Eli Manning has taught us to never underestimate his talents again
Eli's the quarterback I'd want under center in the last two minutes of a game
My five leading contenders to open the season against the Giants next season
Giants punter special teams player of the week; Wes Welker goat of the week
INDIANAPOLIS -- I still can't get over that throw from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham. As much as I respect the catch (it will be the greatest of Manningham's career, no matter how long he plays), I am in awe of the throw. How did Manning make that throw? Why make that throw? Why did he pick the target of the guy with a corner in coverage and a safety flying over to crush Manningham? The 38-yard throw -- which began an 88-yard, Super Bowl-winning touchdown drive that Bill Belichick will see in his nightmares -- is just one more reason to never, ever question how good Eli Manning is. He will have some crappy games the rest of his career, because two or three times a year he stinks. But I ask you: What quarterback alive do you want with the ball in his hands in the last two minutes of a big game?
Thought so. Eli Manning.
"That guy stole my MVP again,'' Justin Tuck (two sacks, three quarterback pressures) said. Kidding. Kidding!
So many thoughts, many about Manning, in the hours after the Giants' 21-17 Super Bowl win over the Patriots. Let's categorize them:
What makes Eli Eli
I've noticed this about the guy. Football's his job, and he likes it a lot. But let's say God tapped him on the shoulder tomorrow and said, "I've got different plans for you. You're going to be an architect.'' Manning would handle that pretty well. He is a sick competitor, but he'd figure a way to satisfy that part of his life. Golf with the other architects, Friday night poker, trying to be a better architect than anyone else out there.
"He just doesn't care,'' Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck said by his locker 90 minutes after the Super Bowl. "He doesn't. If we lose the game today, life goes on. He's fine. He'll just start getting ready for next year. That's who he is.''
What I saw during Super Bowl week
As the pool reporter covering three full Giants practices during the week, I saw one series of plays that really interested me Thursday. In practice, most teams have first units playing against second-unit scout teams, with players on the scout teams simulating the opposition. But Giants coach Tom Coughlin likes to do a real two-minute drill, with first-team offense against first-team defense. And it's a big deal around the team. When the period for the two-minute drill came up Thursday, the defense got very excited. "UNLEASH THE HOUNDS!'' defensive tackle Chris Canty said, jogging on the field. "UNLEASH THE HOUNDS!'' And his mates got fired up too, even though in football practices, hitting the quarterback is verboten.
Then Eli Manning took the offense 75 yards in six plays, with no emotion whatsoever.
"Now, understand that this deal is set up for the offense to win,'' Tuck said. "Coach Coughlin places a lot of emphasis on the offense doing well. He knows we can't touch Eli. But watching him in that drill every week is why he's so good in the last couple of minutes of games. He gets that against us.''
"The week we were playing the Jets,'' backup quarterback David Carr told me after the game, "Eli threw an interception on the first play of that drill. The defense got really excited. They went out and played great against the Jets that week, and we won. The joke in our quarterback meeting room was, 'You gave the defense life.' ''
Now he's given them a second ring.
Eli in the clutch
|Last three Patriots-Giants games with 60 seconds left|
Manning drove the Giants 83 yards for the winning touchdown in XLVI, 80 yards for the winning touchdown this year in the regular season, and 88 yards Sunday for the winning touchdown.
In three straight games against the best coach of this era and against an all-time quarterback, Manning has taken the ball with less than four minutes to play, trailing every time. And won every time.
Opening day is 214 days away, and the opening game of the 2012 season will be ...
Lots of candidates for the Giants to open with next September 6. The favorites, in order:
1. Green Bay. Easily the most attractive game, but will FOX lobby hard to keep it as a doubleheader game, and keep it from opening night?
2. New Orleans. Drew Brees-Eli Manning is a heck of a No. 2 choice.
3. Pittsburgh. Great story angles at the midpoint of the careers of Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. Each will be entering year nine. If the Giants didn't get Manning in the 2004 draft, they'd have taken Big Ben. And each has two Super Bowl wins.
4. Philadelphia. Good rivalry game. Mike Vick, presumably healthy.
5. Dallas. But after FOX got robbed of both Giants-Cowboys games for 2011 by NBC, I doubt sincerely NBC's going to be lobbying for this game.
Thoughts on the Hall of Fame Class of 2012.
Saturday was my 20th Hall of Fame selection meeting, and not much has changed over the years, other than the increase of voters. There used to be 36; now there are 44. But these voters, media people from around the country, are strong-willed and opinionated -- many of them -- and what resulted Saturday is not a big surprise if you understand how the process works, and who votes.
There are two bones of contention coming out of the meeting -- at least that I've heard from readers, tweeters and other writers: the Bill Parcells snub and the logjam at wide receiver. I can't divulge conversations from the room; that's against Hall policy. It's also against Hall policy to divulge your vote. Now, I believe in transparency, but I'll follow the Hall's directives as long as I'm an active member of the committee. But as a voter, I always have felt comfortable saying I've supported one candidate or the other.
Re the wideouts: It's become obvious there's a logjam between the three eligible receivers -- Andre Reed, Cris Carter and Tim Brown. I have supported Carter consistently; I believe he's the best boundary receiver of all time. (That was a phrase coined by former Niner Randy Cross that I stole because it's so appropriate. Carter was superb at catching the ball at the very edge of the sideline before his feet hit the white of the sideline.) Reed has some staunch supporters. Carter has his. Brown too. But I think it's coming down to Carter and Reed.
In the same number of games with mostly lesser quarterbacks than Reed had, Carter caught 150 more passes for 43 more touchdowns. That carries a lot of weight with me. But I understand the conflict here. Reed was a very good receiver in his own right. I just feel Carter's better from a historical perspective. Obviously, if 80 percent of voters felt the way I feel, Carter would be in. I was asked in the last 36 hours what's going to change at receiver. I don't know. I'm not sure anything will change.
Re Parcells: When he was a coach, he was a lightning rod. Now that he's not coaching, he appears to be a lightning rod again in the Hall voting. I've also been a staunch supporter of Parcells, because of his consistency in taking poor teams and turning them into winners -- either big winners or better winners than they'd been. I'm not sure how the 10th-winningest coach ever, with two Super Bowls and piloting four woebegone teams to the playoffs, doesn't get in. But there are obviously those in the room who view his accomplishments much different than I do. It's like always say: I'm one of 44. I can argue a man's case strenuously, but the room is a democracy.
Now, I'd love to be more transparent about the discussion in the room, but we are under a confidentiality agreement, per Hall rules. I would love to tell you who I voted for precisely. Just know that I think all six men who were enshrined are deserving. We're put in a tough spot here. I'm trying to be as forthcoming as I can.
Congratulations, Matt Birk.
The NFL Man of the Year award went to the veteran Ravens center. He beat out Philip Rivers and Charles Tillman, and he did it by going all-in on encouraging kids to read. His acceptance speech Saturday night at the NFL Honors awards was touching and smart.
"Reading is a skill from which all others follow,'' Birk said. "Mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, baby sitters ... even Steeler fans ... anyone who has instilled the love of reading in a child, this is for you.''
Couldn't have said it better.
Luck of the draw.
Stanford's Andrew Luck, the likely No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in 11 weeks, was in Indianapolis Thursday to have his body tested and analyzed by Gatorade Sports Science. "I felt like a laboratory rat,'' Luck said. "Pretty valuable, though. I was educated about how much sodium you lose when you're an athlete, and educated on time frames for nutrition -- not just what to eat, but when to eat it.'' He didn't stay for the game. Actually, he stayed for about five hours, just enough to have about 937 drive-thru-type interviews.
Here's a quick Q&A with a guy we're going to get to know much, much better before draft day April 26, and who is very likely to end up here in Indianapolis:
Me: First time at a Super Bowl?
Luck: "No. I went to the one in Houston [eight years ago]. Luckily, having a dad who played in the league and worked for the league helped get us in to some stuff there. But, yeah, this was pretty interesting. I knew what to expect, but this was a zoo here today.''
Me: What are you doing to prepare for the Scouting Combine?
Luck: "Working out in Los Angeles with Athletes Performance Institute. Trying to get my hands on as much NFL tape as I can. I'm lucky. I was in a program at Stanford with coaches who had lots of ties to the NFL, so I've seen a lot. That's helped. And I'm trying to adjust to the speed of the NFL. I'm working with some receivers who have had NFL experience, like [former Chief] Samie Parker.''
Me: Your former offense coordinator, Greg Roman, tells me you'd often come in on Sunday and Monday and suggest things for the game plan the next week. Do you feel you've been able to advance your NFL knowledge at Stanford because of how many NFL coaches they've had there?
Luck: "I think we ran a very professional offense. Watching the 49ers this year with my teammates, it was almost eerie. We could call out the plays when we saw how they lined up. So I think I've been very fortunate to have the coaches and the experience there that I've had. Sometimes, when I might suggest something, we'd end up incorporating it, and if we wouldn't, it was never, 'Oh, you idiot.' There was always a lot of mutual respect there.''
Me: What else do you think will help you as you take the next step to the NFL?
Luck: "I pretty much have an unquenchable thirst for football knowledge.''
Somewhere this morning, new Indianapolis offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will be licking his chops when he reads that last sentence.
The Steve Gleason story.
Thanks for your kind words on Twitter Sunday after the story on ALS-stricken former Saint Steve Gleason ran on the NBC pregame show. Thanks also to producer Phil Parrish of NBC and production assistant Paige Westin for their diligence on the story. Many of you have asked how you can either help Gleason's cause or learn more about how he's trying to help ALS patients. You can do so by going to teamgleason.org
Two poignant parts of the story, one about the 34-year-old Gleason, who now is faced with the prospect of death because this is a fatal disease with no known cure, saying we should all live like we have a timeline. Two: His wife Michel saying with tears streaming down her face how much she'll miss his voice.
To that end, Gleason last summer began recording words and phrases, thousands of them, into a Steve Gleason voice bank so he'll be able to direct his voice through a computer once his muscles fail him and he's not able to speak anymore. I listened to his "synthetic voice'' over the weekend. "We have created a synthetic voice that sounds like my own voice,'' he says in the choppy but clearly recognizable voice patterns. "I hope you like it because you will be hearing from me for decades to come.''
Gleason had two ALS patients, one from Louisiana and one from Indiana, at the Super Bowl Sunday, the start of what he hopes to do with his foundation. "I want to be able to help ALS patients lead better lives,'' he said. "So many of them, when they get diagnosed, stop living the sort of full life that they still should be able to live. They don't have the resources to do it. I hope to be able to help some of them do the things they love to do. I refuse to give in to the disease. If I can help others do the same, I would be very happy.''
On the sidelines Sunday, before the game, Gleason greeted an admirer of his, Giants special-teams coach Larry Izzo ("Steve's one of the best guys ever to play special teams,'' Izzo said), who said to him, "It's so great what you're doing with your foundation.'' That was Gleason's victory on Sunday.