the come-from-behind win. The passing attack was far from flashy, relying on short, crisp routes, especially early to establish rhythm. But with the timing set, everything else fell into place based on the confidence Manning and his receivers had built throughout the playoffs.
"We were just on the same page," Nicks says. "We were clicking -- we knew what we were capable of doing. We knew it was going to come down to who wanted it more -- and that’s what it came down to."
By the fourth quarter, Manning turned to Manningham, who drew single coverage while New England's secondary focused on trying to contain Nicks and Cruz. The plan worked: Manningham sparked another New York fourth-quarter comeback with one of the most memorable catches in Super Bowl history.
But again, it was a team effort. As much as Nicks and Cruz boasted on Manningham's fourth quarter heroics, Manningham shifted the credit back to his teammates.
"That's how we operate," Manningham says. "We know any of can make a play and we don't really care who gets the ball. We just go out there and make a play."
There will be many more plays to come.
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