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Tom Coughlin Changed Everything With 2007 Regular-Season Finale


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EAST RUTHERFORD – From the depths of his football lifer’s soul, Ernie Accorsi was convinced Tom Coughlin was taking an unnecessary risk at a critical point, taunting the football gods with his legendary single-minded stubbornness.

 

Accorsi didn’t have an official voice anymore, having retired as Giants’ general manager at the end of the previous season. Like the rest of the NFL’s viewing public, Accorsi found himself taking a clear side on the debate raging across the national audience as the 2007 regular season approached its final week. Without a shred of doubt, Accorsi believed the playoff-bound Giants should rest their starters in the finale against New England, even if it meant being the final victim to a Patriots perfect season.

 

“I kept thinking, ‘Don’t play everybody, don’t take chances, don’t suffer any injuries,’ ” Accorsi recalled this week.

 

“I was wrong.”

 

Coughlin, memorably, chose to play, and play hard. In a home game that drew so much hype it was broadcast simultaneously on three networks (an NFL first), the Giants lost a thriller, a 38-35 slugfest that elevated Tom Brady and his record-setting offense among the greatest regular season teams of all time.

 

It would set the stage to put Coughlin among the best coaches, too.

 

“They won, they had big incentive to, but I came out of that game thinking, ‘We can beat them,’ ” Accorsi said.

 

Four games later, in Super Bowl XLII, they did.

 

New York’s effort in Week 17 proved a genius stroke that elevated Coughlin to Super Bowl champion. If the Super Bowl victory changed Coughlin’s legacy forever, it was the aggressive approach in Week 17 that defined what he’s all about.

 

“To me, that’s when he laid the groundwork to win the Super Bowl,” Accorsi said. “It was a perfect reflection of his integrity. And it was the right thing to do for his own team.”

 

The Giants and Patriots meet Sunday for the first meaningful time since New York’s epic Super Bowl victory, since Coughlin out-coached Bill Belichick, Eli Manning outplayed Brady and David Tyree entered the realm of the miraculous. The Giants’ 17-14 comeback is rightfully considered among the greatest title games, and upsets, in league history. Coughlin was the one who made it happen, with a brilliant game plan heavy on pressuring Brady and committed to ball control offense.

 

“The fulfillment of a dream come true, without a doubt,” the coach said Wednesday, the closest he would come to reminiscing about a game he said “seems like a long time ago.”

 

Longer because the Giants haven’t won a playoff game since, one of the reasons this weekend’s meeting is so heavy with implication. With identical 5-2 records, but with the Patriots possessing a deep-rooted home-field advantage and a stronger strength of schedule to date, the Giants are only beginning to face the sort of quality opponents that will define them as postseason-worthy or not.

 

Working with the one-year extension he earned following last season’s 10-win, no-playoff effort, Coughlin is committed to nothing less than joining Belichick’s even more exclusive coaching club of multiple title-holders. His most important win came at Belichick’s expense, against a respected colleague, friend and former partner as members of the same late-80s Giants’ coaching staff. The two men, Coughlin coaching wide receivers and Belichick the defensive secondary, would wage tactical wars on the practice field and share intellectual discussions off it.

 

It’s hard to imagine Belichick would have handled the 2007 finale any differently from Coughlin had their roles been reversed. He surely would have uttered the same sentence one Giant remembered Coughlin confessing in the days leading up to the game.

 

“How can I tell my team we’re not playing to win when all we talk about is what we need to do to win?” Coughlin said. “I couldn’t look them in the eye if I did that.”

 

He couldn’t disobey his competitive DNA.

 

His players reaped the reward. From locker to locker in East Rutherford, confidence spread like the warmth of the first sip of hot chocolate after snow. Manning, Michael Strahan and Co. couldn’t know they would face the Patriots one more time for the Lombardi Trophy, but they no doubt believed they were heading into the playoffs on a dangerous roll.

 

“He was smarter than everyone on that,” Accorsi said.

 

Accorsi didn’t need additional evidence the man he hired before the 2004 season had the smarts to succeed in the NFL. Coughlin, 65, hasn’t hung around as the league’s oldest coach – by five years over his closest competitor, Seattle’s Pete Carroll – without success.

 

“His legacy is intact – he’s been a winner everywhere, in Boston College, where it’s not easy to win he won bowl games, in Jacksonville, where he won fast, and here in New York,” Accorsi said. “He’s been a terrific coach.”

 

Coughlin always had a leg up on his rival candidates when the Giants’ job came open, his year off after the end of his Jacksonville run giving him so much time to prepare. When Accorsi ran into Coughlin at the NFL combine that year, he unwittingly had all the evidence he’d need that his next coach would never take his foot off the gas, not even in a meaningless Week 17 game against an intimidating foe.

 

While coaches everywhere where flapping their gums and pressing the flesh in networking glee, Coughlin was perched at the end of the 40-yard dash line, hidden among the scouts holding stopwatches. “I said, ‘You’re working harder than anybody here and you don’t even have a team,’ ” Accorsi said. “He said, ‘What else am I supposed to do?’ ”

 

In Coughlin’s world, there is only one answer. You’re supposed to work.

 

http://www.northjersey.com/sports/sports_rotator/Sullivan_Tom_Coughlin_changed_everything_with_2007_regular-season_finale.html

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While coaches everywhere where flapping their gums and pressing the flesh in networking glee, Coughlin was perched at the end of the 40-yard dash line, hidden among the scouts holding stopwatches. “I said, ‘You’re working harder than anybody here and you don’t even have a team,’ ” Accorsi said. “He said, ‘What else am I supposed to do?’ ”

 

In Coughlin’s world, there is only one answer. You’re supposed to work.

 

 

I love that even when he wasn't coaching a team he was at the combine timing people and scouting.

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Abso-freaking-lutely... At the time I thought it was dumb, I figured rest our guys who cares if the Pats go 16-0, our job is to win a SB and we're a wildcard team with a road playoff games ahead of us and the game is completely meaningless for us let's just rest our guys...and I've never in my entire life been more wrong. We don't play our starters in week 17 and we don't win that SB, plain and simple.

 

 

 

-Z

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