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Growing up in the tri-state area, I have become accustomed to seeing championships won by the local teams and have learned that winning is the only thing. With the Yankees collecting four rings in my lifetime, seeing the Rangers win it all back in ’94 and having the Giants win all three championships since my birth, I have experienced what it’s like to be on top plenty of times. But it isn’t until you aren’t on top anymore, that you realize how hard it is not only to get there, but to stay there.

And after the Giants lost today, you get that feeling that all the time invested in this team since Week 1 and before has been wasted once the season comes to an end. There won’t be a Giants game next Sunday. Or the Sunday after that for that matter. Or even the Sunday after that. In fact, the Giants now won’t play until the first weekend of September, a little under eight months from now in what is the longest offseason in professional sports.

Most people think I have been spoiled as a sports fan as the teams near me have been victorious so many times over recent years. And while I have friends who are Cubs fans and Eagles fans and Mets and Redskins and other teams that have endured losing season after losing season, it is days like these that I feel like my team just drop kicked me in the stomach. And while I feel sorry for those whose organizations let them down year after year, today is that day that I feel their pain, even if it really isn’t all that alike since the Giants won the Super Bowl only 11 and a half months ago.

But the Super Bowl run is over after the Giants handed the Philadelphia Eagles the divisional game on Sunday and the G-Men are no longer defending champions. Now it’s up to either the Cardinals, Eagles, Ravens Chargers, or Steelers to hold that title. Please let it be the Cardinals.

The Eagles wanted it more than the Giants did on Sunday, that or the fact that Tom Coughlin managed the game as if he had money on Philadelphia. And now after a disappointing season in which the Giants were No. 1 from the get go only to self destruct in the playoffs, it’s time for them to figure out 2009.

It’s likely Steve Spagnuolo won’t be back in 2009 with head coaching jobs popping up left and right, but then again if any of the teams with vacancies watched Sunday’s game, Spagnuolo might be an afterthought. But without Spagnuolo the Giants will need a new defensive coordinator and hopefully will promote from within rather than go outside the organization to find someone.

Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward are both free agents and you can count on Jacobs coming back following a hefty payday that, but it’s not certain what Ward’s status is. He can definitely go be the No. 1 back somewhere in the league for a lot of money, but maybe the Giants will match his needs and he can remain with Big Blue.

Corey Webster was locked up with an extension recently, but the Giants are going to need to somehow make a big time wide receiver out of what they have (if that is possible), sign a free agent, or look to make a trade because the group they have now just isn’t going to cut it. But with Osi Umenyiora returning the pass rush will once again exist and the defense will be better next year than it was all year this year.

As for the NFC Championship…The Cardinals aren’t about to lay down and be a doormat for the Eagles the way they weren’t for the Panthers. I, like every other person who has watched nearly every game this season knew that the Panthers should have embarrassed the Cardinals, but if you turn over the ball you will lose and Jake Delhomme was the posterboy for turnovers on Saturday.

So those of you who think that the Cardinals are going to let the Eagles riverdance on them the way they did in the regular season (48-20), think again. Kurt Warner looks like he has been able to hold father time hostage for the time being and with Larry Fitzgerald hauling in balls in quadruple coverage, the Cardinals are just as dangerous as any other team.

It will be the battle of the birds as CBS watches their advertising dollars fall as the major market/fan favorite teams continue to go out in the playoff picture. With the Steelers the only real big market team left, CBS might as well black the Super Bowl out because the ratings will rival those of the Phillies/Rays World Series.

But as Kurt Warner defies all odds and every mathematical and physical equation created to suggest an arena football quarterback could ever become an NFL hero, he is now a win away from his third Super Bowl appearance. With already one ring on his finger, Warner would jump into a pretty ridiculous tier of NFL quarterbacks for his third apperance in the big game and if he could ever pull out the W, then I am sure he will call it a career and ride off into the sunset, laughing at everyone who ever doubted him.

The Eagles on the other hand, well they are still looking for ring No. 1. And they are no lock to get it either. (On a side note, as much as I hate the Eagles and Cowboys, I hate the New England Patriots. And to think that they are ringless since they let Deion Branch go and since they let Adam Viniatieiri walk and since they let Asante Samuel sign with the Eagles. And now Samuel can put a ring on his finger that isn’t a product of Bill Belichick’s asterisk-esque era and I am sure he is eager to do so. And that fact that he can be blamed for not putting away Super Bowl XLII last year in Arizona. Maybe the Patriots don’t know exactly what they are doing when it comes to letting key members of their championship years walk.)

Donovan McNabb will now play in his fifth NFC Championship. He has come out on the good end of it once before only to lose in the Super Bowl. For someone who has had to handle immense criticism over his career, a ring would finally silence those critics and give him close to the necessary credentials to be elected into the Hall one day.

Eagles/Cardinals. Steelers/Ravens. Three of the four teams remaining are from the bird family and while I am not sure if the Elias Sports Bureau knows whether or not something of that magnitude has every happened in professional sports and since I don’t have the time to search Wikipedia and figure it out, I am going to go ahead and assume this is the first time in history that three of the four remaining teams in a professional sports playoff have mascots of the same classification.

And as the Giants head to their offseason, I will continue to cover and share my opinion with you on the remaining rounds of the NFL playoffs. And with only three games left in this wildly, unpredictable NFL season, I can say it has been a pleasure blogging about the New York Football Giants for you. Here’s to hoping they bring back the Lombardi Trophy around this time next year. As for now we still have the NFC and AFC Championships and the Super Bowl. Not to mention 34 days until pitchers and catchers.

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