For Toomer, Giants, A Gratifying Win

IRVING, Texas – Tom Coughlin turned to step off the podium and there was Amani Toomer. There was Toomer, always there, still in full uniform, ready to play another four quarters if he had to, waiting for his turn in the post-game news conference.

Since the moment he first stepped into his Giants office four years ago, Coughlin had never looked happier. He wrapped his arms around Toomer and hugged him for all his might. Toomer squeezed his long arms around Coughlin in return, and they smacked each other's backs. Two football lifers absorbing the moment, cherishing this wild experience as their careers move into the twilight.

"This,'' Toomer said after reaching the podium, "is one of the most gratifying wins I've ever had.''

This is why we watch sports, why we pour our hearts into cheering for our team despite all the inconveniences sprayed at the fan. We watch, and root, and ache, really for two reasons: Because there is almost always a chance, no matter how steep the climb, that our team will win. And because those wins produce a feeling of euphoria that is almost impossible to describe.

You don't have to be a Giants fan to fully appreciate their drive to the NFC Championship Game, clinched with a 21-17 win over Dallas on Sunday at Texas Stadium.

You don't have to be a Giants fan to smile at the embrace of Coughlin and Toomer. One has taken more hits from media and fans than Tony Romo took from the Big Blue defense. The other has proudly blended into the background since the arrival of Plaxico Burress.

They are underdogs on a team of underdogs, and now they will play for a berth in the Super Bowl. Even if it all ends in Green Bay, this Giants run will wind up being one of the craziest sports stories of 2008.

Toomer came through for his coach once again, turning an 11-yard out route into a 52-yard touchdown catch, breaking tackles and running down the Giants sideline like a high school track star. This was the first dart thrown into the Cowboys bubble, a massive Texas-sized bubble full of trash talk and celebrity players and ballooned egos. Toomer added a 4-yard TD catch just seven seconds before the first half ended, capping an enormous 71-yard, 46-second drive that made it 14-14 at halftime.

The game was tied all right. But it had a distinct Giants feel to it, not especially pretty, wonderfully effective. It clearly was the kind of game the Giants have been winning on a regular basis.

And Toomer clearly is the guy who exemplifies every quality of this Giants team, starting with his toughness and businessman's approach. In the end, he would watch his defense refuse to lose, thwarting consecutive drives in the final 7:00, Dallas' last dance ending at the Giants' 23 yard line.

"Not that we needed any extra motivation,'' defensive end Justin Tuck said of Dallas' chatty week, culminated by the news of owner Jerry Jones buying tickets to the NFC Championship Game for his players. They could still use the ducats, only now for themselves and not family members. "You just don't say things like that to a hungry football team,'' Tuck said.

This one never set up well for the Cowboys. They ended the season terribly. Terrell Owens got hurt and Romo created a stir going off to Cabo with girlfriend Jessica Simpson last weekend. Then for good measure, third-rate receiver Patrick Crayton flapped his gums all week and TO unearthed his "getcha popcorn ready'' line.

Talk about karma. Crayton made one bad play after another, the worst coming late in the third quarter when he dropped a pass at Dallas' 35 with tons of open field in the foreground. TO, for his part, wound up crying during his post-game news conference, proving trash talk and tears are an eyelash apart.

The Giants, of course, did what they've been doing most of the season. They approached the game with a chip on their shoulders while staying off the opponent's bulletin board. Then they took a few punches on the field, staggered a bit, stayed upright and went on to knock out the opponent.

"I'm speechless, man,'' Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said. "My heartbeat usually runs 48-52 beats a minute, but I think it's at about 150 right now.''

He smiled. "We were tired as hell,'' Pierce said of those final drives. "I've never been that tired before. But we have a lot of guys who really want to win and we have a lot of heart.''

Back at his locker, showered and dressed in a neat suit and matching fedora, Amani Toomer spent more time with the media. There was a lot to talk about for a guy who usually chooses his words carefully.

Somebody handed Toomer a phone to do a radio interview. More talk to be done. Dallas wasn't doing any talking. The Giants are going to the NFC Championship Game.

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

The Giants Beat Top Stories