The last word the Giants hear from Tom Coughlin before Super Bowl XVLI will be one from the first message he delivered in training camp: finish.
"It was the first thing we hit them with," Coughlin said, "and it'll be the last thing they hear from us before they take the field."
Coughlin has hammered his point home all season and he's not going to let up now that the Giants are about to play for another championship. He was not happy with how the Giants finished games in 2009 and 2010 or the seasons as whole. From the day training camp opened in July, he has spoken of the importance of finishing strong. He talked about it again Friday in his final press conference before the Giants take on the New England Patriots on Sunday.
"I've researched the things that have transpired a year before or two weeks before," Coughlin said. "I didn't think we finished very well. I took a grasp of that and wanted that to be the number one thing.
"We were in the Super Bowl four years ago and we thought we had a heck of a team in '08, and got knocked out of the playoffs right away. We spent a couple years out of the playoffs, and our hunger for being back was great. There were times this year when it looked like it wasn't going to happen for us, and it did again."
The Giants' final full practice was Friday and they will have their usual light workout on Saturday. Coughlin will talk to his players every opportunity he gets. He never leaves to chance any detail relating to a game and he's certainly not going to start for the Super Bowl.
"I coach them right up through the kickoff," Coughlin said. "I've never been a believer in, I don't like the phrase, ‘The hay is in the barn' business. That's not the case at all. I've always felt you have to – you coach them, you talk to them, you look with them. There is always something that can be discussed or talked about. You're literally doing it, right up until the kickoff. You're talking during the course of the warm-up. You're making little comments that they can grab a hold of. I think you continuously, decide what it is, the two or three key things that you're really interested in as you go forward as you spend your Saturday and Saturday night with your team. You try to bring the entire week or two weeks into context with them, so that they understand exactly where they are and what they have to do in order to win. I don't think it ever stops."
Coughlin has coached in the NFL since 1984 and this is his third Super Bowl. He was an assistant on the Giants' Super Bowl XXV team and the head coach of the squad that defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII four years ago. Coughlin understands as well as anyone how precious these opportunities are.
"You have to have a great appreciation for this," he said. "Anyone who goes through this experience and doesn't grab a hold of it or grasp the significance of it doesn't understand that there are great, outstanding coaches and players who haven't been to a Super Bowl game, and get to this point. You thank God for the opportunity and you never, ever tire or even possibly think this happens on a normal basis. It doesn't. It's tough to be in this position and get to this point. You have to constantly be aware of that. The way I look at it, there are many outstanding players and coaches who never get to this point."
For a long time this season, it seemed the Giants would not travel this far. They endured a stretch in which they lost four games in a row – tied for the longest losing streak ever by a Super Bowl team – and five of six games. They suffered a home loss to Washington on Dec. 18, but have since won five games in a row, including postseason road victories over Green Bay and San Francisco, two teams that were a combined 28-4 this season.
The Super Bowl is the ultimate must-win game, but the Giants have been playing elimination games since they defeated the Jets the day before Christmas. They defeated Dallas the following week to clinch the NFC East title and secure a playoff berth.
"As you know, the Washington game, back in the regular season, we did not play well," Coughlin said. "Washington came in and played very well. Following that game, I simply walked into our team and said, ‘Look, we have two games to go. We have to win two games. If we do that, we get into the playoffs and we can be the champions of the NFC East.' From there, it has been one elimination game after another. The players have been responding very, very well. They come together as a group. There's been no question that our confidence building is boosted by the players on defense. We all of a sudden were able to get our entire defensive team together. We've made some progress along those lines that's given us the boost. We've played in harmony with all three units in those five games. Of course, special teams came through for us out in San Francisco against a very, very good San Francisco team. We were able to turn the ball over at the end of the game and win it. It's been that way. We've had our backs to the wall. The players have performed very well under that circumstance. Our leader, our quarterback (Eli Manning), has been a very cool customer and has done very well late in the fourth quarter, (in) many games this year, and put us in a position where we're going to win."
Coughlin was asked about several other subjects before disappearing from public view until the game on Sunday:
*On Ahmad Bradshaw's availability:
"Ahmad has practiced two days in a row, which is very unusual. Everyone wants to be a part of it at this point and time. No one wants to be someone who is not able to participate or to be a part of this wonderful experience. We've had everyone practice two days in a row, and hopefully, thank God, it will be that way on Sunday."
*On whether he's worried about the Giants being too cocky:
"I'm not sure what you're referencing. I know that there are one or two quotes out there, but, to be honest with you, I don't know that either one of them is any different than Tom Brady's quotes. I think it's just a matter of our team has played good football against great football teams. We always focus our team on ‘humble enough to prepare, confident enough to perform.' That's the way we look at it."
*On how he will manage his emotions leading up to the game:
"Get a good night's sleep. Get up in the morning early and get a workout in, get to the office real quick, hopefully before anyone else, and have a few minutes to reflect, think about the day – what you'd like to accomplish that day. That's pretty much the way it is every day here in Indianapolis and really at home as well."
*On whether Manning has been dealing with unfair pressure this week because of the interest here about his brother, Peyton.
"I don't think so. He handles things very, very well, and always has. He keeps things in perspective and he's an example of what I tell my team all the time. Five weeks ago, there wasn't even a bus, and now there are no seats on (the bus). It's just one of those deals you have to understand. He's dealt with this thing, really, throughout his career. I really do listen to what he says, and he's very respectful. He gives great credit to Peyton for his development, particularly as a young player because of the age difference that they have, but he quickly moves on and gets to the point that this is really our Super Bowl."
*On Hall of Fame Coach Don Shula, who preceded Coughlin to the podium to present Summerville (S.C.) High School head football coach John McKissick with the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award. Coughlin spoke with Shula for several minutes.
"I made reference, yesterday, when I talked with (Sports Illustrated's) Peter King. I was like, ‘How in the world did Coach Shula win 328 games?' It's incredible to even think about that. It was great to see him here. I talked to Mary Ann (Shula) and had the opportunity to say hello to (Don Shula), as we prepare for the Super Bowl."
So now Coughlin is finished with the media until after the game. It's up to the Giants to heed his message and finish strong.