As afternoon turned to evening on November 26, 2006, you could have located no man, woman or child who would have ever believed that Eli Manning would later win two Super Bowls, outdueling one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in both.
At that moment, Eli Manning was barely hanging on to his job as the New York Giants quarterback.
The Giants had just blown a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead at LP Field, losing to the Tennessee Titans in dramatic fashion, 24-21. In the game, Manning was incredibly shaky, especially in the fourth quarter. He threw for just 143 yards in the game and his two interceptions in the final fifteen minutes were crucial to the amazing Titans comeback/Giants collapse.
At that moment, Eli Manning wasn’t a bust, but he seemed close. His signalcalling draft mates from 2004, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers, both appeared to be much better quarterbacks.
In the sports megatron that is New York, Eli Manning could find few friends.
Today, barely more than five years later, he is now “Mr. Fourth Quarter,” a mix of Willis Reed, Derek Jeter and Joe Namath — a two-time Super Bowl winner who has beaten Tom Brady head-to-head twice and outplayed him in both title games.
What a game, this NFL football.
In the latest Harris Poll that asks Americans “What is your favorite sport?”, NFL football ranked #1 again. It has been that way every year that Harris has asked the question since 1985.
There are lots of reasons to love the NFL, but two come to the surface.
First, any team truly can beat any other team on any given Sunday. The NFL is predictably unpredictable. We love that.
Second, all that really matters is the Super Bowl.
Life is complicated, we have very little “simple” in what we do. The NFL is simple — win the Super Bowl and nothing else matters.
Giants fans had to keep that in mind on December 11, when they trailed the Cowboys, 34-22, with 5:41 left in the game. Big Blue was on its way to its fifth straight loss and was going to miss the playoffs again. If you believe what you read and heard, Tom Coughlin was going to get fired. Eli Manning’s one Super Bowl win was just that, one Super Bowl win.
But Manning rallied the Giants and they won that Sunday night game in dramatic fashion. Two weeks later, they handled the hated Jets. The following week, they eliminated the Cowboys and made the playoffs.
You know the rest of the story.
Any given Sunday.
Super Bowls are all that matter.
And a team that was dead at 10:15 p.m. on December 11 is the World Champion on February 5.
What a game, this NFL football.
November 26, 2006 was a nightmare at LP Field for Eli Manning and the Giants. After that crushing loss to the Titans, few would have ever believed that Manning would become what he has become.
But he has and it is hard not to be pleased for the youngest of the Manning brothers. We will probably get tired of the story quickly, as we will be awash in “Eli Love” for the next few days and weeks. Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian will get a break.
For Manning and the Giants, this is the end of the season. For everyone else in the NFL, it is a beginning.
Welcome to the 2012.
You can dream any NFL dream that you wish, starting today.
As Eli Manning and the Giants have learned, your past — both distant and recent — doesn’t matter any more when the page is turned.
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