The New York Giants had barely started celebrating their NFC championship win at Green Bay when a startling text message brought them back to earth.
As the players, coaches and staff settled in for their return charter flight to New York, running back Reuben Droughns got the news from a friend -- the Giants had been established as 13 1/2-point underdogs to the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Droughns quickly spread the word among his teammates, interrupting the fist-pumping and back-slapping of a squad that had just won its 10th straight road game.
"That really angered a lot of the guys," Droughns said of the point spread. "As soon as we saw that, we were all saying we couldn't wait to get to Arizona to play this game. We had just won the NFC championship -- and it still felt like nobody believed in us."
It's the same feeling another club from New York had 39 years ago when it played in Super Bowl III. Nobody thought a team from the upstart AFL could knock off a team from the mighty NFL, but Joe Namath's Jets -- 18-point underdogs, which ties for the largest spread in Super Bowl history -- shocked the world by beating the Baltimore Colts.
And it's the same feeling these Patriots had six years ago when Tom Brady made his first Super Bowl appearance. Those Pats went in as 14-point underdogs to the St. Louis Rams and their, ahem, unstoppable offense, but left as the 20-17 winners of Super Bowl XXXVI. It was stunning at the time, less so in hindsight.
While doubts about New York's ability to pull off the upset have lessened slightly in the past couple of weeks -- the point spread now stands at 12, although that might be just a reflection of late New York support at the betting window -- those distinctive chips on the Giants' shoulders have swelled with every minute they have spent in Arizona. As far as they are concerned, the public views them merely as a big blue prop in a storybook tale about a New England team that probably can't remember what it's like to lose.
Sunday's game (6:30 p.m. ET, FOX) is all about the coronation of Bill Belichick and his boys. The unbeatable team capping off a perfect season. And the Giants? Well, they are here simply because some poor saps had to represent the NFC, right?
The funny thing is that the Giants actually like this perception. They might talk about their lack of respect, but they know the underdog role has worked pretty well for them. It provided ample motivation when they started the season 0-2, and it helped them roll through three playoff games on the road.
Now the Giants are hoping that spurned feeling can drive them through one more game they supposedly can't win.
"Nobody thought this team would be where it is right now," Giants right tackle Kareem McKenzie said. "All the commentators. All the newspapers. Nobody. But we feel like we have nothing to lose. We've won games under all kinds of circumstances this year, and we love nothing more than proving people wrong."
Namath, of course, seemed to love it. He even guaranteed the upset, then backed it up. His bravado fueled the Jets' confidence and made him a folk hero.