Every team faces challenges, questions and uncertainties heading into training camp. But only one team each year has to deal with the question of how it will react to success. How it will overcome the burden of the bowl, the sting of the ring. This summer, those questions are being posed to the Giants.
Somewhere between forgetting about their championship run of six months ago as ancient history and dwelling on it to the point of unrealistic audacity lies the fine line that the Giants will walk as they prepare for the 2012 campaign and a defense of their title. When it comes to the upcoming season, there is plenty to draw from but little to rely on from 2011's magical run.
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The Giants report for training camp Thursday and begin practicing Friday, looking to become the first team in nearly a decade to repeat as champions. They already started talking about a dynasty, beating the Eagles to that topic by a few months. To become a dynasty, they'll need to win.
Some will be stressing the accomplishments of the recent past.
"There's no question we were the best team in football last year at the end," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said on Tuesday. "I need to let my teammates understand that we are the Super Bowl champions. We are the best team in football until someone knocks us off that mantel . . . It's just letting everybody else on our football team understand that what we did last year wasn't a fluke, what we did last year was real, and we can do that again this year."
Others will be pushing forward, reminding the team that it was 9-7 in the regular season, the last team to get a playoff invitation, and teetering at .500 as late as Christmas Eve.
"We weren't as consistent as we needed to be last year," Eli Manning said in a radio interview this week, admitting (or perhaps convincing himself and teammates) that they had something to prove. "When we needed to play well we did, we beat a lot of very good teams and we played unbelievable football those last six weeks of the year . . . We have to keep that state of mind, that mentality, whether it's a focus or a desire, whatever that was we have to find that and try to keep that for a full season and make sure we're playing to our potential week in and week out."
Many of the Giants have done this before -- and done it well -- so that should be a comfort. In 2008, with perhaps the lowest expectations for a defending champ in years, the Giants were the NFL's best team for three months with an 11-1 start. They earned the top seed in the NFC playoffs, but were bounced in the divisional round by the Eagles a few weeks after Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg.
Now the Giants will get more questions about The Hangover Part II than Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis. That movie was a disappointment, falling short of the manic chemistry of the original and the heightened expectations from its success.
When it comes to sequels, both movie makers and Super Bowl champions know, it can be a troublesome honor to try to live up to the original.