It was just about a year ago that Giants general manager Jerry Reese answered his critics by essentially predicting a playoff berth -- this for a team that had botched a late-season opportunity the previous season and had sat idly by while the Eagles signed so many big-name free agents. One of them was former Giants receiver Steve Smith, a transaction that enraged many Giants fans and had them pointing the finger of blame at Reese.
"We were 10-6 last year and we expect to build off of that," Reese said at the time. "If we make a couple of plays, we would've been in the playoffs. We'll make the plays this time, we'll get in the playoffs and we'll make a run."
Well, the Giants finished only 9-7 in 2011. But Reese still got the last laugh, celebrating on the streets of New York during the ticker-tape parade that came after that run -- the Super Bowl run.
It still bothers Reese that his words were construed as a guarantee -- "I never said guarantee one time, but that's what you get when you say something like that" -- and he is careful now not to make any predictions about whether the Giants can pull off a Super Bowl repeat. But make no mistake. This is one self-assured general manager. As the Giants prepare for their preseason game against the Jets, Reese believes this year's team can be special, too.
No guarantees. Just some good old-fashioned confidence.
"We won the Super Bowl last year, but nobody really cares about that. It's about this year," he said yesterday during our long chat in the cafeteria at the University at Albany. "I like this roster. It's a talented roster."
Unlike last year, there is no need for Reese to defend his roster moves. When you've earned the right to have a second Lombardi Trophy in five seasons in your building, there's no need to defend anything. But the goal's the same.
And so is the recognition that there is no guarantee of success the year after. Reese saw that in 2008, when the Giants looked as if they could have another title run. They started off 11-1, then saw it all fall apart after Plaxico Burress shot himself at a New York nightclub.
"People talk about the Super Bowl hangover, but we came out, played strong and actually played better than the team that won the Super Bowl," Reese said. "We were rolling along. Then some unfortunate things happened, and that's no excuse. We just didn't play well. For whatever reason, we didn't get it done."
The next year, 2009, Reese thought he had an even more talented roster than the Super Bowl team did. "The best roster I ever thought we had since I've been the general manager, we went 8-8," he said. "I thought that was our best roster on paper, so it really doesn't matter on paper what it looks like. You have to get out there and play. You can't talk about it. You have to do it."
This year's roster? It's even better. Eli Manning in his prime. The NFL's best defensive line, featuring Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. A receiving corps that features Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
Again, no guarantees. In a league in which there have been only three repeat champs the last two decades -- the 2003-04 Patriots, the 1997-98 Broncos and the 1992-93 Cowboys -- history is against the Giants.
But Reese said his work is far from over. He has raised the bar almost impossibly high. For himself and for his team.
"I've only been a general manager for five years," he said. "We've done OK, but we sure could do better."
Better than two championships in five seasons?
"The NFL is a humbling business," he said. "You can be on top today, and tomorrow you can be on the bottom. We've been fortunate so far, but there's a lot of work to do. We're not resting on our laurels, I'll tell you that."