The problem with Big Blue's greatest seasons in the Super Bowl era is their violent allergy to the season openers – three of their four seasons that ended with a Lombardi Trophy started with a loss. So while teams generally think that winning the first game of an NFL season is a good thing, the Giants, like an old airplane, needed some turbulence before they soared above the clouds.
As the G-Men get set to open the 2020 season Monday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, let's look at five of the most notable games to open their seasons.
On September 8, the Giants lost to Tom Landry’s Cowboys in Dallas, 31-28. They lost again on Oct 19, at Seattle…and that's it. The Giants finished 14-2, rolled over the NFC, and stomped the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, the first in franchise history. Many consider the '86 squad their best since the days of Frank Gifford, Sam Huff, and Andy Robustelli, if not the best ever. They had no weaknesses and a savage defense that featured the greatest defensive player in history, Lawrence Taylor, at his apex, as seen by him becoming the only defender in history to win NFL MVP.
This team was known for some gory and glory, from the night Taylor snapped Joe Theismann's leg like a pencil, to becoming the first team to glamorize the Gatorade dump on the head coach. Bill Parcells, who said many things that became NFL mantras - like "you are what your record says you are" - once said that winning the Super Bowl is better than sex. That may be his lone quote not rooted in fact, or football. But Parcells established himself as a coaching force, a rep that would serve him well - and pay him rather well - over the next 20 years.
Breaking News! On September 9, the New York "Football" Giants won! They beat the Eagles, 27-20, at old Giants Stadium, back when they had the team's nickname glued to the helmet. The G-Men would win their first 10 games before falling to the Eagles and then the 49ers in a rare, low-scoring 7-3 classic at old Candlestick Park. But the Giants famously exacted revenge on the Niners later on, even with Phil Simms lost for the season with a leg injury, as Jeff Hostetler went under center and the last of the great Bill Parcells teams somehow turned a lost season into a Super Bowl run.
The G-Men beat the Niners in San Francisco after Roger Craig famously fumbled and Lawrence Taylor lunged on it, and that NFC Title Game also featured the hardest hit you'll ever see on a QB when Leonard Marshall flattened Joe Montana, knocking the legend out of the game. This team went on to win what is now known as the Whitney Houston Super Bowl with defense and Ottis Anderson, and would not win another until they beat some undefeated squad 17 years later, as Bill Parcells would leave the team and tap into the wanderlust that had him pinball from New Jersey to New England, back to New Jersey, and then to Dallas.
On September 9, the Giants lost at the Cowboys, 45-35, and after they lost their second game, there were murmurs about this team and Tom Coughlin's job security. They had collapsed the year before after a 6-2 start, and the 0-2 opening was worrisome, at best. Little was expected of this bunch, which was ornery and, frankly, rude, with Michael Strahan's surly retorts and Antonio Pierce blowing an air horn as reporters probed into the club's performance.
Yet something magical happened to this bunch. Maybe it was Tom Coughlin softening his touch, morphing from military officer to group counselor. Maybe it was that goal line stand at Washington that saved their first win, 24-17. Maybe it was Strahan, who realized this was his final shot at a ring, and thus quickly matured into a leader. Whatever it was, Big Blue went on a big run, winning their next six games, and finishing a respectable 10-6. Many say the defining moment of December was playing toe-to-toe with the 15-0 Patriots at Giants Stadium on the last day of the regular season. Though they had nothing to gain by starting their star players, Coughlin fired all his cannons at Brady and Belichick, losing a 38-35 shootout that felt like a win because Big Blue knew they could exchange blows with the best. They met a month later, and you know the rest: an army of poor kids in the third world got free 19-0 Patriots t-shirts.
The rare moment when winning a game was far from a precursor to greatness. Even though the Giants beat Washington, 16-7, on September 4, and went on an epic roll, it didn't matter. They didn't know what was lurking in December. How could they? Even though these Giants were defending NFL champs, dashed out to 11-1 start, were vaporizing teams, and were clearly favored to repeat, it was all about to collapse.
On Nov. 28, Plaxico Burress thought it was a good idea to stroll into a nightclub - after he was scratched from the next day's game with a hamstring injury - with a handgun tucked under his waistband. The rest is renowned, surreal, and just silly. After accidentally shooting himself a few inches below the crown jewels, Burress was arrested, jailed, and then released. He would not play another snap for the Giants, who fell apart under the weight of the news, controversy, and scrutiny that followed the incident. So a team that was flattening the league turned pillow-soft, losing three of their last five games, and then vanishing in their first playoff game, an ugly home loss to the hated Eagles, 23-11. Without Burress, his favorite target, who was a monster against the Packers at a truly frozen tundra the year before, Eli didn't have the same shorthand with any other receiver. And so went a team that could have, should have, repeated as champs.
The 2011 Giants bolted out the gate with a 3-1 record. But, naturally, they lost their first one, 28-14, at Washington. These G-Men would finish the first half of the season with a 6-2 mark. But then they imploded, losing five of their next six to enter the stretch run at 7-7. They won their final two games, bagged a playoff spot, and made a most improbable run. They somehow beat the exponentially better Packers at Lambeau – a huge feat as Green Bay was the defending Super Bowl champion and just finished a 15-1 season, led by Aaron Rodgers in his prime, and in the midst of arguably the greatest season for a passer ( 45 TD, 6 INT, and an obscene 122.5 passer rating on the year).
In the NFC title game they played that famously brutal and bloody game at San Francisco, with the 49ers hitting Eli Manning like a heavy bag. But through his indestructible family DNA, Eli kept getting up, the Giants won in overtime after the 49ers fumbled a punt, and then they went on to beat Brady & Belichick one more time - the only team to do so in two separate Super Bowls. The game was known, if not won, by Manning's surreal sideline pass to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter. And thus Coughlin and Manning became the only Kryptonite for the Super Bowl Brady Bunch.