On a night that featured a variety of surprising moments — including a safety, several critical dropped passes and Tom Coughlin, the 65-year-old New York Giants coach, embracing rapper Flavor Flav in celebration — the most bizarre moment on Sunday surely was Super Bowl XLVI’s final touchdown.
The setup seemed standard enough. The Giants were trailing by two points, there was little more than a minute remaining and the Giants had the ball on the New England Patriots’ six-yard line. Eli Manning took the snap, handed the ball to Ahmad Bradshaw and as Bradshaw began his surge, the game suddenly turned on its head.
It was like opposite day. The Patriots defenders, trained their entire lives to try to push and claw and fight to bring down the ball carrier, stood up and opened a double-wide hole for Bradshaw to reach the end zone.
Bradshaw, trained his entire life to sprint into the end zone whenever he could, pulled up just short of the goal-line and tried to fall down.
Even the players and coaches on the Giants’ sideline, who had spent their entire lives cheering when their team scored, did not know what to do when Bradshaw failed to slam on his brakes in time and fell, almost dejectedly, into the end zone for a touchdown.
The scene was surreal; the Giants had just taken a 21-17 lead in the Super Bowl and no one was celebrating. Bradshaw did not even know whether to spike the ball.
“It was a little strange,” offensive lineman Kevin Boothe said.
“It was definitely weird,” running back Brandon Jacobs said.
“It wasn’t exactly what we were looking for, but it worked out great,” tight end Bear Pascoe said.
The reason for the incongruous sequence was simple: The Giants were concerned about leaving the Patriots, who had quarterback Tom Brady and one timeout, too much time to score a decisive touchdown.
That is why Manning screamed, “Don’t score! Don’t score!” as soon as he saw the Patriots’ defenders standing up instead of rushing.
His hope, he said on Monday, was that Bradshaw would stop at the one-yard line and wait until he was tackled, allowing more time to run off the clock and forcing the Patriots to use their final timeout.
Still, Manning acknowledged how difficult it must be for a player, on perhaps the biggest play of his career, no less, to suddenly do the exact opposite of what he has always done.
In his postgame news conference, New England coach Bill Belichick said that his rationale for letting the Giants score was based on how short a potential game-winning field-goal attempt would have been.
With the ball inside the 10-yard line, Belichick said, it is “a 90 percent field-goal conversion” rate for NFL teams.
However, not all of the Patriots players seemed to agree with the call. Boothe said that after the play was over he asked New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork if the Patriots had purposely laid back and Wilfork nodded ruefully.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes told reporters after the game that it “killed” him to let the Giants score, saying: “When the call came in to let them score, I kind of was like: ‘What?’”
“It definitely was tough,” Spikes added.
Looking back a day later, the Giants’ views on the play, and on the concept overall, seemed to vary. Coughlin said he did not instruct Bradshaw to stop short before the play, preferring to take the guaranteed points and not play for a last-second game-winning field goal when something — a bad snap, a shanked kick — could go wrong.