Mathias Kiwanuka has been with the Giants through two championship seasons, two other playoff seasons, and four seasons in which the team did not make the playoffs. At the end of each one he takes time to look back and think about not just what went right and wrong during the 16-game schedule, but what took place in training camp. What the mood was like. What the players accomplished individually and as a team.
So with this year's version of the preseason all but wrapped up -- the Giants end their schedule against the Patriots Thursday night and held their last practice of the summer Tuesday -- who better to ask than Kiwanuka about lies ahead?
"We're more than capable of winning a championship," the veteran defensive end said Tuesday. "This is what we're here for. Why not go for it?"
There are 31 other teams that no doubt share that optimism about their own fates, some more realistically than others. The Cowboys, for example, mailed out playoff tickets with their regular-season ones earlier this month in anticipation of a postseason berth. ("Good for them," Kiwanuka sniffed.) But having seen highs and lows during his career, Kiwanuka is convinced that the Giants are poised for a Super Bowl push.
One reason he said is that past title runs have come "on the heels of the seasons that weren't up to our standards." Last year's 7-9 record certainly qualifies.
Another is the energy and leadership he has seen from the players on defense. He said there are "multiple guys" on every level of the unit who are hustling to the ball in practice, paying sharper attention in meetings and bringing enthusiasm to the mundane tasks of August.
Oh, he also likes the talent the team has assembled.
"Having the team we have this year, this is our time to take advantage of it," he said. "I don't want to look back on this year with any doubts or regrets. Whatever we do, let's leave it all on the field. If we do that, we can win another Super Bowl."
Victor Cruz, who also has been through highs and lows with the Giants, said he shares Kiwanuka's optimism.
"Having been there and fortunate enough to win a Super Bowl, I know what type of energy and what type of camaraderie it takes to get there," Cruz said. "I think we're almost there."
Cruz stressed the off-the-field bonding that has taken place this summer. He said it happened naturally as guys clicked with their personalities -- often before they clicked on the field with the new offense -- and started spending time together.
"That hasn't been the norm around here for a while," Cruz said. "I think this is such a tight bunch that once we get things down on the field and build that continuity and family atmosphere more than it already is, I think we'll be a tough team to stop and it should be fun to watch."
There are still plenty of questions to be answered before the Giants board the team charter to Arizona in late January. The new offense has yet to show that it can function properly beyond a two-minute drill against the Jets. The defense has a lot of new pieces that have to come together. The offensive line is still not set in terms of personnel. The Giants are not blind to those issues. But at this time of the year, as the regular season looms, they seem to feel good about their chances.
"Our overall goal each and every year is to win a championship," Cruz said. "That's our goal and I think that's something we can obtain if everybody is on the same page and we get this thing going the way we know how to."