In his first season with New York Giants, linebacker Mike Barrow started driving to home games with defensive ends Cedric Jones and Michael Strahan.
The usually pleasant drive took a weird turn recently when the trio talked about being an underdog, a position the Giants have come to know this season despite a 13-4 record.
Nobody expected much out of them at the start of the season, even when the Giants got off to a fast start. There was always the belief it wouldn't last.
Eventually, the common phrase about the Giants evolved into, ``They still can't beat a good team.''
Now, with three games left in the NFL season, the Giants still have their doubters as they prepare for the NFC title game against the Minnesota Vikings (12-5) on Sunday.
That doubt is expressed in the fact that New York is a one-point underdog in its own stadium.
Which brings us back to Barrow, Jones and Strahan and their conversation. Barrow recalled it on Monday, a day after the Giants' 20-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC semifinal
``I said, 'What is it about us on the field that looks so ugly,''' Barrow recalled. ``You know, why is everyone talking so bad about us?''
``Do we look that ugly on film?''
While the trio laughed about the incident, Barrow said it's obvious why no one believes in the Giants. They are not fancy. The team isn't loaded with Pro Bowl players and there is no track record. This is a team that went 7-9 last season and missed the playoffs the last two.
However, this also isn't the same team as the previous two years.
The offensive line was revamped with the signing of Dusty Zeigler, Glenn Parker and Lomas Brown, while the signing of Barrow made the defense stronger.
Cornerback Jason Sehorn stayed healthy all season, and quarterback Kerry Collins and halfback Tiki Barber improved.
The Giants also found something else just as important, a team chemistry that ended the bitter finger-pointing between the offense and defense.
``This group of guys is a very unselfish group,'' coach Jim Fassel said. ``That's the only way it works. That's hard to pull off in pro sports.
``I was talking to Joe Torre one time and he said that. Every time these guys show up, who cares who gets the credit? It's just, let's go out and win, and this team has that attitude.''
Monday was supposed to be a day off. Yet many of the players were in the weight room lifting or getting treatment.
Barrow already was doing his own pregame scouting of the Vikings and their Pro Bowl-laden offense that includes receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter.
``We're one game away, and I want to know the offense,'' Barrow said. ``I don't want to wait until Wednesday.
``I'm like Sherlock Holmes trying to sniff clues out.''
To that end, he said half-jokingly that he would telephone former Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham and ask for some audible checks and anything to help him out in the game.
``Whatever it takes to win this game, me personally, I'm going to do it,'' Barrow said. ``Whatever is legal. I'm not going to send my mom to go spy on their practice field. But whatever is legal, I'm going to do it.''
That's the kind of focus the Giants have had all season, Fassel said.
``Let's take care of them one at a time, and this one is real easy because it's all been written. We're one game, 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl. Who would have thought that?''
To be blunt, maybe only the Giants themselves.