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New York Giants feel like underdogs despite Super Bowl title

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As he left the New York Giants locker room Thursday, Justin Tuck had a message for some folks at NFL Network who were leery of the reigning Super Bowl champions getting the chance to defend their title.

"Tell your colleagues," Tuck said, "we ARE going to make the playoffs."

Oh, Justin. It's starting already? In April?

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Coming off their second Super Bowl championship in five years, know this: The Giants will find a way to define themselves as the underdog, the disrespected, the counted out.

Reflecting on the 2007 and 2011 Super Bowl-winning teams, Eli Manning joined Tuck in embracing the notion that the Giants weren't universally seen as world class in becoming world champs.

"(We are) taking kind of the attitude that we still have something to prove," Manning said. "They called it a fluke and we got hot at the right time, but we were still not a great team. That should be the mindset (now). We have to be more consistent. We have to be better throughout the whole season and not have these streaks of good play and bad play."

The Giants will receive their Super Bowl rings next month. They have 4 1/2 months until they kick off the NFL season against the Cowboys.

In the meantime, there are issues to address. As voluntary offseason conditioning workouts began this week, Osi Umenyiora has declined to attend -- not for the first time.

"It's the offseason," defensive tackle Chris Canty said with a smile, "so obviously Osi has a situation. (But) we know he'll be here and ready to go when it counts."

Umenyiora has one year and $3.975 million remaining on his contract. He would like a new deal and a starting job after rotating in (with much success) last season behind Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul.

In text messages Thursday, Umenyiora said, "Yes, of course I will be in great shape as usual when the season starts."

Will he be a Giant?

"That's what I hope," Umenyiora wrote. "Not exactly sure just yet."

General manager Jerry Reese said there has been "a little bit of talk" about a contract extension. And the general tone at the Giants facility, from the locker room and the front office, seemed cautiously optimistic that a deal with Umenyiora will be worked out.

Wide receiver Victor Cruz has outplayed his rookie contract. He set the franchise's single-season record with 1,536 receiving yards in 2011 -- and also believes he deserves to be paid. But, when asked Thursday if he will play the 2012 season under his current deal, a base salary of $540,000, Cruz replied simply: "Yes."

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"You want to continue to prove yourself," Cruz added, "and continue to prove to your organization that you're someone to keep for the long haul."

That's an attitude Tuck would recommend for all his teammates. The Giants won the Super Bowl in February 2008 by upsetting the undefeated Patriots, 17-14, in Glendale, Ariz. Later that year, their 2008 season became unhinged when Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg. The top-seeded Giants went on to lose to the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Asked about the key to defending a championship, Tuck said staying healthy is as important as staying hungry.

"When you get to the top of the mountain you don't want to go back down it," Tuck said. "You want to stay there."

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports

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