The Giants found themselves in the odd position of defending their Super Bowl title throughout the offseason.

With so many questioning their merits and legitimacy as champions, from time to time espousing on how the Giants were lucky and how other teams had given away playoff games to them, it was up to the Giants themselves to try to shout back and define themselves as credible winners. For the last few months they've had to respond to such verbal assaults with verbal retaliations.

"We've already showed people who we are," safety Antrel Rolle said in response to those who have questioned the validity of the Giants' championship. "We can care less about what kind of recognition we are getting or who is crowning us and who is not crowning us. None of that matters coming into the 2012 season."

Wednesday night, the arguing ended and the football began. The Giants embarked on the actual defense of their championship with a season opener against the Cowboys that had all the feel, drama and significance of a playoff game. A rousing national anthem, a salute to champions past, a national television audience.

No one could argue after Wednesday night's's game that the Giants did, in fact, win Super Bowl XLVI.

Whether they will win Super Bowl XLVII, well, that's what Wednesday night was all about. Starting that journey.

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"I don't know how some people approach the game, but to me, I think we have been crowned Super Bowl XLVI champions, and that's last year," Rolle said.

"That has no effect on anything that takes place this year. The way I look at it, I put all that behind me. Are we Super Bowl champs? Yeah, we were. Last year. But it has nothing to do with this upcoming season. It has nothing to do with people trying to aim for you."

"When you play in the NFL, this is a short-memory league," tackle David Diehl said. "People do think about [last year], but people are talking about now. Who is going to win it this year?

"You do have a bull's-eye on your back, but also playing the Cowboys the opening game, beating them at the end of the season last year, that adds a little more to it than anything.''

Teams may question the Giants' qualifications as Super Bowl winners. They were the first team ever to win the trophy with fewer than 10 regular-season wins. They were helped tremendously by sidestepping a trip to New Orleans in the playoffs. And there were some plays that came dangerously close to upending their run, from the Tony Romo-to-Miles Austin overthrow in Week 14 to the Tom Brady-to-Wes Welker drop in the Super Bowl.

But when it comes to facing the Giants, you can bet other teams will ignore that and be revved up for a shot at the titleholder.

"I think everybody looks at the team that was the world champion and they say to themselves, 'This is an important game for us no matter when it occurs during the course of the season, because it's going to declare whether we can think of ourselves as a possible contender,' " Tom Coughlin said.

"If you play well against the team that was the world champion the year before, then it's reasonable to think that you're a pretty good football team and that you have a chance to be a contender."

The Giants certainly felt that way last year after their regular-season showdown with the Packers.

It's a long odyssey to the next Super Bowl, just as it's been a long odyssey since the last one to Wednesday night . Coughlin said that shortly before kickoff he would be thinking of time as flowing in both directions.

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"You've gone full circle now in terms of the conclusion of one season, all the work that occurs in the offseason, training camp, and you're ready to embark again on something special," Coughlin said.

"I heard somebody the other day say that a football season is a sprint and a baseball season is a marathon. I have news for you, the NFL season is a marathon as well."

Only instead of around 26 miles, a football season lasts around 26 weeks. The Giants completed the warm-ups of the preseason. Wednesday night, the true race began.