SAN FRANCISCO -- Did you hear what Jim Burt said? After Lawrence Taylor and other ex-teammates called his hit on quarterback Jeff Hostetler a cheap shot, Burt responded today by saying: "I live in New Jersey. They know where I live. One by one they can come to my house."

All the way in Tampa you can hear the Buffalo Bills going: "Hey, Burt, Shhhhhhhhhhh! Shaddap. Leave the Giants alone." This is not the time to issue a personal challenge to the Giants, particularly LT. We can see him now, flying full-fare from Tampa to Newark and telling the taxi driver, "Don't leave, this won't take long." Burt answers the door, astonished, to hear LT say, "This ain't Domino's, big boy," before having his lights punched out.

Of course, we wrote off the Giants long ago. Why wouldn't you? Phil Simms was hurt, LT was looking rather mortal. The Giants could barely beat the Patriots and Cardinals, for crying out loud, so why would anyone expect them to beat the greatest team of all time?

So for an entire week, after beating the Bears, the Giants imagined everybody who wasn't inside their locker room was the enemy. They slo-mo'd every video clip imaginable to find a derogatory quote from the 49ers, and when nothing was available to hang on the video bulletin board the Giants made a big to-do over the fact that the Niners sent some equipment down to Tampa, in case.

"Hey, that was pretty demeaning to us," Everson Walls said.

Wait a minute. Didn't the Giants pack enough clothes for a direct trip to Tampa, in case? Of course they did. But why let the facts stand in the way of a team's need to foam at the mouth? If you weren't with the Giants, you were the mortal enemy. "We came out here with everybody else against us," Mark Collins said.

"That's the thing to say, I guess, that I wouldn't be able to get it done," Hostetler said. "That just adds to the fire and keeps me going."

This is exactly why Joe Gibbs wants the Redskins to be the most boring, say-nothing team in the entire league. Because if you say, "We've had some decent success against their defense in the past," the Giants by the end of the week will believe they heard: "The Redskins keep saying we're a bunch of wimps on defense. We'll show them."

Burt, who was a Giants hero four years ago when he knocked Montana from a playoff game, is now a mortal enemy as a 49er. This despite the fact that he stood over Hostetler for three or four minutes waiting to see if his ex-teammate was okay, worrying over the hit he delivered.

The Giants' Leonard Marshall put Montana out of the game with a devastating but clean hit between the shoulder blades. And it was then Pepper Johnson said to himself, " 'That's all she wrote.' "

Real or imagined, the Giants convinced themselves in the final few weeks of the season that everybody was against them, and who knows whether it was enough to push them over the edge in one of the richest championship games ever played.

"I really don't think there's a lot of difference between these two teams," Bill Parcells said. "Anytime you can accomplish what we did, on the road, and against an organization that we and everyone else in the league emulates, you have to feel great."

You deserve to feel great when you fail to score a touchdown and beat the most explosive offense ever to line up. You deserve to feel good when you win with a backup quarterback who is so good as an understudy, people are already asking whether Simms can win back his job (an idea that Parcells correctly ridiculed on Sunday). You deserve to feel good when, as the least frivolous team in the league, you make a fake punt work for a 30-yard gain late in the game -- and a halfback option should have gone for a touchdown -- against the champions.

You deserve to feel great if you're Walls, and you came very close to being the goat again (in 1982, he was beaten on The Catch by Dwight Clark). "It was especially gratifying," Walls said. "It was somebody else's chance to blow it, not me."

So many Giants compared this to a heavyweight fight. To take the belt away from a champion, the challenger should score a knockout, leaving no doubt. This the Giants did.

The Giants were underdogs Sunday. They will be underdogs against the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. I would not want to mess with the Giants, not while they're still walking straight ahead, daring you to knock the chip off their shoulders. "We were so high as a team against the 49ers," Collins said, "and we were so confident that we would have had a heart attack if we had lost."