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The 2011 Giants are Tom Coughlin’s 16th team as an NFL head coach and it’s safe to say this is one of the squads he has liked and admired the most.

Of course, it’s easy to say that after yesterday, when the Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 20-17, in overtime in soggy Candlestick Park to advance to Super Bowl XLVI against the New England Patriots in Indianapolis. It was the Giants’ fifth consecutive victory, including three in the postseason. The Giants, seeded fourth in the NFC, went on the road the last two weeks to beat Green Bay and San Francisco, the conference’s No. 1 and 2 seeds. The journey is very similar to the one taken by the Giants four years ago, when won three road playoff games and defeated New England in Super Bowl XLII as a fifth seed.

But Coughlin’s high regard for the current Giants extends far beyond victories, conference titles and Super Bowl berths. It rises above the team’s punishing, relentless defense, the brilliance of quarterback Eli Manning or the knack it has demonstrated to make a big play when one is most needed.

It is the players’ grit, determination, selflessness and belief that anything is possible that is admired by Coughlin.

“There’s a great feeling,” Coughlin said on a conference call today. “I talk a lot about spirit and I talk about emotions, I talk about vibes, I talk about feelings. I talk about an atmosphere that has been created by the cooperation of players and coaches and the harmony and the great feeling that exists. It’s been that type of feeling that has sustained us throughout the course of the year, but even more as I see people grow closer together. But that naturally happens with success. But I’m talking about a real bonding. And that’s what I sense and that’s what I feel – a very responsive team.

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