INDIANAPOLIS - Tom Coughlin knew the drill.
“You lose a game in New York, and you’re fired,’’ he said. “Or burned at the stake.’’
Trouble was, Coughlin didn’t just lose one game. He lost four straight.
Everyone in metropolitan New York, it seemed, wanted to torch the guy after his Giants team, full of promise when the season began, stalled like rush-hour traffic in the Holland Tunnel by Week 12.
So what did Coughlin do as the executioner’s song played for him?
“I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it,’’ the Giants coach said in the afterglow of his second Super Bowl championship in four years, a 21-17 victory over the Patriots last night.
In fact, Coughlin showed so much faith in his team that he did something his wife, Judy, believes he never did before. In his final pregame speech before Super Bowl XLVI, he told the Giants he loved them.
Anyone who has played for Coughlin in a career that has spanned more than 40 years can testify to his reluctance to use the L-word.
“It was the perfect moment,’’ Judy recalled her husband saying after the final team meeting. “He said it was the best [pregame meeting] ever.’’
The Giants video staff produced a special tribute to the team, set to one of its favorite inspirational tunes, “In the Air Tonight,’’ by Phil Collins. Then came Coughlin’s speech, in which he stirred many of his players by saying, “I love every guy in this room.’’
Four years ago, Coughlin would not have spoken those words, his wife said. He is a different man now, she said, maybe because of the lessons he learned from the 9/11 tragedy in New York, maybe for other reasons.
Coughlin is 65, and while he has said he has no plans to retire, he almost certainly has entered the autumn, if not the winter, of his career.
“I think he realizes how special these moments are,’’ Judy Coughlin said. “There’s not too many of them in the future.’’
Next year is a possibility, she said. The Giants will return most of the key players from their championship team.
“After that,’’ she said, “I don’t know.’’
Coughlin, in typical fashion, deflected credit for the team’s turnaround. After the Giants lost four straight to level off at 6-6, they managed to defeat the Cowboys before suffering a miserable loss to Washington - their second of the season to the NFC East’s cellar-dwelling Redskins - that left them at 7-7 and in jeopardy of missing the playoffs.
The secret to saving the season, Coughlin said, was maintaining the status quo.
“We never changed our approach,’’ he said. “We recognized exactly what the circumstances were and, because the NFC East was so tight, even if we stumbled, we were still very much in it because of the 6-2 start at the beginning of the season.’’
The next six contests, including the Super Bowl, were elimination games, and the Giants won all six. And the sixth came with a message of love.
“I was looking for something like ‘Finish.’ But he came out with ‘Love,’ ’’ said defensive end Justin Tuck. “It was very passionate . . . I know he looks kind of dull at times. He doesn’t look like he’s a fiery guy, but you can just tell that it’s from the heart. He almost got a standing ovation when he walked out.’’
Coughlin said he felt a special bond with this team. He expressed pride in the Giants becoming the fifth franchise that has won four or more Super Bowls.
“But I was more interested in this team making history for themselves, not to be compared with the ’07-08 team, although we’re very proud of that team,’’ he said. “With so many guys on this team who had never been in a Super Bowl, we thought it would be a wonderful thing if they could carve their own history.’’
No one is getting burned at the stake this week in New York. Coughlin’s grandchildren were busy making confetti snowflakes to share in Tuesday’s ticker-tape parade.Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.