Eli Manning lasted a lot longer than most before being tossed onto the scrap heap that eventually claims almost everyone who has ever strapped on a helmet in the NFL.
Sentimentality doesn’t go far in the league, where what you’ve done in past Super Bowls isn’t nearly as important as what you did in your last game.
Manning probably understands that better than most, coming as he does from a royal family of NFL quarterbacks. It was just a few years ago that he watched from a distance as his brother was run out of Indianapolis after he was thought too old and decrepit to lead the Colts to another Super Bowl title.
Peyton Manning went to Denver and proved them wrong, and Eli Manning may do the same himself. Maybe not for the Giants, but perhaps for another team that could use a quarterback so durable that he started 210 straight games, and so good that he was MVP in two Super Bowl wins.
No, this isn’t the end for Eli Manning. Far from it, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to think he leads the Giants once again if current management should themselves happen to get sacked in the offseason.
If not, there are plenty of teams that would like a crack at a player who is the only quarterback to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in not just one, but two Super Bowls.
”Eli’s a big boy, he’s played a lot,” said his father, Archie, who threw passes for 15 years in the NFL. ”He’s a tough guy. I’m very confident Eli will handle it.”
The way Manning was so unceremoniously removed as a full-time quarterback this week was a bit disconcerting, if nothing else. A coach increasingly desperate for wins not only benched a potential future Hall of Famer, but the player who has been the face of the Giants franchise for more than a decade.
”If you had a Mount Rushmore of not only New York Giants but New York athletes, he’d be on it,” said Davis Webb, the rookie quarterback who may end up getting some of Manning’s playing time.
Manning would be there indeed, probably occupying the Teddy Roosevelt position right next to Derek Jeter. And that’s part of what makes Manning’s sudden demotion as inexplicable as it was sad.
There’s nothing that will happen in the Giants’ final five games that makes coach Ben McAdoo’s decision any easier to digest. The team is playing out a lost season, and any talk about needing to try out Webb or Geno Smith under center is really just talk.
What makes it even more puzzling is that this isn’t how the Giants usually do business. This is an old-school franchise that prides itself on stability and deliberate moves, as evidenced by how long former coach Tom Coughlin stuck around.
This made the Giants look more like the New York Jets, their stadium partner at the Meadowlands.
”This is so much bigger than Eli Manning. This is about an entire organization that has gone sideways,” said NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner. ”If you’ve got one guy that represents what this organization has been about and the character and the success of this organization, it’s that guy that has been under center in Eli Manning. He’s never done anything but show character and do things the right way.”
Manning showed that by handling his sudden demotion about as professionally as possible, though tears welled in his eyes Tuesday as he discussed it with reporters.
”I don’t like it, but it’s part of football, you handle it,” he said. ”I didn’t do my job. `’
Someone had to take the fall for a miserable 2-9 season and, while Manning is not blameless, it should be noted that 19 Giants are on injured reserve and he has played behind a leaky offensive line that general manager Jerry Reese failed to patch during the offseason. Even Manning’s toughest critics acknowledge that, though the fact remains he’s six years removed from his last Super Bowl win and on the back nine of his career at the age of 36.
It’s never really a shock when an NFL player is demoted or cut loose. This is a league that values players only as commodities, which is why even the most elite players get only guaranteed signing bonuses and no guaranteed contracts.
Manning is luckier than most because he’ll get a chance to play again, whether in New York or somewhere else. Like his brother before him, he can pretty much pick where he goes and what kind of system he plays under.
Yes, Manning deserved better after 14 seasons than an ignominious benching late in a lousy season.
For players, though, there are seldom happy endings in the NFL.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg