“I always heard them say Eli doesn’t care,” Archie Manning once said about his NFL quarterback son. “Eli cares. But Eli doesn’t worry.”
The 2017 season gave Eli plenty to worry about—he was even benched during Week 13 in favor of Geno Smith, leading to a fan uproar and the firing of Head Coach Ben McAdoo. The team lost 13 games, the most in franchise history. Injuries decimated the ranks on both offense and defense, including star wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr.
It was, to be sure, an abysmal year, but as sports columnist Sally Jenkins writes for the Washington Post, Eli, like his dad, knows a thing or two about powering through adversity.
Reflecting on the Giants’ final game—yesterday’s 18-10 win over the Washington Redskins with next to nothing at stake—Jenkins notes that “there is an integrity in what players do when it counts the least, and so Eli Manning was worth watching on this worthless day.”
“For his entire 14-year career, Manning’s easy, undemonstrative demeanor has been mistaken for complacency. It has subtly undermined him, made it harder for his critics to value him on his best days despite two Super Bowl victories and made it easy to denigrate him on his bad ones, of which this was one. But respect had to be paid as he fought through this day, fought the wind chill, fought the injuries that decimated the New York Giants, fought all the uncertainty over his future and fought for an 18-10 victory over the Washington Redskins that lifted the Giants’ record to 3-13. When it was over and he was jogging off the field, after completing just 10 of his 28 passes for 132 yards, a faint noise came from that thin shivering crowd. They were chanting his name.”
For football fans of a certain age, this winter’s discontent of 2017 has a familiar ring. In a long-ago era, Ole Miss legend Archie Manning slogged and suffered through 11 seasons with the hapless New Orleans Saints, taking 340 sacks, despite his famed ability to scramble and throw miraculous completions on the run, and coping with serious injuries. (Long before there was a Johnny Manziel, Archie made his living as much with his legs as with his throwing arm.)
Eli’s no scrambler, but he has his dad’s grit, character and loyalty. Arguably, the Giants’ management has let him down again and again since Eli led them to two Super Bowl victories (both over the New England Patriots), earning MVP honors in each championship game. But just as his dad stuck with the Saints for as long as they would have him, Eli has taken his team’s wavering fortunes in stride—and without complaint.
Whether Eli will return for a 15th season with the Giants is anyone’s guess right now. For his part, Eli, of course, has said he wants to stay in New York. “I don’t want to go play football anywhere else,” he told reporters after Sunday’s game.
Jenkins, for one, thinks, “It would be a mistake for the Giants to let him out of the building.”
She goes on to say:
“Even in one of his worst seasons as a pro, Manning defined professionalism and resilience. He never wavered in the face of criticism, still exercised his devotion to craft, still found a way to throw for more touchdowns than interceptions. He regained the starting job after the indignity of his benching. And after all that, he managed to win an unlikely game. A meaningless one that somehow meant everything to him.”
Steve Serby of the New York Post echoed Jenkins’ sentiment. “2017 was not (Eli’s) fault,” Serby writes. “Give him a new year. Do not let class like this walk out the door.”
Eli turns 37 on Jan. 3, still standing tall in a younger man’s game. He believes he has some good football left to play. And no one should doubt it. He is, after all, his father’s son.
Rick Hynum is editor-in-chief of HottyToddy.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.