SAN FRANCISCO -- Tom Coughlin is the epitome of stoic, an old-school coach who wears his game face 24/7 -- or so we thought.
On Saturday night, Coughlin revealed a different side during an emotional speech to the team at the Giants’ hotel. He choked up, according to players -- and some believe that set a tone for their 20-17 overtime win over the 49ers Sunday night in a soggy NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park.
Tackle Kareem McKenzie has played seven seasons for Coughlin -- won a Super Bowl with him four years ago -- and he said he could “count on one hand” the number of times he has seen his coach that emotional. After a moment of reflection, McKenzie took it one step further, saying he hadn’t seen anything like it “in recent memory.”
Coughlin’s message was this, according to players: This is a great opportunity, it doesn’t happen very often, so take advantage of it.
“It really brought the situation to a head,” McKenzie said. “It really impressed upon the guys how precious these opportunities are.”
The Giants played like it, refusing to let the 49ers break their will in a fierce defensive battle. Coughlin called it “football at its very basic element ... just a classic football game.” The Giants didn’t have their usual firepower on offense, but they were buoyed by the defense and special teams.
Eli Manning & Co. didn’t make a lot of big plays in the second half, but they also didn’t make any dumb plays -- no turnovers in 68 minutes
in wet, chilly and windy conditions. The Giants were ready for an all-night fight and, eventually, the 49ers blinked.
It was their fifth straight victory, and their fifth straight road victory in the playoffs, dating to 2007 -- an NFL record.
“They have grit now,” Coughlin said of his team. “They’re battle tested. We’ve had five straight single-elimination games. Somehow, some way, we’ve found out a way to scratch our way to a win.”
Just yesterday, or so it seemed, the Giants were a 7-7 team with a coach on the hot seat. Now they’re headed to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI, facing the Patriots.
“This is unbelievable,” defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. “Honestly, I don’t know what’s going on right now. I’m talking, but I don’t know what’s going on. It’s scary to me. It’s crazy.”
The Giants are a lot like their coach: They took a lot of hits, wobbled, but refused to go down.
“It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been in the playoffs, a few years since the Super Bowl, and now that we have this experience again, we’re humble about it, knowing full well that a game of this nature could’ve gone either way,” Coughlin said. “Thank God it went our way.”
Defensive end Justin Tuck credited Coughlin with the turnaround.
“You can’t count that guy out,” Tuck said. “Resiliency comes to mind when you talk about Tom. It doesn’t matter what people say on the outside, the team rallied behind him.”