John Mara winced when I asked him Monday if he likes his team's chances to repeat as Super Bowl champions this season. Standing inside his team's cavernous indoor practice facility, the Giants' president and co-owner wanted nothing to do with talk of back-to-back titles.
"It's so hard to repeat in this league," Mara said. "All we're thinking about is the next game. That's the only way you can be. When you start talking about repeating and you use that word 'dynasty,' you find yourself at 6-10 real quick."
Mara then offered a history lesson on why it's premature to think his team can win it all again.
"We've had five Super Bowls [appearances], and after the first three, we didn't even make the playoffs," he said, referring to the year-after collapses in 1987, 1991 and 2001. The 2008 Giants went to the playoffs but lost to the Eagles in the divisional round. "So let's just worry about Dallas, and then after Dallas, let's worry about Tampa Bay and take it one week at a time. That's the only way you can operate in this league, in my opinion."
Mara's reluctance is understandable, but this year could be different, even if he's unwilling to say so. In fact, I tend to agree with former Giants center Shaun O'Hara, who -- only minutes before Mara's just-ate-a-lemon expression and cautionary quotes -- suggested this is the team to beat heading into the regular season.
"In the boxing world, you're the champ until someone knocks you out," said O'Hara, who played with the Giants from 2004-10, winning the Super Bowl after the 2007 season. "I think the Giants are the team to beat, and they have even more of a chance to do it this year than last year. Last year, the preseason was their worst enemy with the injuries. I think this team is better at this point than they were at this point last year. A lot of it is confidence. Sometimes that's all it takes."
The Giants head into the opener with the Cowboys Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium with a roster good enough to become the first team in franchise history to repeat as Super Bowl champion. They have an elite quarterback in Eli Manning, who already has two Super Bowl MVP trophies; a receiving corps that includes one of the league's best one-two combinations in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, and a defense with the most dominant pass rush in football, featuring Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.
There hasn't been a Super Bowl repeat since the 2003-04 Patriots, but the Giants have a great chance to match that feat. If they stay reasonably healthy -- always a big "if" in the NFL -- they can win it all again. Even if that's the last thing Mara wants to hear on the eve of the regular-season opener.
"We're anxious to get started," Cruz said after practice.
And anxious to convince the skeptics who view the Giants as a team that got hot at the right time last year, yet can't be expected to pull it off twice in a row. But there is some institutional knowledge among many core players on this year's team from the 2008 season, which started out in terrific fashion until Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in late November and sent the season into a tailspin. The Giants started 11-1, then lost three of their last four regular-season games before losing to the Eagles in the playoffs.
Manning, Tuck, Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka, Chris Snee, Ahmad Bradshaw, Corey Webster. They were there, and they all remember. And now with an infusion of more young stars, the Giants believe they're ready.
"When you tell us something we can't do, we want to prove those guys wrong," Cruz said. "The high-character guys we have in here, they don't want to be on the negative side of things. We want to go out there and play our best, even when it looks like our backs are against the wall and we can't make it out."
Pierre-Paul, who just might be the best defensive player in the league, said it's a mistake to take the Giants lightly.
"They said it was a fluke to get to the Super Bowl and us getting to the playoffs," Pierre-Paul said. "But when it was all said and done, it came down to the last six games , and nobody could defeat us. We played defense like we should have been playing since the first regular-season game. We just have to get after it now."
Sounds as if they're ready to pick up where they left off and end the season in New Orleans in Super Bowl XLVII. If they do accomplish that, it won't be a fluke. This team is good enough to get there.