The New York Yankees and the New York football Giants have had much in common in their long-running franchise histories. They called Yankee Stadium their home for decades. They had long stretches of success before hitting a wall that lasted from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Then they became contenders and champions once again. But professional baseball and football protocol and tradition will never be confused, especially in the way a long-celebrated athlete ends his career. NFL jerseys are rarely retired and players are unceremoniously released. Derek Jeter had a Major League love-fest in his final time around the diamond in 2014, just as Mariano Rivera had enjoyed a year earlier. However, for Giants quarterback and two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, the ending of his Giants career has been unexpectedly rougher.
Manning was told on Tuesday that beginning this Sunday he would no longer be the Giants’ starting quarterback. To make matters worse, Geno Smith, who flopped miserably with the Jets, was named the starter. Can you imagine if in his final season, Jeter had been told that Brendan Ryan would be the everyday shortstop for the last month of the season?
To compound the matter, Smith isn’t the starter of the future. Manning’s streak of 210 consecutive starts began in 2004 when, despite a 5-2 record, the Giants benched starter Kurt Warner so that Manning could begin his professional career. These are clearly NOT the same set of circumstances.
The Giants quarterback was actually given a choice… if you can call it that. Ownership offered to have him play the first half of each remaining game this season, with Smith playing in the second half. Manning, not wanting to “artificially” keep his starting streak going by only playing the first half, said thanks but no thanks.
The streak itself is the second-longest in NFL history by a quarterback. Brett Favre holds the all-time mark with 297 straight starts and then comes Eli who is two games ahead of his big brother, Peyton. Ironically, the fourth-longest streak (187 games) belongs to San Diego Chargers QB Phillip Rivers, who the Giants traded to San Diego during the 2004 draft when #1 overall pick Eli made it clear he did not want to play for the Chargers. Rivers was one of the many former teammates and current players to take to Twitter on Tuesday and Wednesday to blast management’s decision regarding Eli.
Just as Jeter was the face of the Yankees franchise, so was Manning for the Giants. The 36-year old was always the first to take the blame when the Giants lost and gave credit to everyone else when the team won. It wouldn’t appear that coach Ben McAdoo, whose employment is on shaky ground, had much if any input in the decision (he couldn’t help but sound silly in defending the decision on Tuesday, followed up by Wednesday’s discussion of how far Smith has progressed this week). GM Jerry Reese, (whose job could be in jeopardy as well), along with McAdoo are the biggest reasons for the Giants’ failures this season, not Manning.
The lie about Eli
A more likely, unspoken scenario, could be that the Giants want to ensure they have one of the top draft picks next Spring. What better way to do that than by putting in place a quarterback whose competency isn’t even average by most standards? The Giants have five games left – vs. Oakland, Dallas, Philadelphia, Arizona, and Washington – and even with Manning playing they were not likely to win more than one game. But with Smith playing, the odds are even better that they will finish the season 2-14. That leaves them with an excellent shot at the number 2 draft choice, with just the Cleveland Browns ahead of them.
Team president and CEO Steve Mara took offense on Wednesday when asked if the team was tanking. He can vehemently deny the allegations, but with playoff implications for some of the Giants’ opponents, how can you not put your best team out on the field? That team would have Manning at quarterback.
If the Giants truly wanted to see what the future holds, they would have prepped rookie Davis Webb weeks in advance and started him the final few games, not Smith. The only thing that was made crystal clear is that Manning will be traded after the season.
Jeter’s place in history and the lineup
Joe Girardi took quite a bit of heat during Jeter’s final season when he kept the team captain at the top of the batting order despite less than stellar offensive numbers. The Yankees finished in second place in the AL East, but a distant 12 games back of the Baltimore Orioles. They missed out on a wild card spot by four games. But Girardi, and certainly GM Brian Cashman, recognized that the team wasn’t a true contender, so why not bat Jeter in his customary #2 spot in the order?
Jeter called Manning early in his career with tips for handling New York and Manning has referred to Jeter as a role model. As Jeter’s career wound down, he gave Manning some additional unsolicited advice:
“Don’t read the papers, don’t listen to it,” Jeter said, via NFL.com’s Kimberly Jones. “That’s the bottom line. Stay positive. That’s the only way you can deal with it. It’s tough. It’s tough to avoid it because you’re constantly asked questions about it. So you know the angle, you know what’s being written. But you’ve got to stay positive, regardless.”
After two Super Bowl MVP Awards, numerous team passing records, and the tremendous physical pounding that he took week after week, Manning deserved to go out in his customary spot.