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In any Giant challenge, tough way is the Mara way

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In any Giant challenge, tough way is the Mara way

Post  Big_Pete on Thu Jan 08, 2009 1:47 am


In any Giant challenge, tough way is the Mara way

Tuesday, January 6th 2009, 11:06 AM

In another time, in another year, maybe even with another Giants team trying to be the first in the team's rich history to repeat as champs, this would have been about Wellington Mara. It would have been about the old man, would have been about all the other big games, the ones the Giants won and the ones they lost, because the old man saw all of them, all the way back to the first title in 1927. It was like talking to Yogi about the Yankees.

No one would have loved the last Super Bowl, Super Bowl No. 42, Charlie Conerly's number, as much as he would have. No one would have understood it better. And no one would have deserved it more.

But Mr. Mara did not live long enough to see the greatest Giants victory of them all last February, the end of the greatest Super Bowl run any team in history ever made, at Tampa and at Dallas and at Lambeau Field and finally in Glendale, Ariz., against 18-0. So this is about John Mara instead, the son who runs the Mara side of the Giants, the son who has seen plenty of Giants football himself.

The feeling for the Giants is as deep as anything we have in sports here, and that includes the Yankees. Now as the Giants get ready to play their first playoff game this season against the Eagles on Sunday, John Mara and the rest of us get ready to see if the Giants really do have enough game to do it again.

They don't just feel like the defending champs of the NFL right now. Even without Plaxico Burress, such a big player in all ways last season, especially in January and February, they feel like the heavyweight champ of pro sports. The team to beat. The last time the Giants came into the playoffs as the team to beat was the first time Bill Parcells won it all.

Mara was asked Monday, as the week of another Giants-Eagles game began to slowly turn like some big old wheel, how much time he feels has passed since Eli threw it to Plax in Glendale.

"To tell you the truth," he said, "it actually seems like a long time ago now. It just feels like so much has happened since, not just the regular season. There was the Burress thing, there were all the stadium issues we've had, there was even everything that happened with the economy. After the most amazing Super Bowl, it's been a pretty amazing year."

John Mara, the Giants fan in him coming out now, paused and said, "But it does feel sometimes like it happened a lifetime ago."

Then he said, "Here we go again, trying to do it again."

The Giants were the best team in the sport during the regular season. Were the best team even when the Titans were undefeated. Showed us they were still the best beating the Panthers in that splendid Sunday night game when they had to, coming back and beating the second-best team in the conference that way. They are the team to beat even without Burress, and Michael Strahan, and Osi Umenyiora. When they play their best game, they win. If they play their best game against the Eagles, if they run the ball and Eli Manning hits enough passes and they don't turn the ball over and they put a faster guy on Brian Westbrook this time, they go back to the championship game.

But know this: They are no sure thing. Anybody who saw the Eagles beat them in the wind of Giants Stadium in December knows what a tough out Philadelphia has been since then. The Giants are the top seed in the NFC and they have home field this Sunday and, if they beat the Eagles, next Sunday. But they could not have a tougher draw if they want to play another Super Bowl in Tampa:

Play the Eagles and, if they beat them, play the Panthers.

The Eagles beat the Giants once this season. The Panthers nearly did. But as John Mara said Monday, "It's not like we had some kind of E-ZPass through last January." And when I mentioned the road games against the Cowboys and Packers, Mara said, "Nobody talks about Tampa and we were the underdogs there, too."

But they recovered a big fumble on the second-half kickoff and stretched out a lead and got past the Bucs. They turned the Cowboys game around with a quick drive before halftime. They beat the Packers in overtime when the weather got as bad as 24-below. And then came Super Bowl XLII. Now, 11 months later, another playoff season begins for them on the second Sunday in January, in the second-to-last season at Giants Stadium, against an Eagles team that played them as tough as anybody last month.

"This is still the fun part," John Mara said. "It's fun to be healthy and it's fun to be home. Everybody talks about how last year we did it on the road. Believe me, I'd rather take my chances at home."

These Giants are not the same team, home or on the road. You never are the next year. They may need Kenny Phillips to spot Westbrook this time. They will need Mathias Kiwanuka to pick up the slack if Justin Tuck is double-teamed. And all the guys who aren't Plax have to catch the ball.

Giants-Eagles, Sunday at 1. There has never been a better time to be a Giants fan than right now. The Giants have done plenty in the postseason since John Mara's grandfather started the whole thing one Sunday back in 1925. They have won in the snow and won in overtime and lost in overtime. This time around, they try to do it again.
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