By Christian S. Kohl
The day a player reaches the Super Bowl is the day his career is forever defined. Some wait their entire careers for that special day, only to never see it arrive. In a league which emphasizes parity and the opportunity for every team to make it, the competition is all the more ferocious, the bad breaks even more tragic. Given the seemingly impossible road one team must traverse in order to scale the mountain that is the Super Bowl, let’s take a look back and appreciate exactly what these two teams endured to earn the right to square off on Feb. 5.
1. The Lockout
This summer, it still remained unclear whether or not we’d have a super bowl, a 17-week regular season, or any season at all. Many teams used this abbreviated offseason time as an excuse for poor performance or lack of team cohesion; neither team still alive complained, and simply overcame.
2. Avoided Major Injuries to Key Personnel
Both teams endured costly injuries to their defenses, but neither saw elite offensive personnel fall for extended periods in a season where virtually every other team was ravaged by it. Peyton Manning, Jamaal Charles, Kenny Britt and others lost virtually their entire season. Others such as Mendenhall, and Adrian Peterson now scramble to recover from their devastating injuries late in the year in order to be ready next fall. New England and New York both survived with healthy quarterbacks and skill players, averted catastrophe, and delivered in the clutch.
3. Survived Coaching Controversy
Given the status of Tom Coughlin’s contract, and the ups and downs of a season beginning with extremely high expectations, the role of their head coach and the future were not always entirely clear. The Giants managed to keep focused, stay disciplined, and march forward under Coughlin’s strategy all the way to Indianapolis.
4. Defeated the Green Bay Packers
Week 13 saw a bitterly fought contest between the Giants and Packers, leaving Eli and New York on the wrong side. Faced with the daunting challenge of defeating the Packers on the road in the divisional round, the Giants fought back, put Green Bay on its heels, and sent perhaps the most feared team in the NFL home for the season without a single playoff win.
5. Withstood Tebowmania
For all those in the NFL who claimed to not buy into Tebow or the Denver strategy, New England delivered the knockout blows to the Broncos’ season that everyone assumed should occur which never had. Whatever aspect, tangible or otherwise, that befuddled the vaunted Pittsburgh defense did not even cause New England pause for six straight quarters. Denver’s halftime lead in week 15 was not sustained for long, as adjustments made by coaches and players allowed New England to breeze past Tebow and the Broncos like they were standing still.
The list goes on and on. All NFL teams were forced to deal with adversity in many forms, from questionable officiating to new rules changes which limit the return game and force defenders to tackle differently. Every team this year saw highs and lows, and were forced to glumly explain what went wrong after costly losses. Each team this year sought to integrate rookies and youth into their core of veterans to gel into a fearsome unit. None did this more effectively than the two teams still standing. Victor Cruz performed as well as any receiever in the league, while Gronkowski and Hernandez continue to redefine the capabailities of skill players that large. Each team has uneqivocally earned the right to do battle over the Lombardi trophy come February. All that’s left now is to kick the ball off, and place it on the 20.
Christian S. Kohl is a writer and filmmaker based in New York City. Find out more about him at DailySpew.com.