Like a guy with 3,000 hits, you figure an NFL quarterback with two Super Bowl rings would be a slam dunk for the Hall of Fame.
And when the conversation eventually gets to Eli Manning, you’ve got to assume those championships will carry extra significance since they were collected at the expense of the Belichickian Patriots during the most dominating era in league history.
But unlike his brother Peyton, a certain first-ballot pick, there’s nothing firm about Eli’s candidacy, especially once those analytics guys get the time to totally dissect the ins and outs of his 16-year career with the New York Giants.
After all, his regular season record with the Big Blue is now 117-117. His chances of being a Hall of Famer? Yep, 50-50.
Still, it didn’t feel that way Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Manning made what might likely be his last home start for the Giants against the Miami Dolphins and he was bathed with more love and admiration than any player in recent team history.
“I tried not to get too emotional just because we still have a couple football games left,” Manning said. “I know I’ll still be back in the stadium. I don’t know if I’ll play that day, but I know I’ll get to run out one more time at least. But still excited. Excited for the win and an honor if it is the last one playing here where I’m starting and getting a win. Try to enjoy it and take it in for a moment.”
Historians will forget the Giants improved to 3-11 and ended a nine-game losing streak with their 36-20 win over the equally hapless Dolphins. But sentimentalists will always remember the sendoff the fans gave the greatest quarterback in the history of the franchise.
In the final year of his contract, with little chance the Giants will want him back, the team began to move on before Week 3 by replacing Manning with rookie Daniel Jones, the sixth overall pick in the 2019 Draft.
And for the next 10 weeks, Jones played and Manning ran the scout team in practice. It would have likely stayed that way had Jones not suffered a high ankle sprain in a loss to Green Bay in Week 12. His unavailability led to Manning’s return under center last Monday night in Philadelphia.
There is hope Jones will be able to play again this season, perhaps as soon as Sunday’s game at Washington. And if that’s the case, there’s no reason to believe the Giants will keep him seated. Of course, that would also mean Jones will play the season finale against the Eagles at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 29.
So if that’s the case, Manning played his final game for the Giants on Sunday – and the fans certainly seemed to grasp that and respond to it.
From the time he was introduced before the game, chants of “Eli Manning” wafted around the stadium. And they grew in intensity, with a standing ovation thrown in, when Giants coach Pat Shurmur pulled him from the game for the final time with 1:50 remaining.
“Obviously, I don’t know what the future is. I don’t know what lies next week, let alone down the road,” Manning said after throwing for 283 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. “Obviously, the support and the fans, their ovation, chanting my name from the first snap to the end, I appreciate that. I appreciate them always and all my teammates coming up to me. It’s a special day, a special win and one I’ll remember.”
It was also an important day for Manning’s family, which had also turned out in Philadelphia for his start last week. Manning’s parents, wife and four children were at the game. His three young daughters were waiting for their dad after the game when jogged into the team’s tunnel.
“It’s special. I think it’s special that my kids get to come and watch some games,” Manning said. “I don’t remember my dad (Archie) playing at all. He retired when I was 4 years old. My brothers have memories. They always kind of talked about it, in the locker room, around games, and I don’t remember. So I try to bring my kids around as much as possible, bring them to some games. I know my youngest son won’t remember any of it, but we’ll at least have a picture to show him one day.”
Particularly touched by the show of affection was Giants owner John Mara. The Mara family has always taken pride in developing particularly strong bonds with their great players. And Eli certainly was no exception.
“It’s very important,” Mara said of the victory. “You wanted to see him go out, if in fact he’s going out. You guys are making an assumption here. It’s just nice to see him smile in the locker room afterwards.”
According to many of the game reports, the Giants players dedicated themselves to doing whatever they could to send Manning out the right way.
Running back Saquon Barkley, the NFL’s reigning rookie of the year, has had an unimpressive, injury-filled season. But he collected his first 100-yard game since Week 2.
“If that is his last game and that’s the way we send Eli off, then that’s the way we envisioned doing [it]. I know I wanted to go out there and play my tail off, and I know those guys wanted to do the same, too, for No. 10,” Barkley told the media after the game. “He’s meant so much to this city and to this franchise for such a long time. He’s a special person and a special player. If that is the way he gets sent off, I’m glad we were able to do it in a win and do it in that fashion.”