On one level, it could be argued that the New England Patriots, poised on the threshold of sporting immortality, folded when it really mattered, but that would be to give scant credit to the New York Giants, whose 17-14 triumph here on Sunday night is probably the biggest Super Bowl upset since those other New Yorkers, Joe Namath's Jets, surprised the Baltimore Colts 39 years ago.
Had the Patriots prevailed, they would have become only the second team in history to complete a perfect unbeaten season, following the Miami Dolphins of 1972. They would also have been confirmed as one of the great teams of all time, with their fourth triumph in seven years. Instead, their coach Bill Belichick was upstaged by his rival Tom Coughlin, who had never coached in a championship game. Perhaps even more surprisingly New England's quarterback, Tom Brady, who rewrote the record books this season, was eclipsed by Eli Manning, who had committed more interceptions and turnovers than any other quarterback in the NFL this season.
It was fairytale stuff, and just to confirm the sense of the surreal, Eli was duly named the game's Most Valuable Player, following in the footsteps of his older brother Peyton, who won the trophy with the Indianapolis Colts last season.
There is no doubt that the younger Manning deserves his moment. Despite playing probably his worst game of the season, it seemed that Brady had finally managed to put the Patriots in charge when his touchdown pass to Randy Moss gave New England a 14-10 lead with less than three minutes remaining.
Manning then engineered one of the great Super Bowl drives. With his brother in the stands and, like everyone else in the stadium, on his feet, Eli pulled off a remarkable play.
Despite Patriot defenders grabbing his shirt and threatening to knock him down, Manning somehow made space and threw the ball to receiver David Tyree.
Tyree, who had earlier caught a touchdown to put his side 10-7 ahead, made the catch of his career, hanging on to the ball while it was balanced on his helmet and with two Patriot defenders wrapped around him. "That might be one of the greatest plays of all time in the Super Bowl," said Coughlin.
Moments later, with only 35 seconds remaining, Manning completed the job with a 13-yard touchdown to Plaxico Burress.
New York's defence made Brady's life a misery throughout, forcing him to throw before he was ready, sacking him five times, and knocking him to the ground.
As a result, the ice-cool pass-master had his worst game of the season. "We knew we had to get to Brady," said the 15-year veteran defensive end Michael Strahan. "Everyone has a plan for getting to the quarterback and ours was to punch him in the mouth."
So the Patriots' season ends in frustration. "No one expected us to win," crowed Strahan. "I know. I've got a TV."
Only two teams have gone into the Super Bowl as bigger underdogs than this season's New York Giants - New York Jets in 1969 and New England Patriots in 2001
1969: Orange Bowl, Miami. New York Jets 16 Baltimore Ravens 7
MVP Joe Namath.
The New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath "guaranteed" victory on the Thursday before the game, then went out and led the AFL to its first Super Bowl victory, over a Baltimore team that had lost only once in 16 games all season. Namath completed 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards and directed a steady attack that dominated the NFL champions after the Jets' defense had intercepted the Colts quarterback Earl Morrall three times in the first half.
2002: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans. New England Patriots 20 St Louis Rams 17
MVP Tom Brady
Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal as time expired gave the New England Patriots their first Super Bowl title - the first time in Super Bowl history the game had been won on the final play. The Rams outgained the Patriots 427-267 in total yards, but the Patriots forced three turnovers, which resulted in 17 points, while committing no turnovers. A Rams touchdown tied the game at 17-17 with 1min 30sec left. Operating without any timeouts, Tom Brady completed three short passes to J.R. Redmond to reach the Patriots' 41 with 33 seconds left. After an imcompletion, Brady completed 23- and 16-yard passes to Troy Brown and Jermaine Wiggins, respectively, to reach the Rams' 30, and then spiked the ball with seven seconds remaining, leaving Viniateri to kick for glory.