For the fans of "Mara Tech," a name given to the New York football Giants decades ago by the late New York Daily News sports cartoonist Bill Gallo, it is not all that surprising that Big Blue is playing for its second National Football League conference title in four years and a return trip to the Super Bowl.

That former Southern Columbia and Pittsburgh University product Henry Hynoski is a member of the team has added to the interest in the game. Since returning from a midseason injury, the 6-1, 266-pound undrafted free agent rookie has been a major contributor in the team's drive to the NFC East title.

Since the 1950s, fans of the football Giants - as all fans from that era continue to use and pass onto to new generations the word "football" as part of the name - have been faithful to a fault with a fervor normally associated with the college game. They have sold out stadiums through the best of times - which includes their 20th NFL/NFC championship game Sunday in San Francisco - and the worst of times - most notably suffering through the 17-year "rebuilding" phase that began in 1965.

From the outside looking in, casual fans and the national media - which is always willing to follow the accepted storyline, rather than dig deeper for the story - the turnaround for this now 11-7 team began when it began to get healthy on defense.

Certainly, this is a fan base that knows all about defense, embracing the famous quote by linebacker Sam Huff to halfback Frank Gifford during a game at Yankee Stadium to the effect of "OK, hold them offense, and we'll figure out a way to score when we get back on the field."

That this now-healthy defense has played a major role in the team's four-game winning streak of must-win games certainly brings back memories of Huff, LT and Michael Strahan. It is, however, not the only reason, and high on the checklist is the offense, which once again has the look that has been the formula for success since Charlie Connerly quarterbacked the team to four NFL title games, including the championship in 1956.

In the early 1960s, the recipe helped quarterback Y.A. Tittle lead the team to three NFL finals; in the late 1980s, it helped quarterback Phil Simms lead the team in two seasons that resulted in Super Bowl victories; in 2000 it helped quarterback Kerry Collins get the team to its third Super Bowl; and four years ago it helped current quarterback Eli Manning stun the then-undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Although Manning is well on his way to owning every passing record in franchise history, even in today's pass-happy NFL the football Giants have remained true to their old-school roots that date back to 1925, their inaugural year. Along that line, they continue to use a fullback in many of their offensive sets, and just as Mel Triplet served Connerly, Alex Webster served Tittle, Maurice Carthon served Simms, Charles Way served Collins and Jim Finn served Manning, the team once again has a true fullback in Hynoski.

"You have to be crazy to do what a fullback does, something with you has to be off, and you have to have the right mentality," Hynoski said following a game earlier in the season. "You've got to love hitting people, be ready to hit somebody every single play and that's what I do.

"When Brandon (Jacobs) or Ahmad (Bradshaw) or Danny Ware runs for those touchdowns, I feel like I am getting those touchdowns. It is gratifying for me and I don't care what I have to do as long as the team wins and I am doing my part, that's all I care about.

"It's been great here for me since Day 1, and the whole free agent thing just made me more determined and added fuel to the fire for me to go out and prove a lot of people wrong. I just want to continue doing what I am doing, and I'm just so excited to have this opportunity to play for such a wonderful organization."

Although Hynoski has yet to carry the ball from scrimmage - he did have a 15-yard kickoff return that set up the tying touchdown drive in the regular season loss to Green Bay - he is more than a battering ram for the tailbacks and one of Manning's guardian angels. He ranks eighth on the team with 12 receptions for 83 yards (6.9-yard average) and a long gain of 14 yards in the victory at Dallas that saved the season when he threw the key block on the winning touchdown run by Jacobs.

In the season's final game against Dallas for the division title, Hynoski had three receptions in an eight-play, 80-yard drive that opened a 21-0 lead. Highlighting that performance was a 12-yard gain that featured him hurdling cornerback Terence Newman and so impressed the team's radio play-by-play broadcaster Bob Papa that he awarded the rookie the Nat Sherman cigar that usually goes to the player who scores.

Of all the plays in which Hynoski has appeared, the three that ended last week's divisional round victory at Green Bay has to be his favorite. On those plays, he lined up to the right of Manning, who took the snap and kneeled in victory formation as time ran out.

Now, Hynoski and the football Giants head to Candlestick Park hoping the result is different than their visit during the regular season. Having a healthy defense and a fullback that brings back memories of the best of times is reason enough for them to believe it is their time.