The Giants meander to the inexorable close of another dismal season. Only six more games and, thankfully, it will all be over and done with.
Is this how it ends for Eli Manning?
He is out of sight and, largely, out of mind. His starting job was ripped away from him, like an officer being stripped of his rank and the demotion, from the outside looking in, owns the optics of an expulsion.
You do not see Eli. You do not hear from Eli. Those countless media sessions he participated in — willingly and never exuberantly — are now Daniel Jones’ to endure. Heck, ever since Manning was benched, he has refrained from joining the pregame coin toss, even though he remains a team captain.
Manning has little interest in assuming a public mantle as the elder statesman and no interest in being the wise, old head offering evaluations of Jones’ progress. He helps the 22-year old rookie all he can behind the scenes, but Eli Manning without an offense to run and a game to play is Eli Manning with no football identity.
There could be one last hurrah. Imagine if the Giants give Manning one final start, a chance for the fans at MetLife Stadium to salute the two-time Super Bowl MVP with one final cheer. An opportunity for Manning to fling the ball around the field one last time, make checks at the line, run a two-minute drill, show that his 38-year old body is not broken down and that the reason he was sentenced to the sideline had far more to do with the lousiness of the team around him and the zeal to get Jones going, rather than any physical deterioration.
It would be so wonderful. Alas, I don’t believe it will ever happen and, just as significant, Eli Manning would not attend that farewell party.
At least let us consider the “when’’ before we get to the “why” and, more importantly, the “why not.”
There are three remaining home games. Dec. 1 is too soon and, against the Packers, too cruel, putting a rusty Manning on the same field where Aaron Rodgers is slinging it. The Dolphins come to town Dec. 15, a perfect hand-picked opponent if there ever was one. The Giants, though, quite likely could be riding a nine-game losing streak.
The Dec. 29 season finale makes sense only because it is the last game. The rival Eagles, currently tied with the Cowboys for first place in the NFC East, will probably need to win the game to secure the division title or keep wild-card playoff hopes alive. There will be plenty of green-clad Eagles fans making the short drive up from Philly and southern New Jersey, enough to drown out whatever cheers there would be seeing that familiar No. 10 in blue behind center one last time. The Giants would be sentimental, the Eagles would be ravenous to win and that is a bad combination for an Eli Adieu.
There are those close to Manning who nearly recoil in disbelief when the notion of one final start is broached.
“Eli’s not into playing that game,” one insider says. “He’s into playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Manning, the insider said, would view a last-start spectacle as “ceremonial nonsense” and that he has given “zero thought to that” and “he would not want any part of that.” Remember in 2017, Manning stiff-armed the plan to have him start to keep his streak alive, sensing disingenuity.
The thrill and emotional tug of seeing Manning in the pocket could be crushed the moment his offensive line caved in around him and a body that had not been hit in months gets pummeled to the turf.
Derek Jeter, although diminished, could get at-bats and make the plays that came to him at shortstop with no fear of physical harm. Kobe Bryant ended his 20-year career by jacking up 50 shots and scoring 60 points in his last game, a choreographed Mamba Farewell. The opposing pitcher could throw Jeter nothing but fastballs. A defender could stay a safe distance away as Kobe hoisted ‘em up. The guys getting paid to lay waste to quarterbacks would knock Eli Manning down, pick him up and knock him down again.
Unless Daniel Jones needs a break because of an injury, the expiration date on Eli Manning remains Sept. 15, 2019. After that game, his final start, the Giants kicked him to the curb, too soon, a premature, panic-induced maneuver to start the Jones era.
Maybe there is a Manning video tribute for that last game. Maybe not. Neil Young knew, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” and one can argue that 16 years on the job was more than enough time for Eli Manning to burn out. No one can argue he is fading away.
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