I’m a Philadelphia Eagles fan. My team doesn’t win Super Bowls, at least not yet. So much of the joy I find in the National Football League comes from deriding the teams I hate: The stinking Dallas Cowboys, the irrelevant Washington Redskins, and, of course, the no-good New York Giants.
But even as a hardened former denizen of the 700 level of Veterans Stadium who revels in the misfortune of rivals, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Eli Manning and angry at the shabby treatment the Giants gave the greatest quarterback in their history by announcing he would not start next Sunday.
Since 2004, Manning has started 210 consecutive games at quarterback. He has never missed a game owing to injury, which should not be confused with the idea that he’s never been injured. He’s just played through it, every week, time after time. In that time he won two Super Bowls for the Giants and was the most valuable player of both games. He is Tom Brady’s kryptonite, who stands athwart the GOAT, raises his arm and says, “No!”
It’s Ridiculous to Blame the Giants’ Problems on Manning
Happily, the Giants are 2-9 this year and have beclowned themselves through a season of mishaps reminiscent of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. But to suggest this is Manning’s fault is the very height of absurdity. General Manager Jerry Reese left holes the size of Canada in the Giants’ offensive line. And it’s not Reese who gets pounded when linebackers pour through those holes and crush the quarterback.
Meanwhile, the receiving corps is so racked by injuries, including to superstar Odell Beckham Jr., that there are ads in New York subway cars reading, “Can You Catch? The Giants Are Hiring.”
All of this is to say that Manning is not having a great year, but how could he? His coach, Ben “the mustache” McAdoo, has about as much control over the team as I do over traffic on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Most NFL teams have taken a knee during the national anthem, but McAdoo’s Giants take a knee every down. But not Manning. He’s been sacked 26 times this year but keeps on ticking—until yesterday.
Now, are the Giants are going to kick Manning to the curb and use the rest of their 2-9 godforsaken season to test out a new prospect? Try out the new future face of the franchise, perhaps? Well, no. They are going to start Geno Smith. Yes, that Geno Smith, the disgraced former Jets starter who lost his job because a teammate broke his jaw punching him in the locker room.
Manning Is a Giant with a Perfect Personality
To understand what a sad disservice all of this is to Manning, it’s important to understand what being a sports superstar in the country’s biggest city means. New York City crushes people, athletes included. The gold standard of New York sports star over the past 20 years has been Derek Jeter. The Yankees shortstop excelled on the field and stayed off the gossip pages, except for the occasional signed baseball given to special lady friends.
In this respect, Manning makes Jeter look like Dennis Rodman. People can walk by Manning on the streets of Manhattan, and a block later say to themselves, “Was that Eli Manning?” He is the most unassuming superstar in the history of superstardom. The WFAN sports radio morning show nicknamed him Opie, and the “Andy Griffith Show” theme song played behind his recorded interviews. He has had ample reason to throw coaches and teammates under the bus and never has. He basically just infuriatingly has the perfect quarterback personality.
But this is football, right? Nice guy, so what? And that would make sense, if he weren’t being replaced by Smith, the human turnover. Over his career Smith has 28 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. Manning has 334 touchdowns and 222 interceptions. Come on. Literally no sane human being would start Smith over Manning in a football game. This is a desperate, unsuccessful, horrible coach who should be fired publicly with Double Dare slime for trying to look tough by besmirching the greatest Giant of all time.
If the Giants had a shred of decency, which they demonstrably do not, they would release Manning tomorrow. He would be picked up by Jacksonville, or perhaps the Packers, and aw shucks his way into the playoffs. Then? Who knows, it’s Eli.
Nobody Can Take Manning’s Rings Away, at Least
Interviewed in the locker room after the decision came down, Manning seemed near tears. He said he didn’t know if he’d ever start a Giants game again. But he said more than that. He said he sat down with Smith to go over the plays. He wanted Smith and his Giants to have the best chance to win. This is what a man does, what a professional does. What the Giants did is what a frightened brand does when they have a bad quarter.
My 10-1 Eagles play the Giants on December 17. I’m thrilled that Smith and not Manning will be the Giants quarterback. I know I’m probably jinxing it, and Smith will have a monster game, but I’d rather risk that than Manning’s dispassionate disposition driving his team in the fourth quarter. I’ve seen it too many times, and if stupid Ben “McAWhat AmIGonnaDoNextYear” wants to keep Eli off the field, well, it’s good for me.
But it’s bad for football, and mostly it’s unfair to Manning. NFL careers often end without glory. But the Giants stabbed Manning in the back. It’s a shame, and they should feel ashamed. But if this is the end for the classiest athlete ever to light up Gotham, so be it. He’s the best Giant who ever played, and he has the rings to prove it.