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The Giants got all over Brady again during their regular season 24-20 win at Foxborough, the last time the Patriots lost. That victory preceded a four-game slide, and New York eventually slipped to 7-7 before turning it around.

Adding to the juicy potential of a down-to-the-wire reprise of 2008, both teams barely made it to Indy. The Patriots needed backup cornerback Sterling Moore stripping the ball from Baltimore receiver Lee Evans in the end zone in the final seconds, then for Billy Cundiff to miss a 32-yard field goal that would have forced overtime.

The Giants went into overtime in San Francisco, using two botched punt returns by the 49ers to advance.

“We feel very fortunate to be here, and I’m pretty sure they do, too,” Patriots Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork. “But we also know we deserve to be here, and they know they deserve it. We are two very good and very confident teams.”

Teams owned by two of the key figures in solving the 4 1/2-month lockout of the players last year. New England’s Robert Kraft shuttled back and forth from the meetings to his dying wife’s bedside late in the negotiating process. Myra Kraft passed away days before the lockout was resolved.

His players wore a patch with her initials MHK on the left side of their jerseys this season.

“The fact that she was so dear to me and all of our players are wearing her initials above their heart is an endearing thing,” Kraft said. “What she represented is important and I hope that special sense of spirit comes through.”

Giants owner John Mara played an equally important role in the labor negotiations, and when both teams reached the Super Bowl, Kraft mentioned “a certain karma” about the matchup.

“I’m not necessarily happy to be playing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, I’ll tell you that,” Mara joked. “But yeah, I’m very happy for Bob because he put his heart and soul into those negotiations during a very difficult time for him and his family, so I think the success they’ve had is well-deserved.”

When they finally kick off Sunday, the two biggest stars will be Brady and Manning _ yes, Eli. Not halftime performer Madonna, but the quarterbacks on whose arms, wits and leadership this Super Bowl will turn.

“They are both leaders on the field,” Wilfork said. “I think that position you have to be smart, you have to be intelligent. I think you have to understand what’s going on around you. I think both those guys have that.”

On Sunday, we’ll see which one adds to his championship legacy with another Super Bowl ring.