It’s almost impossible to dislike Eli Manning.
Even though he’s the ultimate child of NFL privilege, even though his daddy pulled strings in 2004 to game a system every other player in the league has to bow to, the mop-topped, Halibut-mouthed Eli is beloved and respected.
There are good reasons for that. He’s a pleasant guy who doesn’t bitch out teammates or coaches, he shoulders blame, plays through pain and has been a big-game assassin. Forty-four of these United States will forever adore him for what he did to the Patriots in Super Bowls 42 and 46. The other six here in New England will always give him grudging respect for those games. New England also keeps its Eli hostility holstered because Eli isn’t Peyton.
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As the Patriots march methodically, expectedly to the AFC’s No. 1 seed and a likely appearance in another Super Bowl, the Giants sideshow is a terrific little diversion.
Especially because of the wailing and gnashing of teeth going on among Giants fans. They love Eli because he was the one that made their greatest days as Giants fans happen. Twice. And because of that they treat a once-good (but never great) quarterback like a deity. Eli’s been in the league for 14 years. The Giants made the playoffs six times. Four times they were one-and-done. The other two appearances, they had eight combined wins and a Super Bowl each time.
Eli is the human equivalent of a ticket stub from the greatest concert you ever went to. Just a keepsake from better days.
Know who he reminds me of? Drew Bledsoe with better jewelry.
There wasn’t anything to dislike about Bledsoe -- a tough, productive, reserved, polite leader who was a beacon of dignity on a crumbling franchise.
He also became -- after a flurry of coordinator changes and three years with scatter-brained Pete Carroll -- complacent, average and ripe for the picking.
Too few people realized Bledsoe was part of the problem so -- when he got hurt and his backup played better than Drew ever would have -- the fact Bledsoe was being put out to pasture caused much gnashing of teeth.
This Eli thing is similar but -- if you’re a Giants fan -- there’s no Brady, no Belichick, no hope.
The Giants are quitting on their season. (Don’t believe the John Mara BS about that being a BS allegation -- opting for Geno Smith and Davis Webb is announcing: “We are not trying to win games, everyone!!”)
They are plunging into the abyss and Eli is being taken behind the barn by a pomade-addicted junior-executive level head coach who will be cramming his personal effects in a cardboard box in less than two months and leaving the Giants forever.
And Ben McAdoo is acting as executioner for Mara, who just keeps reaping karmic rewards for shanking the Patriots throughout Deflategate (as have the Ravens, Colts, Roger Goodell and others who behaved like rodents). What’s amusing is that Mara has so snookered the NY/NJ media with his firm handshake, and look-you-in-the-eye, call-you-by-your-first-name manners that he was at first seen as merely having signed off on test-driving the other quarterbacks. It actually was his idea.
And it’s deliciously backfired to the point where Giants fans want a parade for Eli down the Canyon of Heroes and Mara will probably try to make it happen.
Meanwhile, 200 miles to the north, the Giants' former defensive coordinator could part with a quarterback like Tom Brady -- who would make better decisions after downing a fifth of gin than Eli often did -- and a wide swath of the region would grudgingly say, “OK . . . ” when Belichick says he’s “Trying to do what’s best for the football team.”
We are by now conditioned to Belichick throwing cold water on the masses with outrageous personnel moves that work. We just nod and shuffle forward en masse toward another postseason that ends with the Patriots in position to raise a Lombardi Trophy.
Down in New York, they are rending garments because of two February Sundays in the past decade. Sentimental fools.