EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- One win from the Super Bowl? Hey, the relaxed Vikings and loose Giants act as if they are on a Caribbean cruise.
Cris Carter talks about a sense of fulfillment, regardless of what happens in Sunday's NFC championship game at Giants Stadium. Minnesota's star receiver betrays no sense of being uptight, even if his first NFL title is within reach.
''I really have my life for the next several years mapped out on what I want to do, and have a great understanding of what I want to do,'' said the 14-year-veteran who is contemplating retirement. ''Regardless of being in the Super Bowl or not, there is a comfort level I do have with what I want to accomplish that would allow me to stop playing.
''You knock on the door and you keep knocking. We just have another opportunity.''
Jessie Armstead, New York's Pro Bowl linebacker, thinks about free food.
''People say win this for New York or for New Jersey,'' Armstead said. ''When I'm eating a meal somewhere and they pat you on the back and say, 'Don't worry about that meal, I got it,' that makes you want to go out and play harder for them. Win a few more games and maybe I'll get some more free meals.''
While the NFC finalists aren't carrying completely carefree attitudes, they aren't shaking in their cleats at the prospect of playing for a spot in America's biggest sporting event. The Giants haven't been there since 1990 -- tight end Howard Cross is the only remaining member of that team, but guard Glenn Parker appeared in four Super Bowls with Buffalo, guard Ron Stone and cornerback Dave Thomas one each with Dallas.
Minnesota's last appearance was in January, 1977, when Randy Moss was a month from being born. But five current Vikings -- receiver Chris Walsh and guard Corbin Lacina with Buffalo; quarterback Bubby Brister with Denver; DE John Burrough and linebacker Craig Sauer with Atlanta -- have gotten to the big game.
Comforting? Not particularly, according to Vikings coach Dennis Green, who is 4-7 in the postseason, but has gotten Minnesota to the playoffs in seven of his eight seasons.
''This is what we do for a living,'' Green said. ''I'm not the type of guy that lives in the past. I like to really focus on what's ahead of us.''
In '97, the Vikings got their first playoff victory, edging the Giants 23-22 in a wildcard game in which they scored 10 points in the final 1:38. Green discounts that game as having any impact on Sunday's matchup.
''We have very few guys and very few coaches that were on the team back in 1997,'' he said.
They also have, it seems, very few players who are unnerved by their high-altitude surroundings
''I don't give it any thought at all,'' said kicker Gary Anderson, whose missed field goal -- his first failure of the 1998 season -- left an opening in the NFC title game that Atlanta slipped through in overtime. ''Each game you've got to take by itself, especially in our business. What you did in your last kick ... your last game ... it has no bearing on what you have to do.''
Giants running back Tiki Barber will have to play with a cast on his broken left forearm. The injury prevents him from returning punts, yet his attitude is, ''Don't worry, be happy.''
''The minute you make this something more than it is, you get distracted,'' Barber said. ''We're not close to all that hype; it's still a football game. We're not concerned about what people think of us. We know what we have here.''
What they have -- and the Vikings' have -- is an almost laid-back approach. That figures to last until about noon on Sunday.
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