Rookies come up big for victorious Giants

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Super Bowl is supposed to be the greatest test for a professional football player.

With the stakes at their absolute highest, players are put under an enormous amount of pressure and forced to perform under stressful circumstances before America's biggest television audience of the year.

These are not exactly the situations that are supposed to be conducive to rookies.

Yet there were the Giants, with eight active rookies, hanging with the undefeated Patriots and closing in on one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.

If it wasn't Kevin Boss rumbling 45 yards to set up the Giants' first touchdown, it was Steve Smith making a key reception for a first down. If it wasn't Ahmad Bradshaw rushing 13 yards for a pivotal first down, it was defensive tackle Jay Alford bursting through the line to bring down Tom Brady and effectively end the Patriots' hopes.

Play after play was made by a Giants rookie class that, early in the season, looked to be an afterthought.

The game reflected the rookies' season.

Just as the season started with all eight rookies struggling to find their way and unable to make any noteworthy contributions, the game began with the rookies faltering a bit under the Super Bowl spotlight and committing crucial errors that impeded the Giants' progress.

"I thought that our preparation was good and I also thought that we had so many young guys who were hyped up about playing in this thing. But we talked an awful lot in the last couple days about controlled emotion, and quite frankly, we did a couple of dumb things in the first half," admitted coach Tom Coughlin.

A wide-open Boss dropped an easy pass with the Giants inside the Patriots' 30-yard line on their first drive.

An open Smith bobbled an Eli Manning throw with the Giants again threatening in the red zone on their second drive, and it was picked off by Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs.

Bradshaw failed to collect a sloppy handoff from Manning and was forced to recover a fumble that cost the team crucial field position on their third drive.

At halftime, with the Patriots up, 7-3, it seemed as though maybe the rookies weren't quite ready for prime time.

Then, with a few minutes to collect their thoughts and regain their confidence, they came out rolling in the second half.

Jubilant rookie safety Michael Johnson said during the postgame celebration, "Our rookies go hard, that's why! I mean everybody talks about our rookie class and I think we all take pride in that. And, shoot, I mean, they put us in a position to make plays and most of our rookies are stepping in and making them. It's a great opportunity for all of us and we're trying to take advantage."

Astoundingly, in the end, it was not the experienced Patriots, winners of three Super Bowl titles, who were making the plays. Instead it was the Giants' rookies, who just last year were scattered on college campuses throughout America going to study hall and hanging out at the student union.

As Alford commented during the post-game festivities, "It's a great feeling because a lot of the rookies contributed so it's a great feeling when all the rookie class can come in and help the team. ... We're mature enough to step in there and do our job and be good at it."

Entering the game, the age-old argument of veteran experience versus youthful energy was one of the central themes.

Score one for the young guys.

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