TAMPA, Fla. -- When show and tell finally arrived for Super Bowl XXV last night, conventionalism was in, razzle dazzle was out.
There have been greater upsets in Super Bowl history than the Giants' pulsating 20-19 victory over the Bills before 73,813 at Tampa Stadium. But few have spoken so eloquently to the matter of substance over style.
"They call us predictable and conservative," said Giants coach Bill Parcells. "But I know one thing -- and I've coached this game a long time -- power wins football games. It's not always the fanciest way, but it can win games."
The Giants' power game short-circuited Buffalo's ravenous no-huddle offense with as unlikely a starring cast as you may ever find in a championship setting.
The Giants won with a 33-year-old running back who was exposed to Plan B free agency in each of the last two years. All Ottis Anderson did last night was rush for a season-high 102 yards and earn the first-ever Pete Rozelle Trophy as Most Valuable Player in the game.
They won with a second-string quarterback, a perennial backup, who refused to accept the notion he couldn't get the job done. All Jeff Hostetler did in the biggest game of his life was throw for 222 yards and one touchdown and take a fierce licking from the Bills' pass rushers.
They won with a 5-foot-7 scatback who makes up in quickness what he lacks in stature. All David Meggett did was torment the Bills with his whiplash speed to the tune of 129 all-purpose yards.
And they won with a pair of receivers who spent Super Bowl week in the shadows of their more publicized Buffalo counterparts. Yet, when it counted the most, it was the Giants' Mark Ingram and Stephen Baker who made the biggest catches downfield, not the Bills' dynamic duo of Andre Reed and James Lofton.
In the end, the Giants survived a missed 47-yard field goal by Scott Norwood with four seconds left to preserve their second NFL championship in five years. This was a title that spoke volumes about the Giants' work ethic.
It also spoke volumes about Hostetler's determination. The seven-year veteran had grown weary of the suggestion the Giants couldn't win with him at quarterback after Phil Simms was hurt.
"Everybody said it couldn't be done, everybody said it wouldn't be done," Hostetler said. "Now it is."
At one point, it looked like it might be a short night's work for Hostetler. The dark red abrasion that stretched from his right eye back to his hairline was a visible reminder of how much the Bills had belted him around.
He had been sandwiched by the Bills' Cornelius Bennett and Kirby Jackson in the first quarter. He had been body-slammed by Leon Seals in the second, and needed smelling salts after that hit. And he had been sacked in the end zone by Bruce Smith for a second-quarter safety, this after tripping over his own blocker's foot. Together, those three indignities might have frazzled a lesser quarterback.
"But Hoss stood in there and kept things cool and under control," Meggett said. "We believed in him coming in, and we believe in him now."
Smith's sack and safety had given the Bills a 12-3 lead in the second quarter. The Giants were almost out on their feet. Their offense had done nothing and their defense was losing ground against Jim Kelly's vaunted no-huddle game.
Then, without warning, the Giants' power game kicked in. Anderson broke two tackles on an 18-yard run. Hostetler hit Ingram for 22 yards. Meggett cruised around the left side for 17. And on third-and-10, just 25 seconds before halftime, Hostetler beat a Bills blitz with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Baker.
Just like that, the Giants were back in the game at 12-10. Parcells didn't have to reach far for his halftime inspiration.
"I told the team that I was at a Super Bowl [four] years ago and we were in the exact same situation," he said. "I told them the first drive of the third quarter was the most important of the game. We had to do something with it."
Four years ago the Giants rallied from a 10-9 halftime deficit to beat Denver in Super Bowl XXI, 39-20. When they went 75 yards in 14 plays in a drive that consumed 9:29, the Giants were feeling deja vu.
Hostetler converted three third-down passes, and Anderson broke a 29-yard run on another third down. The biggest play was a 14-yard pass to Ingram on third-and-13. Ingram went spinning, dodging and weaving to get the first down, breaking four tackles in the process.
"That showed what this team is made of," the Giants' Lawrence Taylor said. "We came here with a purpose and it emphasized what we are about. We don't give up."
Anderson plowed over from the 1 to give the Giants a 17-12 lead.
The nearly 10-minute drive held great portent. The Bills had the ball for just eight plays and 3:08 on the clock in the third quarter. Their last meaningful offense came when Thurman Thomas (135 yards rushing, 55 yards receiving) broke a 31-yard touchdown run eight seconds into the fourth quarter.
Buffalo's lead of 19-17 would be short-lived, though.
Prodded again by Hostetler's bootleg passing, the Giants went 74 yards in 14 plays. Hostetler rolled out and hit tight end Mark Bavaro for gains of 16 and 20 yards. Place-kicker Matt Bahr, who won last week's NFC championship game against San Francisco, delivered the deciding points with a 21-yard field goal with 7:20 left.
The Bills had two more possessions, but no more bullets in their no-huddle gun. Kelly, who was 1-for-8 on third downs, ran for almost as many yards (19) as he passed (25) in those final two series, so effective was the Giants' defense.
If this was a statement on power football, the Giants made all the right speeches.
"Not everybody has the dominating defense we have," center Bart Oates said. "Our offense is a complement to our defense. We love those close games because they're the ones we usually win."
Last night, conventionalism reigned.