By most accounts, the New York Giants are the underdog going into Sunday's Super Bowl XLII against the undefeated New England Patriots. Their post-season history in the last two decades, and their 10-6 regular season performance this year, begs the question: "How could they possibly find themselves here?"

Jay Greenfield, 49, thinks he has the answer, and it doesn't have anything to do with touchdowns, yards rushed or tackles. Self-identified as perhaps the most intense Giants fan since the age of 6 – that's about three years before the first Super Bowl saw the Green Bay Packers best the Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10 – he says with confidence that his putting on tefillin three times a week since early on in the season shifted the odds in his home team's favor.

Back in the fall, Greenfield had grown despondent over his beloved Giants' 0-2 season start before going into the Sept. 23 showdown over their arch rival, the Washington Redskins. The team finished the pre-season 1-3, and were trounced by the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys in the regular season's first two games.

Two days before the big game – the Friday before Yom Kippur – good friend Rabbi Yisroel Shemtov had stopped by to get him to put on tefillin, a regular practice since the Brooklyn, N.Y., garment salesman and Chabad-Lubavitch Chasid met Greenfield several years ago. The football fan was oddly reluctant.

"I had very high expectations and hopes for my Giants," says Greenfield, partner with his brother Todd Greenfield in Martin Greenfield Clothing. "I told the Rabbi that we had already lost our first two games and another loss would mean the end of our year! This tefillin routine was not working for my Giants and, therefore, not working for me."

Ever the deal-maker, Shemtov hatched a plan: If Greenfield would promise to put tefillin on three times a week, the rabbi would do what he could for a little intercession from Above for the Giants to beat Washington.

"I did not merit to be an emissary of the Rebbe," Shemtov says, referring to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. "What I could do, though, is encourage others to do more mitzvahs," or divine commandments.

Sure enough, when they faced off against the Redskins, the Giants made a great defensive stand in the second half to come from behind and win, 24-17. They finished the season in second place, winning an NFC wild card berth in the playoffs.

"We came to an understanding," says Greenfield, with that seriousness characteristic of many sports fans, "that I would keep up the three-times-a-week ritual if the Giants would remain in the playoff race."

And win they did, beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 24-14, then the Cowboys, 21-17, and, finally, the Packers, 23-20 in overtime.

Tefillin All Around

After putting tefillin on himself, New York Giants fan Jay Greenfield, right, assists others in donning the sacred items.
After putting tefillin on himself, New York Giants fan Jay Greenfield, right, assists others in donning the sacred items.
Greenfield was at the game in Tampa, Fla., with 10 other friends, and had a surprise for Shemtov when he called him from the stadium.

"Rabbi, I put on tefillin with everyone in our group," he says that he informed Shemtov.

At a tailgating party Greenfield arranged at a friend's house for the game against the Cowboys, Shemtov and his son-in-law, Rabbi Yossi Deren, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Greenwich, Conn., spent an hour-and-a-half putting tefillin on everybody.

"I led the way," says Greenfield. "Every one of our friends followed."

For the following week's NFC Championship Game, the Greenfield brothers affixed mezuzahs, boxes containing scriptural passages described in the Torah, to their front doors. And once again, Shemtov, joined by three new helpers, put tefillin on all the men at Kenny Ryman's house in Roslyn, N.Y.

The rest is history, of course: A 47-yard field goal in overtime punched the Giants' ticket to Arizona and the Super Bowl.

"I do not know if putting on tefillin and reciting the Shema helped the Giants win," says David Katz, who was at both playoff parties. "It certainly helped all of us pull together and root for a common goal."

Adds Katz: "I know for sure that I will be putting on tefillin this Sunday."

Ryman is a bit more philosophical.

"Getting the rabbi and his crew involved in our two-weekend bash just made it all the more fun and relevant," he says. "Truth be told, I don't think G‑d cares if the Giants win. G‑d doesn't care if the Patriots lose. G‑d cares that we are good people, that we do good deeds in our lives, that we keep our friends close by and look out for each other.

"And if, by some chance, G‑d was watching [my friend] lay tefillin, and blesses him with good health and long life, then I'm in," adds Ryman, president of Royal United Corp. "Another Giants victory wouldn't be so bad either."

"If they lose, they lose," concludes Greenfield, who is traveling to Arizona for the big game. "But I am going to keep putting the tefillin on."