My beloved New York Football Giants will not make the playoffs again, in another dreadful season.
The once-proud franchise sank to stunning levels of futility and humiliation, failing to win a game in October and November while proving unable to compete for a division title against the almost-as-feeble arch-rival Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
Still, we die-hards got to see NFL class personified when Eli Manning rode off into a New Jersey sunset on a crummy December 15 afternoon. He threw two touchdown passes and led his team to a 36-20 victory over the equally pathetic Miami Dolphins. It was nice to see him do well and for the team to snap its franchise-tying nine-game losing streak. The best part was seeing Eli out there again, calling his troops. Like old times.
Eli was shoved out of his familiar perch as the starting quarterback in week 3 when the team sensibly made room for its high draft pick, Daniel Jones of Duke University. It's Daniel's team now. That he suffered an ankle injury and couldn't play seemed like fate, as we got one more opportunity to watch Eli.
The Face of the Franchise
Eli has been the face of the franchise since the Giants landed him in a trade after the San Diego Chargers made him top pick in the 2004 NFL draft. He has had one of the more perplexing careers of a superstar: two improbable Super Bowl victories over the hated New England Patriots and a .500 career percentage as an NFL quarterback. If the Giants hadn't stunk for most of the seasons since 2012, his record would have been a lot better.
If you watched Eli passing the ball against Miami, you saw his whole career on display: his strong-jaw leadership, his exuberance when the Giants scored a touchdown, his love of the sport and respect for the franchise, his Jimmy Stewart/Gary Cooper leadership. And you'd have also seen Giants receivers dropping his arrow-like passes and the team's Swiss cheese defense and the horrendous special teams.
The Great Times
I'd rather remember the great times. The helmet pass to David Tyree late in the 2008 Super Bowl. The perfect sideline throw to Mario Manningham late in the 2012 Super Bowl. Eli braving the sub-zero elements to defeat Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers in the championship game before that first Super Bowl win. Eli getting knocked down mercilessly but doggedly rising off the canvas to beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game before the second Super Bowl victory.
Giants fans were lucky to watch him since he took over the team as a rookie in 2004 – so long ago that George W. Bush was campaigning for his second term and "Million Dollar Baby" was on its way to winning the 2005 Oscar for Best Picture.
Eli started 222 consecutive games at quarterback. Think about that, in an age when players routinely suffer devastating concussions along with the usual knee, shoulder and ankle injuries. Eli was only sidelined by a ham-fisted coach who wanted to shake up the Giants -so he benched Eli. Nice!
A Champion Among Champions
Plus, Eli had to climb out of the long shadow of his older brother Peyton Manning, himself a championship quarterback who is often mentioned as one of the greatest of all time.
Eli made Giant fans forget about Phil Simms, too. Simms led the Giants to the Super Bowl championship for the 1986 season and was on target to do it again when he was injured late in the 1990 season. Simms had a rocket arm and was as competitive as any player we've ever seen. But Eli established his own pedigree and built a rep for toughness. We appreciate Simms, but Eli is mentioned in the same breath now.
Eli has accomplished a lot. And he did it with class, never bad-mouthing his unimpressive post-Tom Coughlin coaches and never making excuses. He presented himself as a role model, whether he intended to or not. He is one of the greatest Giants of all time. That's a lot. Thank you, Eli.