EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If the reality that they are indeed Super Bowl champions hadn't sunk in on the New York Giants' flight home from Arizona, the ride back from Newark Liberty International Airport probably did the trick.
"It's been seeping in," center Shaun O'Hara said Monday night after the team arrived at Giants Stadium. "Maybe coming back from the airport did it. We usually don't have a police escort and flashing lights when we come back from an away game."
Five buses carrying the team drove through the stadium gates and past a screaming group of about 200 hardy fans who braved the cold, damp weather to welcome their heroes home.
"I'm still on cloud nine," said Greg White, 33, of Little Falls, who said he spent the fourth quarter of Sunday's 17-14 Giants win over heavily favored New England where most Giant fans spent it -- on the edge of his seat.
Like many fans, White said he was cautiously optimistic at the beginning of the playoffs and felt the Giants' fate would rest on the shoulders of quarterback Eli Manning.
"I knew the defense was there and that if Eli could play mistake-free football in the playoffs they could do it, and he did," White said.
The celebration will hit a peak on Tuesday when the team is given a ticker-tape parade in lower Manhattan, following in the footsteps of numerous New York Yankee championship teams, not to mention astronauts and other dignitaries.
"I remember as a rookie getting out of the hospital after having surgery and the Yankees were having a ticker-tape parade," Amani Toomer said. "It's exciting that we'll be a part of one."
After the parade, the Giants will return to New Jersey for a celebration at Giants Stadium.
It has been quite a ride for a team that few gave more than a middling chance of staying with the Patriots, who were favored by 12 points and were attempting to become the first team to finish a season 19-0.
"We believed in each other and nobody else believed in us," Toomer said. "That makes it that much sweeter."
As players disembarked from the buses and headed for their cars, several stopped to describe the game's final, frantic minutes when quarterback Eli Manning led the team to the winning touchdown, a 13-yard pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left.
Many still expressed amazement at the circus catch by wide receiver David Tyree that kept the drive alive.
"Unbelievable," said rookie wide receiver Steve Smith, whose 12-yard reception on 3rd-and-11 came one play before Burress' touchdown. "I was right there, I saw how determined and how focused his eyes were. It's like we had an angel on our shoulder."
It took a while for Tyree to understand the play's significance.
"It was definitely a tough play," he said. "But I didn't realize the magnitude of it until I saw it on TV myself."
That could go for the rest of the Giants, too.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press