GLENDALE, Ariz. – Oh, well, nobody's perfect. Except maybe Eli Manning.
A masterful magician when the stakes were highest, Manning engineered one of the best drives in Super Bowl history Sunday to help the New York Giants squash the New England Patriots' run at history-making perfection with a 17-14 victory.
In a game, and a finish, that showed precisely why the Super Bowl has become America's favorite spectacle, Manning led the Giants 83 yards in just more than two minutes. He capped it with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left, to win what easily could go down as the best Super Bowl ever.
"An unbelievable game and an unbelievable feeling," Manning said.
"The greatest victory in the history of this franchise, without a question," said owner John Mara.
It was a scintillating closing chapter to a crazy week that seemed to have everything: the perfect team; the upstart underdogs; the cover boy quarterback in Tom Brady; the kid brother in Manning.
America loves an underdog, and the Giants, with their stirring victory, etched themselves as one of the best this game — or any sport — has ever seen.
The star was Manning, the scruffy younger brother of Peyton, who won his own Super Bowl last year, and sat in the corner of a skybox for this one, squirming and agonizing over every play.
Now both Mannings have a championship and a Super Bowl MVP to their names and Brady — well, he's still got the looks, the supermodel girlfriend, Gisele Bundchen, and three Super Bowl titles of his own.
With the loss, New England finishes 18-1, and the 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the only team to go undefeated from the start of the season through the Super Bowl.
Their coach, Don Shula, was on hand, ready to congratulate the Patriots. Instead, he figured to be sipping champagne, continuing a tradition the Dolphins have enjoyed every year when the last undefeated team finally gets its first loss.
"What a great football game this was," Shula said. "What I learned today was how tough it is to go undefeated."
His Dolphins remain alone thanks to Manning, whose 13-yard game-winner came four plays after he escaped a cadre of Patriots engulfing him, threw the ball up for grabs — how, exactly, did he do that? — and watched receiver David Tyree jump and somehow pin it between his hands and his helmet for the 32-yard reception.
That kept the drive going, and it will be Manning's mastery that everyone remembers — not Brady's coolly efficient 80-yard touchdown drive moments earlier.
This game was such a back-and-forth stomach-turner that it seems a great bet to break the record for Super Bowl viewership (94.08 million) and give the advertisers their money's worth on the $2.7 million they spent for each 30-second spot.
It might even force the watercooler conversation Monday to be about football, not commercials or halftime shows.
For the record, Tom Petty did a four-song halftime set, closing, appropriately, with "Runnin' Down A Dream."
Some highlights on the commercial side included Shaquille O'Neal as a winning jockey in a big horse race, Richard Simmons barely avoiding being squished on the highway and Will Ferrell playing a — well — not-so-fit pro basketball player who also likes beer.
Funny as those were, the best show was on the field.
It was a tight, taut defensive battle for three-plus quarters — yet anything but boring.
Then it was taken over by two quarterbacks — one already a star, the other yearning to escape the shadow his father, Archie, and big brother, Peyton have cast over the family, and the sport, for many years now.
Earlier in the week, Eli said it was flattering being compared to Peyton because "he's at the top of his game, and I'm still trying to get my game up to his level."
"I never thought about them even playing college ball, much less pro football, much less winning Super Bowls or MVPs," Archie Manning said. "It wasn't in the plan. We tried to raise kids. We raised kids just like other parents raised their kids."
Eli Manning's dazzling final drive capped a four-week stretch of nearly flawless playoff football during which the Giants were underdogs in every game they played, but won them all.
They were 12-point underdogs for this one, not as big as the New York Jets when they stunned Baltimore in 1969 to make good on Joe Namath's guarantee — or the Patriots when they won their first title in 2002 against the Rams.
But how to argue with the magnitude of this upset?
All year, the Patriots were unbeatable, even when these same Giants gave them their toughest test of all in the last game of the regular season, a 38-35 final that gave New York the confidence it needed.
Looking for something to pick on, New England's critics went to "Spygate," the Week 1 plot devised by coach Bill Belichick to videotape Jets defensive coaches as they signaled to players on the field. The NFL fined the coach $500,000 and the team $250,000 and a first-round draft pick, and the pundits said the Patriots might be forever remembered as cheaters.
The subject came up frequently this week, including Sunday, when Sen. Arlen Specter reiterated he's considering Senate hearings to get to the bottom of the matter.
Will he care now that it's the Giants, not the Patriots, holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy?
Instead of sourpuss Belichick — this time in a red sweatshirt instead of gray — dissecting another victory, it was the Giants' Tom Coughlin at the winning coach's lectern.
An interesting subplot all week was how his change in attitude — less yelling, more listening — helped turn this team around.
The plan worked.
"We had to battle hard to get this thing," Coughlin said. "But I told them last night, 'Other than family, the greatest feeling in the world is when, all of the sudden, you realize you're the world champion."'