EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It had started as a boisterous victory lap with the NFC championship trophy, but it didn't take long for New York Giants quarterback Kerry Collins to slow from a jog to a walk, a deliberate pace that let him luxuriate in every cheer from the sellout crowd at Giants Stadium Sunday afternoon.

He had earned this.

The Minnesota Vikings may have come in as favorites to march down the field with an aerial attack, but Collins was the one who did it, leading the Giants to a 41-0 victory almost as improbable as Collins' journey from NFL misfit to Super Bowl quarterback.

And he didn't intend to miss a second of the celebration.

"I was unbelievably excited but also with a sense of remembering what it took to get to this point," said Collins, a recovering alcoholic who was chased out of Carolina and New Orleans before finding sobriety and a home with the Giants two years ago.

"You get beat up and you get beat down and people call you a loser. It's going to make you tough, and that's what makes that moment so sweet."

It was sweet all around for the Giants, who earned their first Super Bowl berth since 1991 with a dominating performance. Extravagant with an offense that jumped ahead 14-0 in the game's first three minutes and suffocating on defense, New York rendered one of the most explosive teams in the league completely mute.

Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper rarely had time to breathe, much less throw the ball to wide receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter, who were supposed to dominate this game, and the Vikings never got inside the Giants' 20-yard-line as New York forced three interceptions and two fumbles.

"Daunte Culpepper was under siege today," Minnesota Coach Dennis Green said simply. "Nothing we tried to do worked."

Instead, the magic touch was completely Collins' as the 29-year-old Pennsylvania native played the field like a pinball machine, hitting nearly every spot to score. Pulled near the start of the fourth quarter for back-up Jason Garrett, Collins finished 28 for 39, passing for 381 yards, a team playoff record.

Collins' five touchdowns also matched a league record in a conference title game, tying Sid Luckman's performance in Chicago's 73-0 victory over the Washington Redskins in 1943. Even more impressive, was the way Collins racked up those numbers, finding receivers all over the field with darting passes that often fell where only they could catch them.

"He was awesome -- I felt like we were part of the circus, the greatest show on earth today," Giants linebacker Mike Barrow said of Collins, whom he has known since both played for the Panthers. "I was on the sidelines, cheering, trying to get the guy to move the chains faster, I was so excited."

Watching Collins was especially gratifying for those who were around him in his darker days, when a drinking problem and overwhelming pressure to succeed led him into a maze of destructive behavior, including a drunk-driving charge during his stint with the Saints. But Collins, who has completed an extensive substance abuse program, has been nothing but steady since signing with the Giants in February 1999, and once he became the starter this season, his leadership never faltered.

This week, offensive coordinator Sean Payton designed the game plan around him, saying, "Men, it's going to be air force," a challenge Collins answered on the opening drive by laying out an artful 46-yard touchdown pass to Ike Hilliard. When the Vikings flubbed the ensuing kickoff return to hand New York the ball back on the Minnesota 18, Collins needed just one play to hit Greg Comella in the end zone.

By the time Culpepper got his hands on the ball, his team was behind, 14-0.

"They just outplayed us today -- they straight up outplayed us," Culpepper said.

Moss was more direct, saying the Vikings felt listless "at kickoff."

Moss certainly looked lethargic at times, battling Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn for balls less and less often, and Carter, who has hinted he might retire soon, didn't make a catch until the fourth quarter.

The Giants' statistics, meantime, grew ever more gaudy. Early in the second quarter, Collins launched a 43-yard pass to Ron Dixon to set up a Joe Jurevicius touchdown, and by halftime another touchdown -- this one a stand-up catch by Hilliard -- and two Brad Daluiso field goals had given New York a 34-0 lead.

Not much got better for Minnesota after the break. Culpepper never saw safety Shaun Williams coming around the right side on the opening play of Minnesota's drive. Culpepper lost the ball mid-sack, leading to a New York recovery and a touchdown.

Robert Smith earned the Vikings' first rushing first down midway through the third quarter, only to see the drive squandered in a pile of penalties that included the ejection of receiver Troy Walters for punching Ramos McDonald.

After the final seconds ticked off, the Giants held a mini-pep rally at midfield, accepting the NFC championship trophy amid a swell of applause.

As it was handed from owner Wellington Mara to Coach Jim Fassel and then from player to player, Collins waited, finally taking it toward the stands. Sehorn, being interviewed on television nearby, gave him a little wave.

"This is the most amazing feeling, unbelievable," Sehorn said. "But we have one more game. And we're all ready."

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