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The parade, partying, Tiffany ring ceremony, White House visit, talk-show appearances, celebrity charity fundraisers, ceremonial first pitches and book tour are over.
The New York Giants earned the right to celebrate their Super Bowl championship for the past five months. It would be easy for them to be as satisfied and full as anyone walking out of an award-winning steak house.
But the Giants say they are even hungrier now that they have tasted winning it all.
"They say when you give a shark a little bit of blood, he's going to keep hunting," safety Antrel Rolle said. "We're looking to bigger and better things."
|Eli Manning hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in February but acknowledges, "We were 9-7 last year. That's not good enough."|
On Thursday, Tom Coughlin's team reports for training camp in Albany and takes its first step toward doing something no NFL team has done since the 2004 season -- repeat.
New England was the last team to win back-to-back titles. Since then, the Packers, Saints, Steelers, Giants and Colts have failed to reach the mountaintop a year after winning it all.
There are plenty of obstacles that can derail the Giants. Sometimes winning can breed complacency. But the Giants say they want to prove that they are the best team in the NFL.
The Giants, always looking for motivation, have already cited how some prognosticators have other teams winning the NFC East.
Those who remain from the 2008 Giants team remember how focused they were after winning the Super Bowl. They started that season 11-1, but Plaxico Burress' inadvertent, self-inflicted gunshot wound sank the Giants' title hopes. That team finished 12-4 before bowing out to the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Still, captains Eli Manning and Justin Tuck remember what it took to be so dominant before the Burress fiasco.
"I think it had a lot to do with the confidence factor," Tuck said. "We're a very confident bunch. We believe in ourselves and know when we go out and play football the way we're supposed to play it, we can play with any team."
The question the Giants must answer is which team will they be -- the one that ripped off six straight do-or-die wins or the Jekyll and Hyde club that was 7-7 and on the brink of missing the playoffs for a third straight season?
"We've got to get better," Manning said. "We can't be satisfied with where we are right now. Last season ended well, but you can't just look at the end result and decide whether you're pleased or unpleased. You have to look at everything in between, every game.
"There's a lot of areas where we have to get better, and I think it's still the mindset that we were 9-7 last year. That's not good enough."
The Giants can play with any team in the NFL when they are right and healthy, but they are maddeningly frustrating at times, capable of losing to anybody. Last season, the Giants beat Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers but lost to the Seahawks at home and were swept by Rex Grossman and the Redskins.
They might not be able to afford losing those types of games again this season. The Giants are the first defending Super Bowl champs to attempt to repeat while facing the most difficult schedule, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the past three teams to enter the season with the hardest regular-season schedule have finished 6-10 or 7-9. In 2008, though, Pittsburgh owned the hardest schedule and finished 12-4 before winning it all.
Besides trying to win the NFC East again against improved rivals, the Giants face the Niners, Steelers, Packers, Saints, Falcons and Ravens this season.
"I know a lot of people made a lot of headlines about our schedule," Tuck said, "but we look forward to that. We do. We know that to be the best you've got to beat the best."
The Giants haven't lost a game since Dec. 18 to the Redskins. Several Giants say that, during the championship march that ensued, they learned what it took to win and now know what it will take to win another title. They also had terrific chemistry during that winning streak and believe it will carry over to this season.
"We got a taste of success. We understand what it takes for this particular football team and how we have to play in order to win," defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "I think guys understand that. That experience will bode well for us."
The Giants certainly have some holes to fill as they search for a new tight end, backup running back and third wide receiver in camp. The offensive line remains a bit of an unknown, and a few players, such as cornerback Terrell Thomas, are returning from injuries.
But the Giants still have several core players, such as Manning, Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Osi Umenyiora and Chris Snee. New young players like David Wilson, Rueben Randle, Keith Rivers, Marvin Austin and Prince Amukamara are hoping to make the defending champs even better.
The man in charge of directing the team back to the Super Bowl is as confident as ever about his team's motivation and ability to avoid a championship hangover.
"I certainly am," Coughlin said. "You are talking about the world champions. There are changes -- there is no doubt about that -- but I like the way that our team responded and finished. And I have every confidence that they will come back just as inspired to want to play at their very best."