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Keith Strudler: A Beginning And An End For Eli Manning

The beginning of 2018 may also be the end of an era. Such could be the reality for Eli Manning and the legions of New York Giants fans who have adopted him as their own, especially after winning two Super Bowls against the New England Patriots. It’s a fair assessment that older brother Peyton was a better NFL QB, but it would be hard to imagine anyone – Manning or not – more beloved by his home fans.

Eli was drafted number one overall in 2004 – by the San Diego Chargers – but was immediately traded to the Giants because Manning said he’d sit out a year instead of playing in San Diego. And the rest is history. New York embraced the storied college quarterback from Ole Miss, but fell in love in February of 2008, when he led the Giants to their first Super Bowl Ring since the 1990 season. When New Kids on the Block were the half time show.  And Eli did it in dramatic fashion, highlighted by an acrobatic completion to David Tyree that earned it’s own nickname. Manning did nearly exactly the same in February of 2012, only Victor Cruz was his primary postseason target. In both cases, just when it looked there was no hope, Manning found a way to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat. He was eminently clutch, often soft-spoken, sometimes awkward, and seemed to love football more than its spoils. And for that, he earned the keys to the castle – literally, since then mayor Bloomberg actually awarded the Giants keys to New York City after the second title.

But, everything must come to an end, especially in pro sports, where seasons are like dog years. And it looks like this could very well be the end for the Giants and Manning, especially after another dismal performance last weekend, where Eli was picked off twice in a shutout loss to a mediocre Cardinals team. That’s the 13th loss of the season for the G-men to only two wins. Manning will start the final game of the season, then, not surprisingly, the Giants will evaluate their options for next season. They made that clear a few weeks ago when they benched Manning for Geno Smith, who is about a popular in New York as the new tax bill. This should be somewhat familiar to the Manning family, as older brother Peyton left the Colts for the Broncos in the waning days of his playing career. And won a Super Bowl with the Broncos, although most would say that was in spite of him, not because.

As this process evolves, which is about as public as a Kardashian vacation, fans have largely maintained the following perhaps predictable battle cry – Eli deserves better. He shouldn’t be benched, he shouldn’t be a holding place, and, by some at least, he should be able to finish his career as a New York Giant. We heard the same out of Indianapolis when Andrew Luck came to town. Fans fall hard for their champions, since they brought them something money can’t buy – the deep self-esteem boost of being a winner. So no matter how illogical it may seem, fans overwhelmingly support their conquering heroes even when that conquest will never again be more than a memory.

I do understand the loyalists who want to keep Eli around, no matter the cost. I even understand those that think he’s been treated poorly because he lost his status for a week, although I would remind those fans that Drew Bledsoe once started in front of Tom Brady.

But perhaps to put it most succinctly, Eli Manning, who seems like a great guy, by the way, has earned somewhere in excess of $200 million in his 14 year playing career. And that’s without endorsements and however else a Super Bowl quarterback in New York City earns revenue. So not that it’s all about money, but in this case, it’s kind of about money. Namely, I think that when your yearly salary is somewhere north of the budget of many small cities, you probably should expect to surrender the niceties that might come from, I don’t know, being a social worker at county hospital. People can love Eli Manning, miss him when he’s gone, and cheer for him elsewhere, but to feel sorry for the guy because perhaps the game’s passed him by – or at least the game the Giants want to play – well that seems a bit much. If you want nostalgia, go see the Who reunion tour. If you want the Giants to start winning again, it might be better to be less personal and more pragmatic. Which means benching an aging QB no matter how bad it might make you, or he feel.

Such is the challenge of sports fandom. It’s completely personal. Even though it’s not.

I do hope Eli Manning finds a good home somewhere next year. For him, it would be a new beginning. For everyone, it’s the end of an era.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management. 

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