EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants had been here before. They had braved the cruel winds, tormented the opposing quarterback, crushed the hopes -- if not the spirit -- of the visiting team.
This was clearly a case of deja vu, even if 27 of 53 players on the roster never had been in a playoff game. It was history repeating itself, even if the coach was Dan Reeves and not Bill Parcells, even if the running back was Rodney Hampton and not O. J. Anderson.
There were enough similarities to make you believe. That was Phil Simms, after all, who ran the offense, and Lawrence Taylor who inspired the defense. There was that magnificent running game, and that intimidating pass rush.
And one more time in January in the Meadowlands, the Giants claimed a big playoff victory. Yesterday's 17-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC wild-card game earned the Giants a Saturday date in San Francisco against an old playoff nemesis, the 49ers.
"For a long time, the Super Bowl always went through the 49ers," Taylor said after he delivered a halftime speech that teammates say aroused the defense. "We're all old friends. We know each other personally."
After a two-year playoff sabbatical, the Giants (12-5) are talking Super Bowl again. Whether they are good enough to get there is problematic. Yesterday, they were just good enough to get past a Minnesota team that self-destructed and finished the season 9-8.
The Giants won because Hampton rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns, one a marvelous 51-yarder when he ran right through the Vikings. They won because Keith Hamilton (two sacks) and Mike Fox (one sack) took turns pounding Vikings quarterback Jim McMahon, who was forced from the game twice -- with a mild concussion and bruised shoulder -- but kept returning.
The Giants also won with the element of luck. How else do you explain the ball that squirted out of Cris Carter's hands and into the arms of Giants safety Greg Jackson at the New York 15 early in the fourth quarter, on what might have been the biggest play of the game? A touchdown there, and it's 17-17.
Or the improvisational run by place-kicker David Treadwell after a center snap sailed through holder Mike Horan's hands, right into Treadwell's belly? That happened on the extra-point try after Hampton's second touchdown run in the third quarter, and gave the Giants a seven-point lead on another play that could have proved critical.
"You can tell he doesn't run very much, because he pulled a muscle," Reeves said of Treadwell. "That was a big extra point."
The wind chill at kickoff yesterday was minus-5. At halftime, it had thawed to minus-3. Simms rarely has known it to be colder.
"This is one of the worst, and it got worse as the game went on," said Simms, who completed 17 of 26 for 94 yards -- an average of 5.5 yards. "It was one of the top three [coldest games] since I've been here."
It was cold enough that Reeves opted to take the wind at the coin toss. At the start of the second half, when the Vikings chose to take the ball, Reeves wanted the wind at his back again.
"I didn't want to give them the ball as well as the wind in the third quarter," he said. "It's tough to execute against the wind."
Tough under normal wind conditions. Yesterday, it was impossible. All scoring came with the wind.
The Giants trailed at halftime, 10-3, when they could get only a 26-yard field goal by Treadwell on drives to the Minnesota 9 and 17.
The Vikings struck for 10 points in the last two minutes of the half, when McMahon launched a perfect 40-yard touchdown throw to Carter and a botched New York punt set up Fuad Reveiz's wind-assisted, 52-yard field goal.
That made the Giants mad. McMahon paid the price in the second half, when the Giants unleashed their pass rush and took turns pounding him.
"You can take a lot more chances with McMahon, because he's && not the most mobile quarterback," said Hamilton. "A lot of us had an attitude [in the second half]. . . . We thought we were better than Minnesota."
On the second play of the second half, McMahon was hit by Fox as he threw an incompletion. As he was going down, Hamilton came in to finish him off -- and knock him out of the game until the next series.
McMahon had to leave the game again late in the quarter after another punishing hit by Fox.
The Vikings hadn't allowed McMahon to be sacked in the previous 16 quarters, but, in the second half, the Giants sacked him twice and backup Sean Salisbury once.
What turned the game around, though, was the 51-yard breakaway by Hampton that earned a 10-10 tie in the third quarter. It was the longest touchdown run in Giants playoff history. And it came on a play Reeves installed at halftime.
On first down at the Giants' 49, Hampton ran right between blocks by tackle Doug Riesenberg and tight end Howard Cross, and got into the secondary. After Carlos Jenkins missed a tackle, receiver Chris Calloway escorted Hampton to the end zone by shoving safety Vencie Glenn nearly 20 yards to the goal line.
On the next series, Minnesota punter Harry Newsome shanked a 21-yard kick to the Vikings' 26. Eight plays later, Hampton bounced off Riesenberg for a 2-yard touchdown that put New York ahead.
The Giants had a big scare in the fourth quarter, when Carter took a pass over the middle from Salisbury and headed for the Giants' goal line. From behind, safety Myron Guyton dived at Carter and said later he hit Carter's elbow. The ball squirted loose -- directly into Jackson's arms at the New York 15 -- and the Vikings would not get close again.