It was a tragedy only for the New England Patriots, and anything but a farce. But Super Bowl history has repeated itself, and in the space of just four years. The Patriots usually beat anyone in the National Football League's supreme showcase event. Anyone, that is, except the New York Giants.
In 2008, the Giants eked out a 17-14 win, to deprive their overwhelmingly favoured opponents of a perfect season. On Sunday night in the Lucas Oil stadium in Indianopolis, the Patriots were only the narrowest of favourites, but in virtually every other respect the story was the same.
Once again the Giants mounted a long drive, featuring a near-impossible catch, for a last-minute touchdown. Once again, they secured a razor-thin victory, this time by 21-17. And once again, in the duel that matters most, at the climax of the most important game of the season, the sometimes belittled Eli Manning bested the Patriots' Tom Brady, generally regarded as the pre-eminent quarterback of his era.
After a shaky start, in which he was forced to give up a two-point safety the first time he touched the ball, Brady settled into his rhythm, and at one point threw a Super Bowl-record 16 consecutive completions. And when New England scored touchdowns just before and immediately after half-time to take a 17-9 lead, they seemed about to take command. But they never quite did.
Their suspect defence did thereafter hold the Giants to two field goals in the third quarter, but each time the Patriots had the ball back, something happened: a fumble, a botched reception, or a brilliant defensive play by their opponents. Then, with New England clinging to a 17-15 advantage, came the final enthralling minutes.
With three minutes and 36 seconds remaining, the Giants embarked on a final drive, as Manning hurled the ball high and leftward. Racing just inside the left field line, receiver Mario Manningham evaded the attentions of two Patriots players, and leapt to haul in a 38-yard reception, somehow coming to earth with both feet safely within bounds. Manning kept up the drive, comfortably but deliberately in no hurry, in order to eat up the remaining time and clinch a one-point victory with a routine field goal that left the Patriots no time to respond. But the mathematics didn't quite work out.
In perhaps the weirdest winning touchdown in Super Bowl history, the Patriots' defence intentionally opened to allow Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw to score on a six-yard run which he tried to abort, but could not prevent his momentum carrying him across an unguarded line.
"I was yelling to him, 'Don't score, don't score'," Manning said. "He tried to stop, but he fell into the end zone." The touchdown gave New York a four-point lead. However, it gave the ball back to the Patriots, and Brady a chance to work his magic in the 57 seconds left. Had he done so, Bradshaw's touchdown would been a disastrous mistake.
For once, however, Brady came up short. The drive stuttered, and his final Hail Mary pass from 49 yards out soared into the sky only to escape the hands of his own tight end Rob Gronkowski, to fall incomplete. Super Bowl XLVI was over. The Giants had proved once again, when it really counts, they have the Patriots' number, and Eli Manning had surely escaped the shadow of his elder brother, Peyton. For the second time he was named a Super Bowl most valuable player, lifting him into an elite group of five multiple winners that also happens to include a certain Tom Brady.