By Ernie Palladino
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Going back to work is one thing.

Going back to work with a fantastic goal in mind is quite another.

Just ask the Giants. When Eli Manning and his teammates reconvened this week at the Timex Performance Center for their offseason conditioning program, albeit without restricted free agent Victor Cruz, they did so with the knowledge that the Super Bowl XLVIII will occur just across the parking lot from their grass practice fields Feb. 2.

Wouldn’t it be nice for the Giants to play in that one?

Forget about the convenience of it all — sleeping in one’s own bed during Super Bowl week, using your own practice and game locker rooms, home-cooked meals, etc. The fact is, a host city has never had its team in the Super Bowl before. So we’re talking history here, on top of the notoriety of the MetLife Stadium hosting the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl.

Ah, but let’s not get too far ahead in the wishing and wondering department. There’s the draft coming up, and then organized practices. And then training camp and a regular season that will include a Manning Bowl matchup against Peyton’s Denver Broncos to get through first.

“We missed the playoffs last year,” Manning said. “That’s the goal. You can’t win a championship if you don’t make the playoffs. It’s about doing whatever it takes and making sure we’re putting ourselves in position to make the playoffs toward the end of the season, and then excelling at the end to finhish that job to put us in an opportunity to make it to those final teams.

“Then, it’s what you can do there. Who can get hot, who can be playing the best football at the end of the year when it counts. That’s the most important thing.”

But it’s important what’s happening now, too, both from a player and organizational standpoint. This is the time when the chemistry of a championship team takes shape, a time when hopefully all the components come together to build strength in the weight room and bone up on the playbook. They won’t actually hit the field until the first organized practice May 22, but they’ll all have their sheets and skeleton diagrams to go over.

All, except Cruz, who is sitting out while he tries to get a long-term deal from somebody. It apparently won’t be from anybody outside the Meadowlands, as only hours remain until the deadline for teams to sign restricted free agents to offer sheets. Given that Cruz would be looking for almost $10 million per year, and that the offering team would have to give up first-round compensation for the honor of paying that, it’s unlikely Cruz will find his pot of gold elsewhere.

Instead, he’ll either sign the Giants’ $2.879 million tender, accept the long-term deal estimated at $7 million, or squeeze Jerry Reese through continued absence to a more lucrative contract.

Reese, though, wasn’t playing that game Thursday. In fact, he went the opposite way, saying he couldn’t even guarantee Cruz would be occupying a roster spot come the season opener.

“I don’t assume anything,” Reese said. “When we get ready to play, we’ll have good player. I don’t know if Victor will be on the team or not. If Victor’s not here, we’ll have other receivers. One player doesn’t make your team.”

Bluster from a GM? Yes. The sides will probably come to an accord before training camp, if not before then. But Reese is right on one count. A single player doesn’t make a team. Not a dream season, either. That takes 53 of them, all improving on the point scoring and defense that failed to show against Atlanta and Baltimore down the stretch.

Do that, and a dreamy, historic Super Bowl-worthy season could be at hand. And wouldn’t that be convenient?

“Our goal is to host it and play in it,” tackle Will Beatty said. “We just want to make sure we’re prepared and know what each of us is doing. You’re not just here to work out. You’re here because you’re hosting the Super Bowl.”

Wanting is one thing; doing is quite another. Thing the G-Men will get there? Sound off in the comments…

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