Take it from another Giants coach who has gone into San Francisco for the NFC Championship Game and come away with a ticket to the Super Bowl: This Giants team has every reason to believe it can make the cross-country journey and earn a future trip to Indianapolis by beating the 49ers in a rematch of the conference title game from the 1990-91 season.
"I think they have a real shot," two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells told Newsday yesterday in a telephone interview from his home in Jupiter, Fla. "They've got a good quarterback , they're an adept passing team, and they can knock the quarterback down. Now, they have a couple of holes, but so does everybody. They've been improving a great deal in recent weeks."
Parcells works these days as an ESPN analyst, but make no mistake: He's bleeding Giants' blue for this one.
"Who do you think I'm rooting for, the 49ers?" he said. "I couldn't root for the 49ers if they're playing the Giants, can I? Too much blood."
After watching the Giants dispatch the Falcons, 24-2, in the wild-card round and then the Packers, 37-20, in Sunday's divisional playoffs, Parcells thinks the Giants have what it takes to duplicate his own NFC Championship Game win over the 49ers.
Parcells achieved an unlikely 15-13 win over the 49ers at Candlestick Park as backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler outperformed two-time defending Super Bowl champion quarterback Joe Montana in one of the Giants' greatest playoff upsets ever.
"I knew we had a shot because we had a good team," Parcells said. "It wasn't glamorous, but we could do things well. We could run it, play defense and play in close games. Our players wouldn't crack mentally. That was a very underrated team."
Parcells sees many similarities to this season's Giants, especially when it comes to mental toughness. He thinks it showed in a big way in Sunday's win over the defending Super Bowl champion Packers. He likened the Giants' upset to a boxing match, and referenced a memorable scene from "Rocky," in which Apollo Creed's trainer, Duke, tells his fighter after an early knockdown to take Rocky more seriously.
"He doesn't know it's a damn show. He thinks it's a damn fight," Duke said. "Now finish this bum and let's go home."
"The Giants knew it was a fight in Green Bay, and I'm not sure the Packers knew that," Parcells said. "Sometimes, when you have a guy who can bail you out, human nature says you just rely on him. The Giants, they're not like that. Manning's terrific. They got a team there. Tom Coughlin has done a terrific job."
Parcells said the Giants' fighting spirit has carried them a long way in these playoffs. He thinks it can carry them at least another week for a chance at a fourth Super Bowl title.
"The Giants are tough mentally, but that's what it's supposed to be about," he said. "I think they've had that over the years. I think it's kind of inbred. Players wind up hearing about it. I think it helps them."
Mental toughness was a hallmark of Parcells' teams, particularly the 1990 squad that overcame the late-season loss of Phil Simms to an ankle injury, The Giants used a strong running game, some timely passes from Hostetler, and an excellent defense to overcome Montana's 49ers.
Parcells recalled one play in particular that convinced him the Giants would win.
"I remember Ottis [Anderson] stiff-arming Ronnie Lott on a short-yardage play and thinking to myself, 'They're really, really trying to win this game.' "
The Giants, who trailed 13-6 in the second half, knocked Montana out of the game in the fourth quarter, used a fake punt to set up a Matt Bahr field goal to make it 13-12 with 5:47 remaining and then won it on Bahr's 42-yard field goal with no time left.
"The plane ride was unbelievable," said Parcells, whose team beat the Bills in the Super Bowl a week later. "We had a couple of beers, and we had five hours to celebrate. I told the players, 'Tonight's your night. Team meeting tomorrow night at 6 o'clock. Find out where it is, and be there.' "
Twenty-one years later, there might be another memorable plane ride home and another Super Bowl for the Giants. The old coach thinks it's about to happen.