In The Giant’s Presence

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“If you want to meet him, you gotta say something now.” 

Late Spring 2004, weeks into my teens, weak in the knees, I could see the backside of the baby face of the New York Giants. His tall, slender frame rose above his company. The gait carrying quickly down the gray-fringed hallway in a hurry, yet the sound of hard-bottoms hitting lobby tiles echoed my way in slow motion.

My whole family visiting my dad at his office, but he left it up to me. Now or never.

“Mh-Mr. Manning?!!!”

The newly minted 23-year-old millionaire 10 years my senior stopped and turned, giving my brother and I a cue to run up. We reached his way with pens and printouts of an NFL Draft profile page, the paper still warm.

Then? I couldn’t tell you where Oxford, Mississippi was where he played his college ball. But there was Eli, right in front of me.

Today? I have a few inches on the guy. 13 and a half years ago, I stared straight up at his 6’4” frame and asked for an autograph he’s given countless times since: jerseys with his name on it, action photos over a 14 year career, two different Super Bowl logos.

My family and his party hung for a few moments by the front desk of HBO Studio Productions in New York City, fresh off the soon-to-be-rookie’s taping of a TV show appearance. I couldn’t tell you by memory what was said, what common ground was built between fans and franchise player. Probably some small talk about the season ahead… a welcome to the City.

The Giants had just dealt Phillip Rivers, a first rounder, and a third for Peyton’s brother, Archie’s son, and Kerry Collins’ replacement. From the moment Collins led the Carolina Panthers to the playoffs in their second season, he became one of my favorite players. I wasn’t ready yet, even off a 4-12 season, to lose him from my favorite team.

Our intro to Eli? Forcing his way out of San Diego by threatening to sit out the Chargers season if they drafted him. Would any of that define his tenure in a place as crazy to play as New Jersey New York? How would that precedent/his game fit in on a team with the personalities of Strahan? Shockey? Tiki?

Bullet points like that passed through my head in the presence of my quarterback. And then he walked out onto 23rd between Park and Lex, into the city he’d soon claim.

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“I have said it many times, I want to play, I want to compete, I want to be out there for my teammates to help them prepare to win.” – Eli Manning, Nov. 28, 2017

There’s three Super Bowl XLVI Champions left on the roster from six seasons ago. There’s two Super Bowl XLII Champions left on the roster from 10 years ago.

The coach is gone. The stars and key role players have moved into new careers in the game, outside of it, or became a morning talk show force.

Osi Umenyoria got his contract with Atlanta. Ahmad Bradshaw had some run in Indy. Justin Tuck went to the Raiders. A kid sent Brandon Jacobs what he had in his piggy bank to leave the Niners and come home.

David Tyree signed with the Ravens, but never caught another pass as a pro after the one he stuck to his helmet. Victor Cruz couldn’t cut it with the Bears. Plaxico Burress went from jail to the Jets. Devin Thomas retired at 25 to avoid brain damage.

The one constant on a 21st century NFL roster is change. Unless you’re a Giants fan. Then it’s Eli.

I was in 8th grade when Tom Coughlin subbed Manning for Kurt Warner in the middle of the ’04 season. I’m now 26 and have my own health insurance as Ben McAdoo feels Geno Smith’s 28 career TDs and 36 career INTs give him a better chance to save his job further destroy a disaster season he long lost control over win.

In 11 games, Manning’s been sacked 26 times in the Giants’ 2-9 campaign, five more than he took to his frame in an 11-5 2016.

Smith will be asked to give a spark throwing to a decimated wideout and tight end group of six healthy-enough bodies who were given uniforms. They average 29 catches… for their careers.

The Giants all-time leader in every single passing statistic will see his consecutive starts streak snapped Sunday after 210 games played through sickness, bruises, busted foreheads, and plantar fasciitis.

One he could’ve kept going if he just handed the ball to Geno mid-game, as offered by the team. One he’s letting go of.

Players to win multiple Super Bowl MVP awards: Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, and Eli Manning.

The Tyree throw. The Burress TD. The Manningham throw… Manning to Manningham, man…

In a city motivated by schemes, Manning ended up being as genuine and impactful of a teammate and a leader there could be. We may never know what happened with the Chargers – Eli says “I forgot” why he didn’t want to play there. But he made it here for Big Blue, and became larger than life in franchise lore.

His teammates flooded social media with love for their QB. The man he replaced under center told the team to straighten up. We even got one last rant in the final weeks of Mike Francesa’s show, who has tried to get Manning to say ANYTHING in their weekly interviews to criticize the mess left amid a preseason Lombardi Trophy target. Not one word from #10. Not the same can be said for the head coach.

I’d like to think McAdoo would cringe “watching back the tape” of his press availability Tuesday, but he made one thing clear: owner John Mara, GM Jerry Reese, and himself are “all on the same page” with this decision.

They want more from the offense. Their football minds are telling them they don’t want Eli Manning now…

From then…

“If you want to meet him, you gotta say something now.”

… my dad’s words have been on repeat since news broke.

A shy kid learned in that moment what could happen if you speak up, if you let your voice be heard. In 2017, I literally do that for a living.

I don’t want any more autographs. I don’t want a chance to chat on an eye-to-eye level.

Eli, I just want one thing.

To say “Thank you”.

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