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Petty & Eli: Underdogs Triumphant!

Posted: Feb 04, 2008

I sat back Sunday ready to enjoy a Super Bowl without a "horse in the race," so to speak.  All of our SPF teams had been summarily dismissed in what was a down year for the Footprint on a pro football level.  My thoughts were only on watching the Super Bowl as a spectator, allowing the national media to entertain me with their storylines.

This year's story was easy to follow.  The Patriots were the best team of all time waiting to be annointed.  The Giants were a plucky upstart that should just be happy to be there.  Also, the national media could tweak the whole NYC/Boston rivalry that pretty much dominates all national baseball discussions.

In the back of my mind, I kept hearing a sound.  The basic message was, "why are you listening to the national media?  You know that they rarely get the story right.  That's why Swampland exists - to give another point of view that is usually ignored by the national blow hards."

This internal sense of confusion grew as I continued to see ad after ad for the Tom Petty halftime show.  I love Tom Petty.  He's possibly one of the most underrated artists ever.  However, I also realized that his star has faded in most people's eyes as we exist in an age when youth dominates music and culture at large.  His inclusion in this year's Super Bowl seemed welcome, but sorely out of place with this annual event's usual sense of hype.

Then, I thought of this video from the 9/11 benefit concert.

At a time when many artists' performances were reflective or sad i light of the nation's tragedy, Petty's musical response was defiant.  He sang this anthem directly at the terrorists.  He almost spits the words out with a venom.  His eyes burn a hole right through you.  His spirit isn't to be taken lightly.

With a halftime score of 7-3 in favor of the Pats, Petty took the field.  I was waiting for the typical Super Bowl production, shallow and overblown, to take one more chink out of this older artist's formerly impenetrable armor.

I should be ashamed for ever doubting Tom Petty, a man and artist of great conviction.

From the moment that the neon guitar pierced the neon heart to form Petty's logo  while dancing to the ringing chords of American Girl, the millions in the audience knew that Tom Petty wasn't giving an inch.  He was there to show the world what a real rock and roll band can do in front of a big audience.

He ripped through song after song from American Girl to I Won't Back Down to Free Fallin' to Running Down a Dream.  The Heartbreakers were sharp bringing an urgency to the proceedings.  Petty and crew showed what a band should do when handed an audience - you entertain and move them.  They did that and more.

Which brings me to the Giants' Eli Manning.  Of the two NFL QB brothers, Eli has always been in Peyton's shadow.  This wasn't the case in college where both brothers had great success in different eras.  However, Eli's overall path has been a lot more difficult than Peyton's and for that reason his play on Sunday was both unexpected and significant.

Peyton was always known as a QB machine.  He was a film room guy in high school.  He went to Tennessee and led their transformation to a pro-style offense.  He went as the #1 pick to the Colts who had been a perennial doormat since moving from Baltimore.

At both Tennessee and with the Colts, Peyton had the pressure of delivering, but he also had the benefit of being a trailblazer.  He was creating a legacy as he was playing.

Eli selected a different kind of pressure.  Unlike Peyton, Eli chose to go to Ole Miss, his father's alma mater.  Eli accepted the pressure that comes with that.  He had to stand in the shadow of his father.  Yet, Eli's years in Oxford were marked as some of that school's best years in decades.

When Eli went to the NFL, he also chose through his handlers to engineer a trade to the NY Giants to get away from San Diego.  Making this kind of move invites scrutiny.  The scrutiny is turned up a notch to put it mildly when you land in the premier team in a huge media market like NYC.

Needless to say, Eli took a lot of arrows.  Up until late in this season, many Giants and NFL fans were beginning to believe that Eli was a bust.  Another person gone to NYC full of dreams soon to be on his way home as someone who couldn't make it.

Instead, Eli took his Giants down the field and scored the winning touchdown.  On that drive he was involved in one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history when he spun out of a sure sack and found David Tyree 40 yards down the field who outjumped everyone to haul it in.

Gonna stand my ground, wont be turned around
And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won't back down

Somehow, those lyrics found the ear of Eli Manning.  He found his heart on the field showing moxie and pure guts leading his team to a win.

When the final gun sounded, the Giants had won 17-14 - maybe the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.  Somehow, I should have seen it all coming once I fully realized Tom Petty's history as a tenacious underdog, fighting record labels over pricing and artistic control.

From one southern son to another, Tom Petty may have reminded Eli - and together both of them reminded me and showed the world - in being the underdog, one often holds the position of strength.

- Jim Markel

related tags

Southern Pro Football,
New Orleans,

Wireless from AT&T


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