Carl Banks looks on during a ceremony before a game...

Carl Banks looks on during a ceremony before a game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Giants in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: AP, 2009

It was 20 years into the Super Bowl Era before the Giants joined the party for the sport's ultimate game in late January of 1987. Then, over the next 25 years, the Giants were the life of the party, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy four times, using a Big Blueprint of offensive efficiency and defensive proficiency, tinged with an uncanny flair for late-game drama that produced some of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history.

Your host for this flashback forum is Carl Banks, one of the few direct links to all four of the Giants' Super Bowl championships -- as a star linebacker for the first two and the team's radio analyst for the last two. There's another connection, one you might recognize: Bill Belichick was the Giants' defensive coordinator for their triumphs over the Broncos and Bills and the opposing coach in Big Blue's two upsets of the Patriots.

1987: Bronco busters

The first brick on the road to Pasadena was laid the season before, when the Giants lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Bears, 21-0, in frigid Chicago.

"We thought we were the best team that year until we ran into the Bears and found out there was another level,'' Banks said. "The entire offseason, we weren't going to settle for anything less than being in the Super Bowl, and winning it. It was an unspoken thing from the first day we took the field in training camp in July.''

After going 14-2 in 1986, the Giants were supremely confident in their first Super Bowl, against Denver. "We were down at the half [10-9] and not even worried,'' Banks said, laughing. "I don't think we ever felt that we couldn't win that game.''

Phil Simms completed 10 straight passes during a game-breaking third quarter as the Giants cruised, 39-20. Simms completed a Super Bowl-record 88 percent of his passes (22 of 25) for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Banks made 10 solo tackles.

"You had to have players play the best games of their career, and Phil and I were examples of that,'' Banks said. "We expected to win and we wanted to dominate.'

1991: Top billing in New York

For the Super Bowl, like the NFC title game against the 49ers, the Giants were the underdog. "The narrative loomed that we weren't good enough to beat a team like the Bills,'' Banks said, noting that pundits also said they couldn't beat San Francisco (Big Blue won a 15-13 thriller).

Enter coach Bill Parcells and defensive coordinator Belichick, who concocted brilliant game plans. Parcells implemented a ball-control offense that utilized the running of Ottis Anderson, the MVP of the 20-19 victory as the Giants kept the Jim Kelly-Thurman Thomas-Andre Reed offense off the field.

Defensively, Belichick memorably told his team, ''You're going to let Thomas get 100 yards rushing.'' Banks, Lawrence Taylor & Co. were not pleased.

"That was a point of pride for our defense, because we didn't want to allow any player to rush for a hundred yards. So we're screaming at him and cursing at him and then he broke down why,'' Banks said. "It was a masterful game plan. He needed more players in coverage than he needed stopping the run, because they were a pass-first team. And he wanted us to hit the receivers every time they touched the ball.''

Despite those perfect game plans, the Bills had a chance in the final minute, but Scott Norwood's 47-yard field-goal attempt went wide right.

"I remember on that last drive, we were all exhausted,'' Banks said. "I'm saying to myself, 'We've got to make a stop.' Everson [Walls] made a great tackle [on a Thomas run just before the field goal]. When they lined up for the kick, I thought, 'Boy, everyone played a hell of a a game.' It was a heavyweight fight that came down to a decision.''

2008: 18-and-No!

Led by Tom Brady, the Patriots featured a record-setting offense that breezed into the Super Bowl with an 18-0 record, one win away from football immortality.

The Giants were considered easy prey and were heavy underdogs.

But their journey had taken them on the road for three impressive playoff victories. They were coming together at the right time.

"I thought they were battle-tested and Tom [Coughlin, the coach] had them in a mind-set to where they could overcome anything because they had done it on the road,'' Banks said. "Their defense had started off the year giving up a ton of yards, but they got going late and with their pass rush, I thought they could win.''

Banks, like the Giants' coaches, spotted some vulnerability, especially after the Giants almost beat New England during a Week 17 shootout.

"It wasn't going to be easy, but they could win if they applied pressure,'' Banks said. "They couldn't deviate from their plan to pressure Brady up the middle because he doesn't move well side to side. They did it and got key plays when they needed them.''

Justin Tuck had two of the Giants' five sacks, but the Pats still led 14-10 late in the fourth quarter. Then came a reception nearly as immaculate as the one that bears the historic nickname.

Eli Manning somehow eluded a fierce pass rush and threw a deep ball that little-used receiver David Tyree leaped for and made an incredible catch, using one hand to press the ball against his helmet while absorbing a hit from Rodney Harrison. Moments later, Manning hit Plaxico Burress for a 13-yard touchdown that held up for a 17-14 win.

One more sack -- by Jay Alford coming up the middle -- helped seal the deal in the final minute.

It was the perfect ending.

2012: Mann to Mann

A rematch with the Patriots didn't seem likely when the Giants were limping along at 7-7. But again they got hot at the right time and this time, when it came to the NFL's top quarterbacks, you couldn't spell elite without Eli.

"Eli was absolutely a better quarterback the second time they played New England,'' Banks said. "The Giants had a different strategy that time. Yes, you wanted to continue to hit Brady as much as possible, but you had to find a way to keep their tight-end contribution to a minimum. Defensively, the Patriots were not as good and the Giants had a better offensive team than the last time. They were going to win the game by making plays on offense.''

The Giants trailed 17-14 late, but on first down from his 12, Manning dropped a perfect pass to Mario Manningham down the left sideline for 38 yards, the receiver making an acrobatic catch and getting his feet inbounds. That led to a 6-yard touchdown run by Ahmad Bradshaw and a 21-17 margin. Bradshaw actually tried not to score at the last instant, realizing the Patriots were letting him go to save time on the clock for Brady, whose Hail Mary in the final seconds fell incomplete.

"That play Eli made to Manningham was probably the best throw of an out route I've ever seen,'' Banks said, "From that spot on the field? Wow! You can pick any quarterback, and that throw was as clutch and as on-target as it could be.''

After the game, Banks chatted with Belichick, his former defensive mentor. From beneath his familiar hoodie, Belichick told Banks, "The Giants have become the bane of my existence.''