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The End of an Era?

Hong Tam, Copy Editor

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In a season mired in turmoil, the Giants’ unprecedented decision to bench their legendary franchise quarterback Eli Manning will be its most remembered mishap. It’s been thirteen years since another player started behind center for the New York Giants, and a streak once looked at in awe and astonishment came to an end in a messy, inglorious fashion. November 21, 2004 marked the first of 210 consecutive starts Manning would make for the team, and November 23, 2017 marked the last when head coach Ben McAdoo shocked the world by benching his quarterback for Geno Smith with five games left to go in a lost season.

Eli Manning has undoubtedly been the face of the franchise since he was drafted in 2004, with the era-defining draft-day trade and his status as the brother of another star quarterback only adding to his mythos. His 210-game consecutive starts streak is perhaps the greatest testament to his durability and his commitment, a player who was ready to play week in and week out, through the thick and the thin. Throughout his career, Manning did so much for the Giants organization and endured his fair share of painful moments as well. Regardless of the other changing cogs in the machine, whether it be wide receivers, linemen or coaches, he was the one constant that could be depended on for reliability. Now 36 years old and on the back end of his career, this is a disappointing ending for a player whose story deserved to conclude in a much better manner.

Contained within those 210 games are the two Super Bowl championships and two Super Bowl MVPs that he brought to the city, as well as losing seasons in four of the last five years. Never one to complain, Manning avoided the entanglement of off-field controversy and remained the team’s leader for over a decade; with that, the lack of respect given to him by the Giants front office is nothing short of condemnable. McAdoo offered Manning the ability to maintain his streak under one caveat: he would be pulled at halftime for the backups. He declined, proclaiming “My feeling is that if you are going to play the other guys, play them. Starting just to keep the streak going and knowing you won’t finish the game and have a chance to win it is pointless to me, and it tarnishes the streak.”

While the Giants have mightily struggled, the quarterbacking is not the root cause of the problem. Poor playcalling and an inept offensive line have primarily contributed to the team’s downfall after lofty offseason expectations, and Manning has not performed poorly given the roster he has had to work with. Even in his older age, he remains the best option on the team. McAdoo has expressed desire to see Geno Smith and Davis Webb as signal callers given that the team has nothing left to play for this season. Nevertheless, the former has been exposed as mediocre in his disastrous stint with the crosstown New York Jets, and the latter is a project quarterback who was not expected to compete for playing time until two years down the line. Even if they were worth trying out, the Giants’ barren roster does not provide a lackluster sandbox environment, with many of the team’s top players lost for the year due to injury.

Taking that into account, Eli Manning is not just any “ordinary quarterback.” His thirteen years of dedication to the franchise have earned him the right to have his iron-man streak, the second-longest by a quarterback in NFL history, ended by either injury or poor performance, not the front office’s desire to tamper with their roster. He is unfairly taking the blame for the lackluster offensive line and decimated wide receiver corps. To remove the organization’s leader from his position unannounced is no way to treat a franchise quarterback. It is feasible that owner John Mara has seen enough of this year and is willing to start Geno Smith in a tanking attempt to ensure a higher draft pick; while trying to lose games can be strategic for the front office, it completely goes against the spirit of competition that the players on the field give their livelihoods for. McAdoo’s sorry offer to play him only as a gimmick did not resonate well with the 14-year veteran. Geno Smith is a known quantity at this point, and prioritizing him over Webb, who actually has a potential future with the team, is baffling. Manning himself has seemed to embrace his new role with the team, giving Smith a full game to prove himself and mentoring Webb early in the morning only a day after the news broke.

The Giants either were blind to the potential optics of the situation or apathetic to the uproar that would ensue within the fanbase. Mara, Reese and McAdoo formulated a plot to ouster Manning from his position either to save face or to use his loyal quarterback as collateral damage in a haphazard tanking attempt. The morning after Smith made a Smith-level start, McAdoo and Reese were fired, with Mara insisting that he was disappointed in the situation’s handling. While he instituted Manning back as the QB, it’s meaningless now having broken the streak in such a disrespectful manner. Mara had the authority to override McAdoo; his silence speaks words, and more likely than not, he initiated the order and had his lame-duck head coach take the fall.

This is the laughable level of chaos expected in the other New York football franchise, not the one that won two Super Bowls in a four-year span. This could be the end of Eli in New York, a possibility that would have been preposterous before the season started.

Whether he wants to remain on the team or leave to join a more immediate contender is contingent on the front office’s actions as well. For fourteen years, Eli put his heart and soul into the team, helping to topple his adversary Tom Brady twice and bringing the city of New York timeless memories of his improbable playoff runs. If this truly is his final hour, he deserved a much better farewell

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The End of an Era?