CHANDLER, Ariz. - Having given the Patriots a 24-hour head start, the New York Giants appeared not the least bit fazed upon their arrival in Arizona late yesterday afternoon. As far as they're concerned, it's not when you start Super Bowl week, it's where you finish it.
Which is another way of saying the Giants are still tied where it matters: on the scoreboard.
Choosing to fly in on a Monday, as opposed to the traditional Sunday, the Giants expressed delight at the prospect of meeting the Patriots Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium. And why shouldn't they? After all, they can remember a time this season when the Super Bowl was the furthest thing from their minds; just winning a game appeared a massive task.
"I don't think you can underestimate the importance of that game," said coach Tom Coughlin, when asked about Sept. 23 affair on the road against the Redskins.
Having been slapped around pretty good in their first two games - 45-35 by Dallas and 35-13 by Green Bay - the Giants were on the short end of a 17-3 halftime score against the Redskins, and 0-3 was a very real possibility.
Instead, they scored three second-half touchdowns and rallied for a 24-17 triumph.
"That win launched us to a 6-2 first half of the season," said Coughlin.
Sporting a dark suit, white shirt, and resplendent red tie, Coughlin touched upon a number of topics during a brief meeting with the media not long after the Giants arrived at their home for the week, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass some 30 miles from Phoenix. There's a true desert feel to this resort - cactus is everywhere, and so are the patches of green grass on the hotel golf course - but don't expect Coughlin to soak in any of the ambiance. This is a business trip.
"We're glad to be here and anxious to get started," said Coughlin.
But when asked why the team hadn't come in Sunday, he shrugged and said, "We just thought we'd do as much as we could at home."
That meant taking care of some medical issues (rookie cornerback Aaron Ross was the latest Giant to be confirmed with flu-like symptoms), handling luggage challenges, and keeping things as normal as possible.
Of course, any curiosity about the decision would have to be accompanied by a disclaimer, because if there's one thing you can say about these New York Giants, it is this: They are quite a road show. There was that dismal defensive effort Sept. 9 in Dallas, but that's it. What followed were seven regular-season triumphs away from Giants Stadium and three more at hostile outposts (Tampa, Dallas, and Green Bay) in the playoffs.
"The team concept," stated Coughlin, when asked why his Giants had become the first NFL team to record 10 road wins in one season. "We've bonded as a team. We have good character, good leadership, and there's toughness, both mental and physical."
In fact, it was the Giants' uncanny knack of playing well on the road that saved their season and perhaps Coughlin's job. After that 6-2 start, New York lost four of its last eight games, all at Giants Stadium. Road wins at Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Buffalo, however, assured a playoff berth.
So if the team is approaching Super Bowl XLII as another road game, you can understand why. And if they relish the role of underdog, there's good reason for that, too. They were not favored at Tampa, nor at Dallas, nor at Green Bay, yet each of those playoff games concluded favorably for Coughlin's squad.
He can't say the same thing about the last regular-season game, the Dec. 29 meeting with New England, but the coach isn't afraid to put a positive spin on that one.
"There's no solace in playing well and losing, I'm not saying that," said Coughlin. "But . . ."
He indicated that the 38-35 loss had a lot of good things, not the least of which was his team's near-upset of the Patriots, who were trying to conclude a perfect regular season. The game had no bearing on the playoffs for the Giants, but never did the coach contemplate major roster shifts.
"We had the full intention of playing the game to the best of our ability," said Coughlin. "If you're going to prepare for a difficult task [the playoffs], the way to do that is with a difficult task."
Yes, his team squandered a 28-16 third-quarter lead that night, but "it did serve us well and gave us good momentum," said Coughlin.
And while it took them a day longer than the norm, they've ridden that momentum into the desert sun.
Jim McCabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org