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Giants-Packers matchup stokes Tom Coughlin's fire to coach again

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Schefter says not to read into GM's absence in Coughlin's Jags interview (0:57)

Adam Schefter says former Giants head coach Tom Coughlin interviewed with Jaguars owner Shahid Khan without GM David Caldwell present, which Schefter interprets as no big deal. (0:57)

At 70 years young, Tom Coughlin believes he can win a third Super Bowl as a head coach. He said Wednesday morning that he does not have an offer to return to an NFL sideline. But if he gets one, he feels he could do for another franchise what he did twice for the New York Giants.

"If that happened, that would be the whole intent," Coughlin, who stepped down under pressure last year after 12 seasons with the Giants, told ESPN.com. "To be able to be in that position again. ... To be able to be in the position the Giants are in now."

The Giants and Packers will face each other in the playoffs once again on Sunday, and Coughlin, a former Packers assistant, is a leading scholar on the subject. Under a full moon nine years ago, Coughlin led his Giants into Lambeau Field and beat a 13-3 team, quarterbacked by Brett Favre, in Ice Bowl conditions that famously left his cheeks looking like a pair of frozen apples. Four years later, in Lambeau weather that was tropical by comparison, Coughlin beat the 15-1 Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was playing at an even higher level than he is now.

Those Green Bay victories were gateways to the Giants' Super Bowl triumphs over the New England Patriots, and as Coughlin remembered them over the phone, he sounded ready to jump in front of his former players and tell them all about how special an opportunity Sunday is to play another all-or-nothing game in Vince Lombardi's house.

Coughlin is working in the league office now as a senior adviser, so he doesn't want to say whether he thinks current Giants head coach Ben McAdoo -- a Packers assistant on the teams the Giants eliminated -- is capable of prevailing at Lambeau and ultimately winning the whole thing. Coughlin has been around long enough to understand how that would play. If he says the Giants have a good shot at Green Bay, he's putting pressure on the rookie coach who replaced him to duplicate what he accomplished in the 2007 and 2011 seasons. If he says the Giants are in trouble this week, that's a headline and a headache he doesn't need.

Coughlin did briefly open a small window on his competitive soul when asked about the decision by Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and friends to take their talents to South Beach.

"You know where I'm coming from," he said. "I'm old-school. But leave me out of that one. It won't have any effect on the game in Green Bay."

In 2008, Coughlin had his own experience with a star receiver who made news in a nightclub, this one a lot closer to home. Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg at a time when the defending champs had two-peat written all over them. The Giants were never the same after that; they lost their first playoff game, at home, to Philadelphia.

"That one still hurts," Coughlin said. "We really did feel like we had the best team that year."

But Giants-Packers makes this a week for championship memories, not championship regrets. In January 2008, the Giants beat a 13-3 Dallas team on the road after Tony Romo pulled a Beckham -- he spent some pre-playoff time in the sun in Cabo -- before there was a Beckham, and then found themselves confronting a minus-23 wind chill in Green Bay.

"The night before the game," Coughlin recalled, "we were in this little hotel in Appleton, and the wind was coming right through the walls. I go to the stadium the next day and figured I'd go out on the field like normal, with no ear muffs or gloves, and I was out there 15 seconds before saying, 'Are you kidding me? How in the world am I going to get back inside?'"

Coughlin felt the full wrath of a Wisconsin winter in the first half. As his face turned dangerously raw, the training staff gave him a Vaseline-like substance to protect against frostbite. In the second half, Coughlin said, "I didn't feel a thing. I was warm."

Quarterback Eli Manning ignored the elements, and Burress dominated Green Bay cornerback Al Harris. A shivering Favre threw an old man's interception in overtime, and suddenly the Giants had a 47-yard field goal for a wildly improbable trip to the Super Bowl. Lawrence Tynes had already missed two kicks in the fourth quarter, including a 36-yarder off a bad snap at the end of regulation.

Coughlin had asked Tynes earlier whether he thought he could make a 46-yarder, and the kicker silently turned and walked away from him. "Now it's 1 yard longer in overtime, and I didn't say a word," Coughlin said. "We'd already had two catastrophes, and I'm standing on the sideline looking at [Tynes], and he doesn't look at me. He just drops his cape and trots onto the field. I yell, 'Field goal,' and the coaches are saying, 'No, don't let him kick it from there. The field position will be too good for [the Packers], and they'll win the game.' I shut them up, and then Lawrence kicks one that could've gone 55 yards."

Tynes sprinted straight through the Lambeau tunnel. The Giants thawed out inside, Coughlin recalled, "by drinking broth and coffee and hot chocolate like it was water."

Four winters later, the challenge appeared more monumental. Rodgers, the league MVP, had thrown 45 touchdown passes against six interceptions, and Green Bay was positioned for the kind of dynastic run New England managed from 2001 to 2004. The Giants had lost at home to the Packers 38-35 just like they'd lost at home to the 2007 Patriots 38-35 before denying them a 19-0 season in Super Bowl XLII.

"So we had those thoughts going for us," Coughlin said.

The Giants didn't need another overtime in Lambeau. They stunned the Packers by a 37-20 count, and the game-shaping sequence unfolded near the end of the first half, when coach Mike McCarthy called a timeout that proved disastrous for the home team. Manning was planning on an inside handoff to Ahmad Bradshaw to effectively run out the clock. The timeout gave Manning the opportunity to send Bradshaw outside on the play -- and to remind him to get out of bounds so the Giants could have one last snap.

Bradshaw gained 23 yards, stepped out with six seconds left in the half and allowed his quarterback to run a play called Flood Tip. Manning had never thrown a Hail Mary touchdown pass, not even in his Pop Warner days. He threw one on this day to Hakeem Nicks, sending both teams to the locker room with a clear picture of who was destined to win and who was destined to lose.

In the mid-1980s, Coughlin had been an assistant under Forrest Gregg in Green Bay. Lombardi had been one of his lifelong heroes. Winning these playoff games in this building meant everything to him, his wife and his family.

"Judy and I still had friends there," Coughlin said. "We were coming back to Lombardi Avenue and all the tradition, and all those great fans. If you play well in Green Bay, the fans acknowledge it. They are so respectful."

The more Coughlin talked Wednesday morning, the more he sounded ready to board a plane headed for another cold Sunday in Wisconsin.

"All those emotions have come roaring back," he said. "Everyone needs to understand how your team becomes energized. We've played 16 games to get in the playoffs, and come Monday morning, these guys are flying like they just reported for the first day. It's an interesting phenomenon. The whole thing is very vivid."

Vivid enough for a 70-year-old coach to wait for one more offer -- and one last shot. "There's nothing in front of me that says that right now," Coughlin said of a potential return to Jacksonville, where he has been rumored to land, or of a head-coaching job somewhere else.

"It's just speculation. I'm trying to keep myself in a position where I can make a decision about whatever comes my way."

He has the energy of a man half his age; that much nobody questions. But if Tom Coughlin doesn't get a chance to win a third Super Bowl title, he'll survive.

The frozen face twice conquered the frozen tundra, and that's a fact frozen in time.