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GLENDALE, Ariz. - Until the last two minutes of Sunday's Super Bowl XLII, the New England Patriots were doing everything they had always done in the critical moments of an almost-perfect season.

Suddenly, it all flipped.

And the 1972 Miami Dolphins will undoubtedly die happy, whenever that time comes.

The New York Giants' 17-14 upset of New England at University of Phoenix Stadium drove home the point that no NFL team will do what those Dolphins did, winning every game they played. Never, ever.

Not after this sequence of events. The Patriots were poised to complete a 19-0 season, only to have Giants quarterback Eli Manning magically escape the rush and deliver a pass that David Tyree somehow caught during the winning drive that ended with Plaxico Burress' catch in the end zone.

That's the kind of thing New England was known for doing whenever necessary. Instead, for once, it was the other guys making all the plays that left the Patriots wondering what happened.

"We came so far and we fought so hard," said cornerback Asante Samuel, "but in the Super Bowl, we just couldn't get it done."

Having won three Super Bowls by three points each, the Patriots lost this one by three. Yet the pain of the loss is magnified exponentially by everything New England was playing for, historically speaking.

"Everybody's heartbroken," Samuel said. Veteran linebacker Junior Seau could summarize only that "we know we lost the world championship, and that hurts."

There's much more to it, and if Seau was not comprehending all of that just yet, Don Shula was.

He's the coach of those '72 Dolphins. Shula likes to joke about the portrayals of his players as "angry, old men" trying to keep anybody from matching their exploits, and still he was unabashedly cheering for the Giants, while having insight into the minds of the Patriots.

"I'm sure they are going to realize what they accomplished this year," said Shula, who attended the game, "and then what they failed to accomplish at the end of the year."

That's the thing. Like it or not, as much as they avoided the subject during the season, the Patriots set themselves up for colossal failure in the end. In equal parts, the Giants won this game and New England blew it - with a chance to not only finish a perfect season, but to create a dynasty with four titles in seven seasons during an NFL era when sustaining greatness is more difficult than ever because the salary cap and free agency are designed to spread out the talent.

That's how this Super Bowl will be remembered.

After quarterback Tom Brady directed a drive topped by his touchdown pass to Randy Moss for a 14-10 lead, everything suggested the Patriots would successfully finish their historic quest.

A victory, regardless of how much they struggled to overcome the Giants, would have validated them as the NFL's best team ever. There would be no quibbles about style at this point, only commendation of the substance they showed in overcoming a tough challenge.

Yet this time, they could not finish. After all the big defensive stops they made in close games against the likes of Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Baltimore and these Giants during the second half of the season, they could not close out Manning. Samuel had a would-be interception go through his hands on the last drive; safety Rodney Harrison could not wrestle the ball away from Tyree on the miraculous, history-changing catch for 32 yards that carried the Giants to the New England 24.

"That play alone," said Giants defensive lineman Michael Strahan, "took a few years off my life."

It will keep the '72 Dolphins' achievement alive forever.


* KURT KRAGTHORPE can be reached at To write a letter about this or any sports topic, send an e-mail to