Giants Prosper Near Super Bowl

In the Super Bowl era, the New York Giants have won it all when they have gotten this far.

The Giants are the surprise team of the NFL's final four, still the underdog at home for Sunday's NFC title game with Minnesota. History says, however, that when the Giants get this close to the conference title, they close the deal.

In 1986, hardly an outsider, the Giants were 14-2, easily the league's best mark. They won their final nine regular-season games, finished 8-0 at home, had a dominating defense and solid ball-control offense.

And they went unchallenged in the NFC playoffs, routing the 49ers and Redskins, before winning the Super Bowl 39-20 over Denver.

Four years later, with a similar team, they went 13-3, but were an underdog at San Francisco in the NFC title game. The Giants won 15-13 on five field goals by Matt Bahr, then upset Buffalo 20-19 in the Super Bowl.

Not a bad resume: two shots at the big game, two trips to the big game, two Super Bowl championships.

``I've spoken to the players about not focusing on the Super Bowl,'' Giants coach Jim Fassel said. ``Obviously there are four teams left, and everyone has got to be answering the same questions: `What about the Super Bowl?' Timeout.

``We are focusing on the title game of the NFC. ... We have got to take care of this one and not stub our toe.''

Stubbing their toe would be easy enough against the high-powered Vikings, who looked very strong in beating New Orleans last weekend. But the Vikings (12-5) blew home-field advantage for this game by losing their last three during the season, while the Giants closed with five straight victories to seize the role of host.

In each of their previous journeys this far, the Giants also finished out the schedule strongly, then kept right on going.

``You have to play consistently well over a long period of time to get where we are now,'' Fassel said.

The Giants (13-4) aren't mistaking how far they've gotten. They know this is not Tampa on the final weekend of January. It is the last step to getting there.

``We have a big hurdle in front of us, and I don't even know what's behind the next hurdle,'' linebacker Jessie Armstead said. ``You've got to go out and prove people wrong every week at this time of year. They've probably got the best offense in the league, but this week it's going to come down to who wants it the most.''

That's silly, of course. The Vikings, who have lost all four Super Bowls they've appeared in - the last time in 1976 - are plenty hungry. Just two years ago, Gary Anderson, then an All-Pro, missed a clinching field goal in the NFC championship game and Atlanta rallied to stun Minnesota.

So the Vikings don't have any less desire to be champions than the Giants. And, like the Giants, they aren't likely to be looking ahead.

``I'm not afraid for our guys to say the words `Super Bowl,''' Fassel said. ``I just don't want all the questions to be about the Super Bowl. We've got a big game this week.''