All good things must come to an end.
So must slightly above average things that didn’t really do much for 14 years other than catch fire and step in shit at the perfect time—twice—against the most hated and successful team over those same 14 years.
It’s time to say farewell to the New York Giants as we know them, the shittiest good NFL team of this century, the beautiful idiots that did the world the service of beating the New England Patriots in two Super Bowls and, almost literally, nothing else of note, but will almost certainly be remembered for doing something other than that.
The 2017 season was already over but watching the Giants have their lunches handed to them Sunday by a winless San Francisco 49ers team that would struggle to beat elite high school squads at a neutral site was the lowest point in a season of low points. We saw Eli Manning being outplayed by a quarterback who may or may not be the avatar of a 45-year-old man on his couch playing a video game in Santa Clara, Janoris Jenkins doing his job with all the enthusiasm of a teen on a tour of the Hoover Dam with his parents, and Jonathan Casillas futilely chasing Garrett Celek, a scene that was only missing Cassillas’s pants falling around his ankles and tripping him.
This was inevitable—not just the game but the season itself. One year after the Giants reached the postseason on the back of a generational defense, carrying an offensive line that was no better than five mailboxes on roller skates, Giants GM Jerry Reese did nothing to address the team’s one glaring flaw. He instead chose to draft a tight end, throw money at a productive but aging wide receiver, and presumably spend the rest of the money on styling gel for Ben McAdoo. Reese looked at a house with a rotting foundation and said, “Give it a new coat of blue paint and let’s hope the foundation doesn’t give out next season.”
And now all that’s left is seven more weeks of Jenkins doing his best Willy Wonka impression— "Stop, don’t, come back”—instead of tackling, and Eli missing wide-open fifth- and sixth-string receivers. People will tell you that this is the end of a magnificent era in Giants history and it’s time for a rebuild, but really only the latter is true.
Take it from a guy who hasn’t missed an Eli start in more than a decade: Manning is a perfectly fine quarterback who's had two amazing playoff runs and nothing else. The reason people hilariously talk about him as a possible Hall of Fame quarterback is because those runs were two of the most improbable and memorable runs of the past two decades. Otherwise, Eli is a turkey sandwich—it hits the spot once in a while depending on who prepared it and the accoutrement, but more often than not you’d rather be eating something else and you sound like an idiot when you defend its greatness.
As a Giants fan, I will forever treasure what Eli did to the Patriots in those Super Bowls. The two late drives, the puzzled face of convicted cheater Tom Brady as this goofus gets the best of him not once but twice, and… seriously, that’s it. Maybe it would have been more than that if Plaxico Burress bought tighter pants, but he didn’t, so it isn’t. If the Giants had beaten the Dolphins and the Chiefs instead of the Patriots in those Super Bowls, would anyone care? It triggers my gag reflex to admit this but the reason those Giants championships are as fun as they are has more to do with the opponent than anything my favorite sports team did. It doesn’t take away from it, but it forces you to look at Eli’s time in New Jersey through a more realistic lens.
Do you know how many quarterbacks have made at least 60 starts between 2004 and today and have a better passer rating than Eli? Twenty-four! Holy shit! And among those quarterbacks with better ratings are names like David Garrard, Ryan Tannehill, and Chad Pennington! Eli is 32nd in interception percentage. I won’t get into everyone ahead of him in that category but just know it contains a Hasselbeck.
There’s nothing wrong with appreciating what Eli did on a big stage, but let’s not romanticize the total body of work. Eli’s career was like Watchmen—there were a few memorable moments people still talk about today but overall it wasn’t that good and it definitely lasted longer than it should have.
The Giants won a Super Bowl in two of Eli’s 14 years. Do you know how many other seasons during the Eli Era involved a playoff win? Zero. Zero! That’s two years of titles and 12 years of absolutely nothing. The Giants are the football team version of the all-or-nothing baseball slugger. Shit, forget about playoff wins; the Giants only have four other playoff trips during Eli’s time outside of the Super Bowl seasons.
Take away two fluke (it’s OK to admit they were flukes now) playoff runs and what are you left with? The Giants are basically the Detroit Lions with a slightly more forgiving curse.
Please, don’t let slicked-back McAdoo make you pine for Tom Coughlin, a man who in his last season was so out of it that he no longer understood the concept of time. Coughlin made Andy Reid look like Bran Stark. The only difference between Coughlin and McAdoo the past two seasons is that if people mocked Coughlin’s hair and baggy suits last season, he would not have spent the off-season getting an image makeover; he would have raised two middle fingers to his critics just before mismanaging his timeouts in the final two minutes of a half during a divisional loss.
It’s time to tear it down and let everyone go. Yes, everyone. Even Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham is a beautiful angel who does not deserve to be trapped in a rebuild for the next five years while Davis Webb or Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold figures out if they suck or not. Or worse yet, what if the Giants decide the want one more year of Eli throwing death balls high and wide of receivers in traffic? Either way, Beckham should be set free as soon as possible because I love him too much to see him blamed for every poor decision made by the organization through the end of the decade. Beckham’s destiny should not be "A.J. Green in a more hopeless situation."
The most frustrating part of the past 14 years was that so many of them were without a dynamic player, at least on offense. Beckham finally became that player the past few years and like the incompetent dipshits they are, the local and national media did everything to blame him for the woes of a franchise that always had more woes than anyone realized. The man cried on the sideline during a loss, and that was a problem. The man spent on an off-day on a yacht and became the reason a less talented team lost to a more talented team in Green Bay six days later.
The garbage Beckham has had to endure for no other reason than he has more talent than any player in Giants history and the predetermined narrative that any wide receiver with a modicum of personality must be a problem should earn him the right to play the rest of his career as a Patriot, catching Super Bowl-winning touchdown passes from 51-year-old Tom Brady in a game played on the moon.
There’s a difference between looking at the past 14 years the Giants provided as a fan and as an objective bystander. As a fan, I wouldn’t trade it for what’s behind any curtain, because the two high points were so intoxicating that it made the other 12 years and losing to the 49ers tolerable. But as an objective bystander, the team has won 109 games and lost 99 games with Eli under center and that only seems better than it is because of two playoff runs—runs that every fan base outside of New England and Pittsburgh would take over that time—so it’s hard to convey to the other 29 fans bases just how shitty things have been otherwise.
By the time you read this, McAdoo and/or Reese could be fired. Word may come down not long after that Eli will back up Webb the rest of the season. There will be conversations about how it went wrong (it’s not that complicated) and where Eli stands in the pantheon of great quarterbacks (he doesn’t).
Just know that for 14 years, Eli and the Giants were a perfectly edible, occasionally wonderful turkey sandwich.