If the Giants really plan on making a surprise run at the Super Bowl this season - and it certainly sounds like they do - they couldn't have picked a tougher way to do it. The road only begins Sunday at 3Com Park in San Francisco. To get to San Diego and Super Bowl XXXVII, they would have to win two more road games after that. "It's been done," Giants running back Tiki Barber said. "And we're playing good football right now. We have confidence going on the road and that's what's so important."
"We've got to become road warriors," added Jeremy Shockey. "We made it harder on ourselves, but we can definitely do it."
It should come as no surprise that the Giants (10-6) believe they have a chance to become just the second team in history to reach the Super Bowl by winning three playoff games on the road. The 1985 New England Patriots were the only ones to do it, and they were blown out in Super Bowl XX by the Chicago Bears.
But as the Giants began preparations yesterday for their first playoff game in two seasons, they felt like more than just a wild-card team. With four straight wins they are on a roll like no other NFC team. And two weeks ago they proved their toughness by pounding the playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts 44-27 on the road.
"We also beat Minnesota in Minnesota and that's a tough place to play," Giants tight end Dan Campbell said. "I think when we won that one out there, that was a big confidence-booster. Then we go into Indy and put up the points we did you gain a lot of momentum."
The Giants were 5-3 on the road this season - including awful losses in Arizona (21-7 on Sept. 29) and Houston (16-14 on Nov. 24). The 49ers, meanwhile, were 5-3 at home, losing to the only two playoff-bound opponents they played (38-17 to Philadelphia on Nov. 25 and 20-14 to Green Bay on Dec. 15).
But the playoffs are something different and the Giants have yet to face a postseason road game in any of Jim Fassel's six seasons (Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa not included). The last time they went on the road for the playoffs was when they lost in San Francisco, 44-3, to end the 1993 season. And only two current Giants were around back then - defensive linemen Keith Hamilton and Michael Strahan, and Strahan didn't play.
Still, the Giants believe they know what it takes to win a playoff game away from home.
"You really have to bring it on the road," Strahan said. "We realize that. We've been in some tough road games. And we've won some."
"We're playing with a lot of confidence and we've got a lot of momentum right now," Campbell added. "I think we feel like we can play with anybody right now."
The Giants particularly feel they can play with the 49ers and they're eager to repay them for their 16-13 loss in the season opener back in September. If they do, the Giants' road would then only get tougher. The Eagles and Veterans Stadium probably would loom in the second round. And if they survived that they'd have to either head to Tampa or Green Bay's legendary and frigid Lambeau Field.
"I think this team is mentally tough and when you go on the road you better be tough because it's everybody against you," Jim Fassel said. "You better be able to stand there and take the world on."