By TOM CANAVAN, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tom Coughlin is coming back. Eli Manning is only getting better. And the vast majority of the New York Giants' starting lineup is under contract.
Can anybody say repeat?
A day after their 21-17 victory over the New England Patriots, a weary team of partied-out players packed their bags and returned to the team's headquarters at the Meadowlands and prepared for a parade up the Canyon of Heroes in New York City on Tuesday.
"This is what we came here to do," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said Monday in the hotel lobby before the team left for its flight home. "We accomplished it and now we are going to enjoy it as long as it lasts, The big thing for us is to get one next year. We got one a couple of seasons ago, and had a letdown the next year. We have to make sure that doesn't happen again."
That was in 2008. The Giants beat the Patriots for the NFL title and won their division in the fall. It was also the year that Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress accidently shot himself in the thigh in a New York City nightclub in late November and the Giants were one and done in the playoffs without him.
This is a different team. It's a much closer, one that Coughlin has transformed into a tough-minded group that doesn't give up when hit with adversity.
Injuries, a four-game midseason losing streak and a pitiful performance against Washington that dropped their record to 7-7 could not break their resolve.
"It's special. To go from 7-7 to world champions is pretty special," said punter Steve Weatherford, one of 20 unrestricted free agents who will be able to test the market next month unless re-signed. "I can't say enough about this team, how tough these guys are. How resilient these guys are. I mean a lot of teams at 7-7 are making plans for January for a family vacation. There wasn't one guy in our locker room who was ready to give up at that point. Our coach does a great job of when our backs are against the wall and we can't lose, we don't."
Coughlin left little doubt that he wants to go for a third title next season, joking he was only 45.
"I mean, it's what I do," Coughlin said at the news conference where Manning was presented with another automobile for winning his second Super Bowl MVP award. "So, the alternative I've never really given it a whole lot of consideration. (Just coach) as long as I can."
Coughlin could be around for a while following his second title as a head coach. He signed a contract extension in July that runs through next season, but it looks as though the Giants might revisit that deal following the franchise's fourth Super Bowl win.
Giants chief executive John Mara said the team wants Coughlin back.
"He might be 65, but he's got the energy of somebody quite younger than that," Mara said.
Manning has done nothing but improve in recent years. He threw for a career-high 4,933 yards this past season, and led seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. The last was the most impressive, an 88-yard title drive that he started with a pinpoint 38-yard pass to Mario Manningham.
Mara was impressed.
"The more his back is against the wall, the better he performs," the Giants co-owner said. "There is nobody I would rather have with the ball in his hands at the end of the game, with a chance to win, than Eli Manning."
The Giants have weapons to surround Manning on both sides of the ball.
The only starters who are free agents are tackle Kareem McKenzie, linebacker Chase Blackburn, cornerback Aaron Ross and Weatherford. A number of key role players also don't have contracts, including Manningham, who lost his starting job to Victor Cruz. Other key players who might test free agency are defensive end Dave Tollefson, defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, cornerback Terrell Thomas, safety Deon Grant and backup quarterback David Carr.
"Oh, man, I really want to see them keep this team together," said running back Brandon Jacobs.
If the Giants do, they can make another run.
"If we won one this year, there is no doubt in my mind we can (win another)," Kiwanuka said. "We just have to get in the playoffs, that's it."
While Manning also had his eyes on the future, he relished the team's second championship in the last five seasons for a different reason.
"Each one is special," said Manning, who appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman" on Monday night. "Each one has special moments during the season and, obviously, different teammates. This year, I am just happy for a number of guys getting a championship.
"... To give them that opportunity for these next five or six months, we can say, 'Hey, we are the best. We are the champs.' That's a pretty nice feeling."
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