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Big Blue's Big Two: Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin enjoy tight bond

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NEW YORK -- In 2004, they were linked forever in New York Giants history: Tom Coughlin a first-year head coach in New York, Eli Manning the rookie instantly cast as franchise quarterback.

Eight years later -- with a couple of hot seats and a 25-interception season providing speed bumps along the way -- they are two-time Super Bowl champions, arguably an unheralded coach-quarterback combination, seemingly always on the same page.

And Coughlin and Manning seem secure in knowing they couldn't have done it without each other.

On the night when the Giants received their Super Bowl XLVI rings, Manning, 31, said he and the 65-year-old Coughlin "talk all the time."

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"Our friendship has gotten stronger," Manning said. "(He is) just a great man and a great football coach. I know I feel young. I know he feels young. And hopefully we can continue to have a number of good seasons ahead of us."

Coughlin and Manning are a comfortable fit, especially on a balmy Wednesday night in New York, when the Giants gathered at Tiffany & Co. for their ring ceremony.

Coughlin and Manning were always going to succeed or fail together, and largely because of each other. In the 10th game of his rookie season, Manning became the Giants' starter. Long before that, he had been tested by his head coach.

"Well, I know how important coach Coughlin has been to me," Manning said in a moment of reflection. "Our relationship (took shape) my rookie year when I was not playing at the time and he made me stay late every night and draw up every blitz that the opposing team had done and how we were protected.

"Just doing that, I became prepared, even though I wasn't playing. I became prepared (for) what was going to be required of me as a quarterback. (Coughlin) made me grind it out," Manning said. "We had good times and some tough times along the way, but our relationship has always been strong. I have great respect for him and his work ethic that he puts towards football. I think he has the same for me."

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For Coughlin, who will receive a contract extension in the very near future and who now seems likely to leave the Giants on his own terms, these are sweet days. When the Giants were 7-7 in December, there was media speculation, not for the first time, that Coughlin's tenure as head coach would not survive if his team didn't respond by making the playoffs.

Not only did the Giants respond, they never lost another game.

For Manning, the 2010 season was defined by a personal low and his own declaration that he was "not a 25-interception quarterback." The 2011 season represented an impressive rebound by Manning, who has proven resilient and practically immune to criticism. His early years in New York were characterized by doubts inside and outside his own locker room. Now, he is respected as a winner and as a leader.

It was Manning who said the ring ceremony puts the punctuation on a championship season. But now it's time, according to Eli, for the Giants to get back to work.

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports

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