While Tom Brady keeps on chugging, Eli Manning could be headed for the NFL rubble pile
A few things I care about . . .
■ Back in February 2012, when Eli Manning took home a second Super Bowl MVP trophy at the Patriots’ expense, when he bested Tom Brady for the second time on the game’s biggest stage, smart money said Manning, three years Brady’s junior, would outlast his quarterback counterpart.
Smart money was wrong. While Patriots fans worry about the slow decline of their own star QB, Manning’s unraveling has been as precipitous as it has been shocking.
The gut feeling here says Manning is back under center next season for the Giants, but that speaks more to the lack of better alternatives than it does organizational confidence. The conversation out of MetLife Stadium this week has been more ominous than any since Manning joined the franchise in 2004. While Brady keeps on chugging, Manning could be headed for the NFL rubble pile.
That Manning’s career arc hasn’t kept up with Brady’s is obvious. Manning played (and lost) a measly one playoff game since Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. Brady won a fifth career title by leading an epic comeback over the Falcons two seasons ago, was the league MVP before losing the championship game to the Eagles last season, and while his ’18 stats may have dipped, he did clinch a 10th consecutive AFC East title and ninth straight first-round playoff bye. At 41, he’s still winning.
Manning marked his 38th birthday Thursday in the shadow of general manager Dave Gettleman’s words. Unlike a year ago, when Gettleman underscored his recent hiring with a definitive backing of Manning as the team’s starter (necessary after the previous coach/GM was fired in part for how badly they botched a late-season benching of the NFL’s ironman QB), another 5-11 season earned no such loyalty.
“Here’s what I’m committed to do,” Gettleman said during his season wrapup session with reporters Wednesday. “I’m committed to making the best decision in the interest of the New York football Giants . . . My commitment is to make this team the best team it can be, and if that happens to have Eli playing quarterback, it does.”
The part left unsaid — “and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t” — marks a change in tone around the Meadowlands, where Manning has been the best of loyal sons, a two-time champ, a Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner, a philanthropist, a brand ambassador, and a genuinely nice person. He was as approachable and accessible as any star athlete I’ve ever covered.
It was Manning who had gone into Gettleman’s office Wednesday to meet, which turned into 30 minutes of what the GM called “no-holds-barred” conversation that was “very honest and up front.”
“What we’re trying to do here is build sustained success, and that takes some brutal honesty and it takes some tough decisions,” Gettleman said. “We’re going to evaluate everything. Everything is on the table for us, OK?”
The same appears to be true for Manning, who has often repeated a desire to continue playing, but who is so happily settled in New Jersey (he and his wife Abby are expecting their fourth child) that moving for his job might not seem attractive.
Asked in a Wednesday afternoon radio interview if we’d seen the last of him as a quarterback, Manning said, “We’ll see,” adding, “I don’t know if it’s leaning one way or the other right now. I think this is kind of the time to reflect and figure out what’s the best thing going forward.”
If the Patriots make it back to the Super Bowl this year, they at least know this particular nemesis won’t be on the other sideline. Who knows if he ever will be again?
■ Can’t help but wonder if this is just the first of many dominoes to fall against the US Olympic Committee, but the embattled agency lost a major sponsor this week when Dick’s Sporting Goods let its sponsorship deal expire without renewal.
Can’t blame them. Who would want to back an organization so brutally unmasked as putting its own interests above the amateur athletes it professes to serve? Dick’s didn’t specifically mention the recent Ropes & Gray report that excoriated the USOC for mishandling credible accusations against serial pedophile doctor Larry Nassar, simply citing a “new investment strategy.”
Still, it’s a bummer for athletes who were in the Dick’s Contenders program, which employed athletes training for the Olympics and Paralympics and allowed for flexible scheduling and competitive wages. Dicks told Reuters that the 86 athletes currently in the program had the option to move to traditional part-time jobs Jan. 1, but again, shame on the USOC for actions that have such a deleterious trickle-down effect.
■ Seeing the genuine respect between tennis greats Serena Williams and Roger Federer during a recent mixed doubles match was a rare joy, a reminder that great athletes can be great fans, too, just like us regular folks. Williams’s obvious glee when Federer gave her one of his rackets was so heartwarming, and his ear-to-ear smile during a post-match selfie with his similarly dominant counterpart was one to remember. If only they could play forever . . .
■ From careers nearing their end to one on the rise: Kudos to 20-year-old international soccer star Christian Pulisic, acquired by Premier League power Chelsea for a $73 million transfer fee, the most ever for an American.
Pulisic, the Pennsylvania kid with the world-class game, wrote a heartfelt note of thanks to his current team, Borussia Dortmund, sharing it on social media. He will finish out the next six months in Germany, where he has played the past four years, choosing to train there rather than play in college in the United States.
“I would not be where I am today without the club and their belief in giving young players a chance,” he said.
Pulisic, an attacking midfielder, is one of the best hopes for the future of American soccer as it tries to fix the embarrassment of missing last year’s World Cup.
■ Rest in peace, Tyler Trent, the inspirational young Purdue devotee whose story of brilliance in the face of cancer captivated the nation. And thanks to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star for writing such beautiful tributes to Trent.
■ Book notes from a book nerd: On the fiction front, I greatly enjoyed Kristin Hannah’s “The Great Alone,” a worthy follow-up to her wonderful “The Nightingale.”
But next off the sports shelf is another NFL treasure, this one from Newsday’s Bob Glauber: “Guts and Genius: The Story of Three Unlikely Coaches who Came to Dominate the NFL in the ’80s.” The focus is on Bill Parcells, Bill Walsh, and Joe Gibbs, but there are plenty of good Bill Belichick tidbits, including his sometimes rocky start as a defensive play-caller under Parcells.