For Giants and Patriots, pride still mattered

"It was a strange kinda game. It really doesn't mean anything to either team, but it means a lot."
-- Tom Brady, after the Patriots beat the Giants to finish the regular season unbeaten

I think I know what he means. And I'm with him. The PatriotsGiants game did matter. But it had less to do with records than with integrity, honor, and maybe Old Hickory.

Old Hickory was Andrew Jackson's nickname. And before he was President, he was a soldier. A pretty good one, too. He was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, which might have been the most famous battle of The War of 1812. It was certainly the last. Because it took place after the peace treaty ending the war had been signed -- but before news of the truce reached the two armies. That wasn't much comfort to the British commander, General Pakenham, who was killed in action; and it didn't stop Jackson from making it all the way to the White House. So, it was a battle that didn't matter to the war, but meant an awful lot to history.

And so it was last Saturday night in the Meadowlands.

This was a game for connoisseurs of competition. Because fundamentally the Patriots and Giants played for nothing more than history and pride. In the Patriots' case, the pride was in a terrific achievement: finishing the regular season undefeated. But that's still pride. I mean, there's no prize for an undefeated regular season. In fact, it's been done before.

In the Giants' case, it was pride pure and simple. And for that, the Patriots owe the Giants some thanks. Because for New England to claim a real victory it had to face real competition. And the Giants competed last Saturday night. Like the Patriots, the Giants are going to the playoffs; unlike New England, however, they had to play in the first round. That meant no bye week. And since the Giants couldn't improve their lot in playoff life with a win, they might have been forgiven for taking it easy against the Patriots. Instead, they it took it to 'em.

That takes guts and a genuine respect for the game. I'm all for that.

And the Giants didn't just play hard, they played well. They had a lead in the fourth quarter. Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes and posted his best quarterback rating of the year. Big Blue even had its first kick return for a touchdown this season. They did all they could. More, in fact, than most thought they would.

Of course, it wasn't enough. The Patriots are exceptional. In just about every way. From the searing intensity of their head coach to their soaring offense that's rewritten some of the most cherished pages in the NFL record book. The Patriots are unlike any team in history.

But history is funny. It takes time to ultimately know what's important and what's not. Virtue, however, needs no such distance. You know in an instant what is and what isn't right. And the Patriots-Giants Week 16 game was right. Because starters played instead of sitting, because the tired soldiered on, because the outgunned fired back until they had nothing left to fire. For all the right reasons, this is our Game of the Week.

I think even Old Hickory would be proud.

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