Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 30, 2017

At The End Only Eli Understood “The Giant Way”

It is a sports story told all too often. An aging hero does not leave the stage; he is pushed off it by a franchise that no longer values his ability. Years of service and career accomplishments are cast aside like yesterday’s newspaper. But this tale is not of some broken down athlete desperately clinging, for far too long, to the game that made him famous. Eli Manning’s benching by the New York Giants, ending at 210 games the second longest consecutive start streak by a quarterback in NFL history, reveals a franchise in total disarray, with a clueless owner and a coach and general manager trying to saddle Manning with the blame for a lost season, in a frantic and hopefully futile attempt to save their jobs.

Let’s be clear. The Giants have woefully underperformed this season. They are 2-9 heading into this weekend, playing for nothing more than pride, and Eli Manning has had, statistically, one of his poorer years since he and his father Archie engineered a draft day trade that ensured Manning would play under the bright lights of Gotham rather than in distant San Diego, despite the Chargers holding the first pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. Father and son simply asserted that Manning would refuse to sign a contract with San Diego, and Chargers general manager A. J. Smith chose not to risk the number one pick on the chance that they were bluffing.

As disappointing as his fourteenth season in a Giants uniform has been, to suggest that Manning is solely or even principally to blame for New York’s position as NFL doormat, with more wins than just the Browns and 49ers, is to ignore reality. Since the start of the season the Giants have placed twenty players on injured reserve. Manning’s receiving corps has been decimated. Both favorite target Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall, signed during the offseason, were lost to ankle injuries in Week Five.

Even before the injuries started to pile up, New York was in trouble because of general manager Jerry Reese’s failure to bolster the offensive line during the offseason. His only two moves to shore up the Giants’ most obvious problem area through either free agency or the draft were signing guard D. J. Fluker, who had been released by the Chargers, and making Adam Bisnowaty the 200th pick in last April’s draft. The former is on injured reserve; the latter on the Giants practice squad. Reese’s neglect has made it hard for Manning to remain upright. Through just eleven games he was sacked twenty-six times, more than all last season and almost exactly his average number of sacks over his twelve full sixteen game seasons as New York’s signal-caller. Despite the harassment from defensive linemen, Manning’s seven picks gave him the lowest interception rate of his career.

Head coach Ben McAdoo was promoted from offensive coordinator prior to last season in part because of lobbying by Manning. As his game plans have fizzled and an increasingly vocal fan base has called for McAdoo to be fired, he’s returned the favor by at times openly criticizing his veteran quarterback. Meanwhile whatever offensive acumen he possessed in his previous position seems to have disappeared since McAdoo was promoted. With last week’s 20-10 loss to Washington, the Giants have now played twenty-seven regular season games with McAdoo as head coach, and have not scored thirty points even once.

With their continued employment in serious doubt, Reese and McAdoo moved Tuesday to shift the blame over to their quarterback, announcing that Manning will be replaced by Geno Smith and presumably at some point, the rookie Davis Webb. In a move that was endorsed by owner John Mara, McAdoo offered Manning the opportunity to continue to start games to keep his consecutive game streak alive, and then be replaced by Smith. Later this week Mara revealed just how out of touch he is when he admitted to surprise that Manning rejected that offer out of hand. Only the quarterback seemed to understand that such gamesmanship would cheapen and tarnish the streak.

With the season in tatters, it would make sense to give Webb some playing time down the stretch. Letting him come in to spell Manning in the latter part of games or earlier if the score turned one-sided, would give New York’s management a chance to assess their third-round draft pick, an opportunity to see if he truly represents the future direction of the franchise. But turning to Smith seems like a deliberate move to humiliate Manning. He hasn’t started a game in over a year, and in four seasons with the Jets, when he wasn’t fighting with a teammate or shouting profanities at a fan, Smith couldn’t hold on to the starter’s job. His career quarterback rating of 72.3 certainly doesn’t represent an improvement over Manning.

At age 36 Eli Manning surely knows that he’s in the fourth quarter of his playing career. But he’s not necessarily at the two-minute warning, and odds are he’ll be playing somewhere next season. If he’s thrown his last pass while wearing Giants blue, he leaves with a raft of franchise records, some because of his longevity and durability (career passing yards, attempts, completions, touchdowns), and others because of his ability (season passing yards, attempts, completions, touchdowns, consecutive completions, most fourth quarter touchdown passes in a season). There are also those two titles, the two times he broke the hearts of fans in New England while being named MVP in both Super Bowl XLII and Super Bowl XLVI.

And while the focus of any athlete’s career is on the field, it’s worth noting that in good times and bad, after Super Bowl victories and lopsided defeats alike, Manning has been a class act in his dealings with both fans and the New York media, as he was on Tuesday while speaking to reporters as he blinked back tears. He’s embodied what used to be called the “Giant Way.” The phrase referred to the principled and professional manner in which this nine-decade old franchise went about its business. Manning’s consistent demeanor as much as his on-field exploits help explain why his benching was met by an outpouring of protest on social media by fans, former teammates, and even the niece of the team’s owner, actress Kate Mara. But for all the tweets and Facebook posts, it was left to a group of anonymous Giants fans to voice their displeasure the old-fashioned way, on three giant billboards near MetLife Stadium. The message they paid for was simple and direct: BIG BLUE SHAME ON YOU.

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Responses

  1. A heckuva way for Eli to wind down a season, Mike. I hope he finds a spot somewhere on a team that appreciates, and makes use of, his talents.
    Ω


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