Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
One last step . . . so tantalizingly close to making this impossible ride continue all the way to the place where football dreams are made and legacies are forged.
Here they are, one victory away from a chance to win it all, a chance to turn a season filled with so many dramatic twists, so many moments of hope, so many others filled with gloom, into a triumphant conclusion.
This is it.
Giants-49ers. NFC Championship Game. The winner invited to Indianapolis for a chance to win Super Bowl XLVI. The loser invited to watch on TV.
"I think the mindset is we have to go out and play a great game," said Eli Manning, who has a chance to add another Super Bowl title to his legacy and inch closer to a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "It's whatever it takes."
And Manning undoubtedly will do everything in his power to make this happen. He knows there are no guarantees he'll ever get here again, especially after seeing his older brother, Peyton, have his own NFL career put in doubt because of a neck problem.
"You never know if you're going to get back to this point, playing for an NFC Championship Game," he said. "You try to enjoy this opportunity, enjoy this experience, have fun with it, yet go and make sure you're giving your all in your preparation. It's fun when you're in these situations, and we're looking forward to the opportunity."
It is an opportunity that Manning created almost single-handedly. When his defense and running game crumbled around him, buckled by the weight of injury or ineptitude or both, it was Manning who kept on throwing, kept on believing, kept on winning.
There won't be a Most Valuable Player Award for him this year, but there is no doubt that he is the Giants' MVP. Without him, they do not get near this moment filled with so much hope and anticipation.
"There's nothing more to say about Eli," running back Brandon Jacobs said. "He's as good as they come."
And he has never been better than he is now. Manning was terrific in the 2007 Giants' Super Bowl run, winning MVP honors in their 17-14 win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. But he is at a much higher level now, excelling in a situation that would have been beyond his capabilities four years ago.
Back then, he had a great defense and a great running game to balance things. Now it is Manning whose epic performances have carried the day.
And now that the Giants' defense finally has recaptured an aura of dominance more reflective of its elite personnel and the running game has perked up in recent weeks, Manning can be an even greater factor in this, the penultimate round of the NFL postseason.
It will take every bit of Manning's passing brilliance and steely resolve to take this one last step to get to Indy two weeks hence. But there is no reason to believe he and his team can't get there by beating a remarkably improved 49ers team that has had its own share of unexpected success this season.
It will not be easy against one of the NFL's most dominating defenses, especially if the 49ers stop the Giants' running game with its No. 1 rush defense.
But if Manning is up to the level he has been at for all but a few moments this season, this could be another transcendent moment for a quarterback who is getting more and more used to producing them on a regular basis.
One last step for Manning and a team that has defied the odds to get here.
This is it.