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Four years later, Giants-Patriots has an eerily familiar feel

SAN FRANCISCO -- When he reached a crowded, chaotic visiting locker room at Candlestick Park on Sunday night, Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora sought out coach Tom Coughlin and plopped down in a seat next to him. If anyone could relate to this weird dose of déjà vu, Umenyiora figured it would be the man who led him four years ago to this same Super spot against this same opponent as a result of a similar overtime result in the NFC Championship Game.

On NFL Network
"NFL Replay" will re-air the Giants' victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII on Monday, Jan. 23 at 8:30 p.m. ET.

"I asked him if he could believe it," said Umenyiora -- one of 17 players on New York's Super Bowl-winning roster in 2007-08 -- following New York's 20-17 overtime win over San Francisco. "It's like everything that happened is happening all over again. You understand what I mean? I had to ask if this is really happening.

"He said, 'We're on our way. We're on our way to Indianapolis.'"

Yes, the Giants' late-season surge has once again landed them a spot on the opposite sideline of the Patriots. But finishing this task with another Lombardi Trophy will require more work than simply hitting the repeat button on the iPod.

"I know Tom (Brady) and coach (Bill) Belichick are really going to be looking for some revenge," Umenyiora said.

Ya think? As if the bitter feelings of Super Bowl XLII weren't enough, the Patriots also have the motivation of fixing the woes of a 24-20 loss to the Giants in Week 9 of this season. But let's be honest: This revenge will be about that game in February of 2008.

It was then that Brady missed out on his fourth Super Bowl ring -- and Eli Manning picked up his first. While neither has added another since, both quarterbacks enter this game with such altered approaches to the situation. Prior to this postseason run, Brady had lost the team's only two playoff games since Super Bowl XLII. Surely, he has a newfound respect for how difficult it is to get to this point. Meanwhile, Manning is playing like a seasoned veteran, not the naïve-but-successful hero of four years ago.

"There's nothing Eli hasn't seen at this point in his career," Peyton Manning said outside the Giants' locker room Sunday night after the win. "It's different than it was when he was younger, when there were things I could help him with. He's played these guys before. He's played New England. He's seen it all.

"He's truly an experienced, veteran quarterback."

And amazingly, he now has the opportunity to surpass his big brother in Super Bowl rings if he can find a way to keep this magic rolling through one more game.

On Sunday, Manning completed 32 of his 58 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns. He obviously wasn't flawless, but he also didn't throw a single interception. Manning remained patient throughout the big moment, rising back up to his feet after being sacked six different times.

"Eli just hung in there and hung in there and made plays when we needed for him to make them," Coughlin said. "He displayed the kind of leadership he's shown all year."

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While he often displayed that same resiliency early in his career, his decision-making is better than it's ever been, proven by his passer rating of 103.1 on the season.

Although it's understandable to compare this Super Bowl to the one four years ago, it has its share of differences. For one, it's hard to imagine the Giants being double-digit underdogs again -- not the way they've surged the last five games and not considering the weaknesses in the Patriots' defense that weren't as blatant in 2007. But Coughlin says his team, like New England, has been humbled by the years that have passed since that previous game, bringing a level of energy that should penetrate both sidelines in two weeks.

"Now that we have this experience again, we're humble about it, knowing full well that a game of this nature could have gone either way," Coughlin said about Sunday night's thrilling NFC title game. "Thank God it went our way. We're excited about it."

When Umenyiora stood in his locker Sunday night, he talked about this moment feeling like a blur -- like he couldn't believe this was happening. Although he admittedly understands the sense of déjà vu, he said it didn't make this situation feel any less exciting or any easier to digest.

"I don't know what's going on right now," Umenyiora said. "I really don't. I'm talking, but I still don't know what's really going on. It's scary to me. But I think it'll sink in by the end of the week. This is crazy."

It is crazy. Crazy that we're on the brink of another Super Bowl between the Giants and Patriots. Crazy to think New England will now have a chance at revenge for the brutal nature in which its undefeated season was tarnished by that last loss. Crazy how far Manning has come since then.

For many reasons, this upcoming game has a very familiar feel to it. But considering the unlikely drama that unfolded when these teams battled for the Lombardi Trophy last time, it's just another reason to wait and see what happens next.

If this game is anything like the 2008 edition, this will be one sequel worth watching.

"It's just the way it was meant to happen, man," Umenyiora said. "We had to fight to get in, just like we did in 2007. Everything is so similar. Hopefully, we'll have a similar outcome on Super Bowl Sunday."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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