Nov. 14, 2004. The Giants blow a 14-3 lead on the road against the Arizona Cardinals to drop their record to 5-4. Their starting quarterback that day was Kurt Warner. The significance of that day is that it would be the last game started by a quarterback not named Eli Manning for the Giants for more than 13 years.
Since then, Manning has played every game for New York, never missing a start. A true example of how one of the best kinds of ability is availability. In that time, he’s had a roller coaster of a career. Bouts of inconsistency mixed in with flashes of absolute brilliance, making him one of the true enigmas of his era.
He’s led the league in interceptions on three different occasions. His career record currently stands at 110-100, a mere 10 games over .500. His critics will often allude to these criticisms as evidenced of him being a mediocre quarterback who just caught lightning in a bottle, twice, for four game stretches on two different occasions. And as we know, lighting is notorious for striking twice in the same spot. To stuff Manning into a vacuum like that and come to that conclusion is an injustice to the game of football itself. The idea that the pinnacle that every player strives for, the goal that players grind for day in and day out for years to reach can just be granted by a stroke of luck is an insult to anyone who’s ever played the game.
Manning currently stands inside the top 10 all-time in passing yardage (50,625) and passing touchdowns (334). But his true claim to fame, his biggest bargaining chip, are his two Super Bowl rings, which come with two well-deserved Super Bowl MVPs, more than his contemporaries and universally agreed upon superior players Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and big brother Peyton. His two Super Bowl MVPs rank third all time.
Of course, the quality of those wins shouldn’t be taken lightly either, coming against the dominant coach/quarterback combo of his era, the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady-led New England Patriots. His first, and more prominent of the two, came in Super Bowl XLII, where Manning, in just his fourth year in the league and third as a full-time starter, took the field against the heavily favored 18-0 Patriots, who were chasing perfection and NFL immortality. All that stood in their way was a young, erratic quarterback who just two months prior was written off by the New York media, claiming he wasn’t the guy they were hoping for. With under three minutes left in the game, Manning took over needing a touchdown to put them ahead and did just that, albeit in a more unorthodox way than your usual game-winning drive, needing a miraculous escape and a helmet catch. That was just lightning strike No. 1 though.
Four years later came the second strike. A 9-7 mediocre Giants team that won three of four down the stretch to barely get into the playoffs and rode the arm of Manning back to the big game, where they would again face the favored Patriots. Different year, same result. A late drive a miraculous throw and catch a last-minute touchdown that didn’t give Brady enough time to respond. Of all of Manning’s qualities, his best was how great situationally he was. He had the mentality of a baseball closer. A short memory. The last game you had, the last drive you had, the last throw you had. None of them matter. All that matters is the opportunity in front of you. Either rise to the challenge or crumble.
There’s plenty to say of Manning on the field. There’s even more to say of him off. His career got off to a rocky start in the public eye, forcing a trade from the Chargers to the Giants. He came off as entitled and spoiled. What he did for the next 13 years was anything but. He was a model citizen, teammate and person. Manning was as low key as a championship-winning quarterback in the city that never sleeps can be. The only blemish on his record came fairly recently when he was accused of an autograph scandal that has seemed to fall by the wayside ultimately because of its absurdity. He was the face of the franchise in every way you could ever ask for.
And that is what makes the decision to bench him for a New York Jets reject so absolutely baffling and disheartening. Coach Ben McAdoo announced that Geno Smith will start Sunday. Manning was reportedly given the opportunity to start and give way to Smith in the second half and declined. The competitor in him wouldn’t allow for him to keep up a charade of his consecutive start streak for some fake accomplishment. Manning has never been one to not want to earn whatever he got. He’s a competitor.
As this season from hell winds down for the Giants, the only solace fans will hope to find in this lost season is the termination of General Manager Jerry Reese and McAdoo, the dumb and dumber of the football world at the moment. Their incompetence continues to show no bounds. They’re both clearly in way over their heads and the way this season has gone, I wouldn’t be surprised if they both were on the unemployment line for a while. I would cringe at the hiring of either of them for their current positions or any other for that matter. If I was hiring for the other 31 teams I’d want my team as far away from these two numbskulls as possible. If their terrible performance wasn’t reason enough, stripping one of the most respected players in this celebrated franchise’s history of his dignity ranks up there with one of the greatest travesties in Giants history.
The reception to the move has not gone over well. Everyone from radio personalities and analysts, to former coaches and former teammates, to even some of his biggest critics, have universally panned the move. I even received messages from Jet fans who have never said a single good thing about Manning across his whole career put it simply “he doesn’t deserve to be treated like this.” The outpouring of love and support from his former coaches and teammates and team play-by-play guys, the people that knew Manning best, speaks volumes to the kind of player, person and competitor he has always been, and the respect and admiration people hold for him.
The other 52 guys in the locker room deserved better. The fans deserved better. Most of all, Manning deserved better. He earned it. More than those two catastrophes ever have or ever will. Manning earned the right to ride off into the sunset on his own terms. Not to be shown the door and be made the fall guy like Tom Coughlin was. Another poor decision by Giants ownership. To let Coughlin walk while keep Reese on board. The direction of the Jaguars under Coughlin in comparison to the Giants is laughable but that’s another conversation for another day. Today is a day of mourning and sadness. Nobody knows what the future holds for Manning. He may play again for the Giants. He may move on and play elsewhere. He may choose to retire. In the end though, whatever he may do, he deserved to be the one to make that decision. He deserved it more than McAdoo, someone who’s never done anything for the Giants organization other than show up at his opening press conference in what looked like his father’s suit and kick off his tenure with the organization looking ridiculous. Not much changed since then. His clothes fit better yet he, and Reese, continue to look ridiculous.