Giants Living the Life of Champions

AP Photo - Bill Kostroun

There's a picture of David Tyree at one of those occasions professional athletes get invited to in the offseason. He's standing next to Richard Jefferson of the Nets, beautiful SI Swimsuit model Selita Ebanks and one of the fat guys from "The Sopranos" – what's his name again? – ... Steve Schirripa, I believe.

The event is called Night of Champions Benefit Gala, Tyree and the Giants, of course, fulfilling the champions' end of the title. The cause is Children of the City, a community-based organization serving disadvantaged children since 1982, a fine cause, no doubt, a cause in which Tyree suddenly and perfectly meets every qualification as honoree.

Tyree's wearing a dark black suit and a dark gray shirt and a thick white tie. He's looking as sharp as he did that night in Glendale, Ariz., when he went up for the football with Rodney Harrison of the Patriots and came down with an oblong miracle leaning against his head. Now Tyree's being given the 2008 Children's Champion Award, impressive, no doubt, even if you wonder whether the organization will wait until March to unveil the 2009 award.

This is the way it is for members of the Super Bowl champions. And given the geography they represent, the Giants probably have handled more post-Bowl obligations than any team in recent memory. They have become instant celebrities, just about every last one of them, from the Super Bowl MVP quarterback to the special-teams player who (occasionally) doubles as a wideout. Everybody wants a minute, an hour, an afternoon, an evening, a signature.

And then there are the myriad of media obligations – the book offers, the writers requesting players' time, from phone interviews to tag-alongs on a typical day with players, seeing where they eat and where they get their hair cut.

There is Eli Manning introduced as the official Celebrity Chairman for March for Babies, a major fundraiser for the March of Dimes, a leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. Manning is clearly committed to the cause, appearing in television commercials and waxing empathetic in press releases. In one, he almost sounds like a newbie New York quarterback, circa '07 training camp, requesting the media and Giants fans show patience in his development.

"Every baby deserves a fresh start and a healthy start in this life,'' Manning says.

But the great EQD (Eli Quarterback Debate) seems like it took place a millennium ago, doesn't it? Now we wonder if the awe-shucks kid can deliver another Super Bowl or two before his locker is turned into a Lawrence Taylor-like shrine.

For now, the question is whether the Giants can complement Manning as well as they did last season. Tyree and Manning are the kinds of even-keeled people who can handle the assembly line of demands, the notoriety that would inflate another player's ego and affect his preparation. But it's worth wondering how the Giants will respond to being the big cheese instead of the mouse chasing it. It's worth wondering if the Giants will prepare for the 2008 season in precisely the manner they prepared for the 2007 season: superbly focused and driven.

The good news is the quality of leadership that remains in the locker room. Even if Michael Strahan decides to call it quits – a decision we'd prefer to hear this year before preseason games – a solid base of leaders will pick up the slack. It's hard to imagine folks such as Antonio Pierce or Osi Umenyiora or Justin Tuck or Sam Madison – or even Jeremy Shockey, suddenly with something to prove – drowning, or letting teammates drown, in the post-Super Bowl hype.

It's hard to imagine this team's offensive linemen getting caught up in the hoopla, and it's impossible to imagine the coaching staff suddenly putting in bankers' hours.

The bad news is that there have been only three repeat champions since the Giants won their previous Super Bowl following the 1990 season. Dallas did it in 1992 and '93, Denver in '97 and '98 and New England in '03 and '04. The odds are against another parade down Canyon of Heroes, but then, the Giants didn't concern themselves much with odds in 2007.

We can start thinking about the 2008 season now. We can daydream of a repeat and fret over a flop, the evil twin to many defending Super Bowl champions.

Games start in the fall but chemistry takes shape in the spring. Rosters have been molded by now, and let's face it, the Giants have about the same talent they had on that first Sunday in February.

Gibril Wilson is gone, as expected. He couldn't wait to grab the big bucks of Oakland, or better known as NFL Siberia. For a few million more per year, Wilson gets to roam in the NFL's version of Witness Protection while the Giants bask in a bright future. They replaced him with Jacksonville's Sammy Knight, who happens to have 31 more interceptions.

The Giants didn't go out of their way to re-sign Kawika Mitchell, which says they are fine with Gerris Wilkinson or a free agent/draftee to adequately fill the hole. They smartly re-signed running back Derrick Ward to keep together the three-headed running back monster that includes Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.

If the Giants join the cluster of Super Bowl champs failing to repeat, talent won't be the reason.

In some ways you hate to see the offseason conditioning program, starting on the last day of March, put an unofficial end to the Super Bowl celebration. But it's time. General manager Jerry Reese accepted so many back slaps at the combine that he worried about missing stuff on the field. Players had so many black-tie affairs; they resorted to white ties to switch it up.

But as the start of offseason workouts neared, coach Tom Coughlin found a little time to spend with Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, big-wig leader of U.S. troops in Iraq. There's a picture on the Giants' Web site of the general holding the Lombardi Trophy. He's flanked by his son and Coughlin, the miracle coach himself.

Coughlin's flashing his whites for the camera for the umpteenth time since that fine day in Glendale. The general has come to Giants Stadium at Coughlin's invitation. They have lunch, tour the stadium.

Then Coughlin presumably goes back to work, perhaps at some point wondering if the 2008 Giants will resemble the 2007 Giants.

Kevin Gleason covers the Giants for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y.

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