NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a country driven by the mantra ‘bigger is always better’, it was fitting that Giants dominated America’s professional championships in 2012.
Two of the four major leagues were won by teams with the supersized moniker, with the New York Giants capturing the National Football League’s Super Bowl and the San Francisco Giants landing Major League Baseball’s World Series.
The Los Angeles Kings finally lived up their regal nickname when they won National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup for the first time while LeBron James silenced his critics by winning a first National Basketball Association title with the Miami Heat.
The New York Giants set the tone for a year of comebacks when they reclaimed the greatest prize in North American sports with a nail-biting 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots in Indianapolis.
Inspired by their dynamic quarterback Eli Manning, named the Super Bowl’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) for the second time in four years, the Giants stole victory with a last-minute touchdown from Ahmad Bradshaw.
“The greatest feeling in professional sports is to win the Super Bowl,” said 65-year-old Tom Coughlin after becoming the oldest coach to land the prize.
What made their victory remarkable was the Giants had looked to have no hope of even competing for the title after losing four consecutive games late in the regular season, putting them in danger of missing the playoffs.
They needed to win their last two games to make the playoffs and then won four straight to claim the Super Bowl in early February and cap a fairytale run that captivated America’s biggest city.
For the Patriots, losing to fierce rival New York in the championship game for the second time in four years was unpalatable.
“You don’t feel good after you lose this game,” said New England head coach Bill Belichick.
San Francisco, led by MVP-winning catcher Buster Posey, also endured a wild ride through the playoffs before winning the World Series in late October for the second time in three seasons.
The team won six elimination games, three against the Cincinnati Reds and another three against the St Louis Cardinals, before sweeping the talent-packed Detroit Tigers in the best-of-seven Fall Classic.
“It just so happens we got kind of hot and scored some runs at the right time,” said Matt Cain who pitched the first perfect game in Giants history during the regular season.
Cain was not the only who achieved a rare feat in 2012 with Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera becoming the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown, leading the American League in batting average, home runs and runs batted in (RBI).
The Venezuelan-born slugger had a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI and was the 15th player to accomplish the feat, and the first since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
The Kings also timed their run to perfection after scraping into the playoffs as the Western Conference’s lowest-ranked team and going on to win the first Stanley Cup in the franchise’s 45-year existence.
They upset the top three seeded teams, the Vancouver Canucks, the St Louis Blues and the Phoenix Coyotes, to win the Conference before beating the battle-hardened New Jersey Devils 4-2 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup finals.
“At our lowest moments the biggest thing is nobody ever turned on someone else, everybody stuck with it,” said goaltender Jonathan Quick, named MVP in the finals in June.
“You just can’t say enough about the resiliency that it took to get through those times during the season and still make the playoffs.”
After losing the first three games of the series, the Devils clawed their way back with two straight wins but that momentum was swiftly undone by a game-changing penalty that led to three first-period goals in less than four minutes as the Kings cruised to victory.
For hockey fans it was the last real action they would see for the immediate future with a labor dispute between owners and players indefinitely delaying the start of the 2012-13 season.
Despite his incredible talent and athleticism, James has been derided by American sports fans since he walked out on his hometown team two years ago to join the Miami Heat.
His rationale for deserting Cleveland, a city battered by unemployment, high taxes, lousy weather and poor sports teams, was that he wanted to win a championship to help cement his place among the game’s greats.
But in 2012 James proved that in a sport played by giants, he towers above everyone else, cleaning up the four biggest team and individual honors in the sport.
In addition to winning his first NBA title against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was named MVP during the regular season for the third time.
James also won the MVP award for the finals in June and a gold medal with the United States at the London Olympics in August. Only Michael Jordan, the player LeBron is constantly compared with, has completed the same grand slam.
”It was definitely a journey,“ James said. ”I can finally say I‘m a champion and I did it the right way. I didn’t shortcut anything.
“I put a lot of hard work and dedication in it and hard work pays off. It’s a great moment.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez