In a weeklong series, The Post is looking at alternate realities in New York sports. We are examining “what if” scenarios for our teams, reversals of fortune that would have radically changed not only the franchises themselves but dramatically altered their leagues, too. There are two rules: The scenario must be grounded in reality and have taken place within the last 30 years. Today’s edition: What if Plaxico Burress didn’t shoot himself?
There is one scenario that would have absolutely kept the 2008 New York Football Giants from repeating as Super Bowl champions:
Plaxico Burress accidentally shooting himself in the right thigh with a Glock during Super Bowl week prior to Super Bowl XLIII against the Steelers.
Now c’mon, what would the odds have been of something like that happening?
Something like that did indeed happen early one morning at the Latin Quarter in Manhattan, and it would send Burress to the Oneida Correctional Facility for 21 months after he pled guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon and immediately end his Giants career.
It also shattered the 2008 Giants’ Super Bowl dream.
And cost the 2007-11 Giants three championships in five seasons and the right to call themselves a dynasty.
Even after David Tyree’s Helmet Catch, even after Burress caught the Super Bowl XLII game-winner with 35 seconds remaining from Eli Manning, the perfect ending that ruined the Patriots’ perfect season, the 2008 Giants laughed in the face of complacency and rampaged to a 10-1 start that became 11-1 when they beat the Redskins 23-7 without No. 17.
Then they forgot how to be champions.
The magnitude of the Mount Burress quake had also left them with emotional aftershocks.
“It played into the fact that we probably had something else on our mind,” captain Justin Tuck told The Post.
Burress’ towering 6-foot-5 presence commanding double teams, discouraged eight-man boxes and helped Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward each exceed 1,000 rushing yards.
What if then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t feel compelled to announce: “Nobody wants the Giants to win more than I do. I’d love to deliver a Super Bowl with the Giants and the Jets. But the law is the law.”
Would the 2008 Giants have won the Super Bowl?
“Back-to-back,” Jacobs told The Post. “We were easily better than every team in the NFL that year. Easily. I’m talking about a touchdown, I’m talking about 10 points better than everybody.”
Tuck felt the 2008 Giants were better than the 2007 Giants.
“I thought if Plaxico didn’t shoot himself, we were the best team in the NFL that year,” Tuck said.
In a 2013 YES Network “CenterStage” interview, Tom Coughlin told host Michael Kay: “We were the best team in the NFL at the time of the shooting.”
Kevin Gilbride was the offensive coordinator.
“That was our best team,” Gilbride told The Post. “There’s no doubt about it. We were good in every aspect. I think we could have won. Whether you do win or don’t win, who knows? But we showed we were good enough to win another Super Bowl, I don’t think there was any question about that.”
Gilbride’s pick-your-poison offense dictated to defenses.
“It just made playcalling the way you dream about,” Gilbride said. “You almost know the look you’re gonna get before you call the play.”
Burress — after signing a five-year, $35 million extension hours before the season opener — caught 15 of his 35 passes over the first two weeks of the season before defensive coordinators obsessed over containing him. Enter Jacobs, Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.
“We just ran wild pretty much,” Jacobs said.
No one feared Domenik Hixon, a burner with the dropsies. Amani Toomer was in his 13th and final season. Steve Smith was an emerging second-year receiver.
None was Burress.
Years later, Tuck unfairly blamed himself for the 2008 collapse.
“My job as a captain of the team is regardless of what happens, along with the coaching staff, to get guys ready to play,” Tuck said. “I think I was distracted. I think I was trying to figure out the best way to rally the troops, and obviously didn’t do a good enough job of it.”
Even after a December swoon, the Giants were the No. 1 seed. They were rested and waiting at Giants Stadium for the sixth-seeded Eagles, wild-card victors in Minnesota. Swirling winds hampered Manning more than Donovan McNabb.
“Plaxico was so tall,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said after their 23-11 upset victory, “it was hard to match up sometimes.”
If it would been hard again, the Giants would have hosted Kurt Warner’s Cardinals in the NFC Championship game on a wintry Sunday.
“We beat ’em [37-28 with Burress shelved by a right hamstring injury] during the season at their house,” Jacobs said, “so they gotta come to Jersey in January in the cold and play in the NFC Championship game? Come on now, really?”
Manning versus Ben Roethlisberger would have been next. Burress had predicted Giants 23, Patriots 17 in Super Bowl XLII. Of course he would have offered a prediction against his first NFL team.
“I thought we matched up well with the Steelers,” Jacobs said.
The Steelers beat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. The 2008 Giants watched from afar, wondering. What if? …
“I don’t think it haunts you. … It’s definitely something I wish I could go back and rewrite,” Tuck said, “but it is what it is.” Or might have been.
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