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Dan Shaughnessy

Familiar opponent rekindles familiar pain

BILL BELICHICK Says he’s over it BILL BELICHICK Says he’s over it
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / November 6, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - You can say it was four years ago and has no bearing on today’s game. You can say that one has nothing to do with the other.

But that is no fun, and it is not true for most of us.

The New York Giants play at Gillette Stadium today, and this is no ordinary game between a pair of Northeast Corridor rivals with matching 5-2 records.

It’s the same two quarterbacks. It’s the same two head coaches. It’s the same two logos.

Obviously, a Patriots victory today won’t make up for what happened in the desert in Arizona in February 2008, but there’s no way this is just another game for the New England Patriots and their fans.

That’s still Eli Manning dropping back to pass - just as he did on that hideous third and 5 (from his own 44) when David Tyree made the Velcro-helmet catch. It was the last catch of Tyree’s football life and the beginning of the rest of our lives.

That’s still Tom Coughlin, scowling on the sideline, game-planning to beat Bill Belichick once again.

That’s still Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora chasing Tom Brady, and that’s Kevin Faulk trying to protect Brady from harm in the Patriots backfield.

My favorite moment of Giant Week in Foxborough was Tuesday morning, when Belichick took to the podium and was peppered with 10 consecutive questions about Patriots players getting into trouble over the last couple of weeks.

Channel 7’s hard-charging Jonathan Hall went after Belichick with a barrage of splitters, spitters, and curveballs, and the Hoodie kept fouling them off like Dustin Pedroia in one of his epic at-bats. Belichick sprinkled a couple of “no comments’’ into his terse, two- and three-word answers. He was at once Nixonian and Naderesque.

And what finally broke the ice and got Belichick away from the Julian Edelman arrest?

A question about Super Bowl XLII.

Amazing. I never would have dreamed in a million years that Belichick would be almost relieved to be asked a question about the Super Bowl shocker in Glendale. But it happened.

He said he didn’t reflect on the loss “much more than any other game.’’

He said, “Whatever the thoughts were after the game, they’ve come, they’ve gone, and that’s what it is. Can’t change it.’’

He also said, “I think we’re pretty much over that.’’

Sure.

Coach has to say they’re over it. It’s what you do in sports. You move on to the next game, the next season.

But no one in New England is ever going to get over the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at perfection. Bob Kraft’s History Boys were set to bump those annoying 1972 Dolphins from the record books. This was going to go down as the Greatest Football Team of All-Time. They were going to go 19-0.

Then it came apart in the final minute. The G-Men prevailed, history was derailed, and the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game since confetti rained down on the heads of Messrs. Coughlin and Manning.

Today marks the first time the Patriots and Giants have faced off in a game that counts since they played the ultimate game in Arizona back when Barack Obama was still a Senator. There are only seven Patriots and 14 Giants left from Super Bowl XLII.

“That’s a distant memory,’’ said Brady. “There’s not much you can take from that. This is an entirely different team that we have and that they have.’’

All true. But it’s all connected for fans. It’s the laundry thing. Today’s Patriots are related to Ron Burton and Steve Grogan and Drew Bledsoe and all the others who came before them. Individuals come and go, but the team is always the team. And what happened in 2008 is directly related to what is about to happen today.

The return of the Giants has sparked debate about the local medal platform of agony. Nominees include the 2010 Bruins’ playoff fold against the Flyers, the Celtics’ loss to the Lakers in Game 7 in 2010 after leading by 13 points, and the usual Red Sox nightmares: 1978 and Bucky Dent, 1986 and Bill Buckner, 2003 and Aaron Boone.

Time and success have a way of healing the old wounds. The Bruins’ Stanley Cup championship last spring took the sting off the 2010 fold, and the Sox winning in 2004 and 2007 got a lot of the old goats off the hook.

The Patriots have enjoyed no cathartic moment since they folded in XLII. They have won a lot of games since Plaxico Burress beat Ellis Hobbs in the end zone, but they haven’t won in the tournament, and that puts the loss to the Giants on the gold medal platform.

That’s why today is more than just another game. It’s Eli Manning and the New York Football Giants, and we are not over Super Bowl XLII.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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