When Eli Manning dropped back and scanned his downfield options, down three in the red zone with less than two minutes left to play, everyone in New Jersey’s 21st century football palace knew what was coming.
The 3-1 New York Giants had played ugly football on an otherwise beautiful October day at the New Meadowlands Stadium. As a result, a seemingly inferior opponent in the 1-3 Seattle Seahawks hung around, but now the inevitable finale loomed. The Giants would deliver the fatal blow to the Seahawks and move on comfortably at 4-1.
So when Manning unleashed the pass to Victor Cruz, who had already two spectacular snags on the day – including this theatrical 68-yard one-handed TD - to keep the Giants in the game, it was game over, right?
Wrong. Brandon Browner snatched the ball as it bounced off of Cruz’s fingers and took it 94 yards the opposite direction for the score. The final nail was driven into a coffin on that play, but it wasn’t the Seahawks being buried. In an unlikely upset, the Giants fell victim to the reigning NFC West champions.
When asked about Browner’s pick six, Seattle coach Pete Carroll didn’t hide his excitement about beating New York in New Jersey.
“It takes a moment like that to turn things around,” he said. “I knew as soon as I saw the ball get tipped that it was the one – I had his entire return to enjoy it. I don’t know how many seconds it was, but it felt like an eternity. It was just a freaking blast.”
I could not agree with Carroll’s sentiment more.
Today served as the realization of a lifelong dream for me: to cover an NFL game as a reporter. To do it in New York, at the New Meadowlands, covering a game that came down to the wire – it’s hard to ask for more than that.
But that’s precisely what I got.
Sure, not everything went all that smoothly. Silver is an excellent writer and a great boss, but he perhaps lacks the pull that he thinks he possesses. When I showed up at the press will call, my name was not on the list.
After talking my way into the stadium, I got to the press box – where once again, my name was not on the list. Eventually, I convinced the Giants PR staff to give me a seat in the far corner of the press box. Didn’t matter. I was still covering an NFL game.
And yes, the game was ugly. Very ugly. Through three and a half quarters it seemed more about who wanted to give it away than who wanted to walk away victorious. Seattle turned the ball over three times, including twice in the red zone (fumbles on the 11 and 3 yard line) and continuously crippled itself with penalties. New York gave the ball away four times.
Even worse, the Seahawks played with their backup quarterback, Charlie Whitehurst, for much of the second half after starter Tarvaris Jackson went down with a shoulder injury.
Seattle was unable to capitalize on numerous opportunities in Giants territory – my favorite being a four play, 0 yard drive that ended with a 43 yard Steven Hauschka field goal. Still, the hideous play didn’t hinder my ability to love every second of it.
On the way into the stadium I spotted Troy Aikman, who was on hand to cover the game for Fox. For guys in this business who covered the Hall of Famer, that’s a normal occurrence. For a kid who just graduated college, it’s just plain awesome.
Maybe even more awesome was the spread of food in the press box. For a graduate student whose diet consists entirely of peanut butter and jelly, top ramen and macaroni and cheese during the week, the eggs, sausage, hash browns, yogurt, chocolate milk. orange juice, and Dunkin Donuts coffee all hit the spot.
And that was just breakfast. I went back for more at halftime to be greeted by hot dogs, fruit salad, cookies and an ice cream cone, not to mention the flowing fountain soda. At least on Sunday afternoons, journalists eat well.
Post-game I sat in on Pete Carroll’s press conference. I spoke with players in both locker rooms. I explored the bowels of New Meadowlands Stadium and stepped briefly out onto the field. I even perused the Seattle players’ family tent. Lesson learned: act like you know what you’re doing and people don’t ask too many questions.
Yes, I’ll have spent nine hours on a bus for 26 hours in New York City. I’m writing this in not-so-ideal conditions – in the back row of a bus hauling me back to Washington, DC, helplessly distracted by the guy in front of me breaking up with his girlfriend over g-chat.
Doesn’t matter. I had a freaking blast.