Eli's debut had ups and downs

The Eli Manning era has begun in New York as he took over the starting QB position for the Giants. Bob Imperato covered last Sunday's game for The Ole Miss Spirit.

East Rutherford, NJ - It was a week where a Manning got his picture on a box of Wheaties, threw 9 touchdown passes in 8 days and oh yes was player of the week for the AFC.

However it was the youngest son of Olivia and Archie Manning that captivated the New York Metropolitan area this week.

Making the back page cover of every New York Tabloids each day after Giant Coach Tom Coughlin announced on Monday November 15,2004, that Eli Manning was going to start his first professional game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Comparisons appeared in both national and city papers to great quarterbacks in NYC history. One name stood out. It has almost been 40 years since a young man from Alabama named Joe Namath who played for the New York Jets and captivated New York this week like Eli did.

The names of Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio, and Babe Ruth debuts were invoked in the anticipation of Eli's start on Sunday November 20, 2004.

Fifty-Six years after another great Rebel, Charlie Connerly, started for the New York Giants, a new sheriff entered the Meadowlands sports complex late Sunday afternoon. With the crowd screaming Eli's name and Three Dog Night's hit Eli's Coming blaring on the load speakers, Eli Manning made his debut for the New York Football Giants.

It was a misty Sunday morning, the whole New York City skyline was hidden from New Jersey (where the Giants play) by lazy white fog. However about 90 minutes before gametime the sun broke through the clouds. Maybe to send a signal of a ray of hope for the Giant fans whose season was suddenly sinking with two straight losses and quarterback Kurt Warner, who had been sacked 40 times.

But these are changing times.We were now getting close, 51 minutes before kickoff the team came out for stretching. Now, 10 minutes later Eli was throwing spirals to his former pro bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey. Six minutes later they went into their full set offense practice, game time was near.

The skies suddenly got gray and the sun soon disappeared. Did this mean anything?

The Giants won the toss and elected to receive, 78,793 fans, including Archie Manning sitting in the end zone, were excited. It was the ESPN featured game of the day. At precisely 4:17PM EST Eli came out to play. 33 years and 64 days earlier another Manning, Archie, had made his sensational debut in Tulane Stadium in leading the Saints to 24-20 upset of the Los Angeles Rams. It had been 6 years and 76 days since Eli's older brother passed for over 300 yards in a losing effort against the Miami Dolphins 24-15 in his first game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

Sure Eli had seen some game time in earlier games. In fact his first play from scrimmage as a pro had resulted in a handoff and a 62 yard touchdown run by halfback Tiki Barber. The two tried the same play on Sunday, again it worked this time for 23 yards and a Giant first down. However the drive soon stumbled as did most of the offense in the first half. It turned out it was to be the first and longest gain of the game for the Giants. They weren't playing Murry State today.

Eli's 18 completions in a row and 5 touchdown passes were his college debut, however this was the 7-2 Atlanta Falcons with one of the top defenses in the NFL. Hey don't forget a former Number 1 pick also starts at QB for the Falcons, Michael Vick.

Eli and the Giants really struggled to get their rhythm going in the first half. As Eli said " I have got to be more accurate. I've got to make better decisions."

Vick was everywhere in the first 30 minutes, in fact he personally outgained the entire Giant's first half offense - on the ground - 91-89. Atlanta led 14-0 at the break. Six dropped balls by the Giant receiving corps in the half did not help Eli's stats.

The second half was a different game, the Easy Eli from Ole Miss emerged. The first drive of the second half netted 84 yards in 11 plays and resulted in Eli's first professional TD pass - a six yard pass to Shockey. The Giant defense was inspired. Atlanta never drove into Giant territory in the second half. Eli said, "I felt confident going into the game."

It showed again on the Giants' next possession, a 13 play, 58 yard drive resulted in a 24 yard Steve Christie field goal that cut the deficit 14-10. Eli was now 9 of 16 for 102 yards passing in less than a quarter and half in the third and fourth quarters.

Could Manning Magic appear once again? Giants penalties on the defense hurt, instead of getting the ball with almost 5 minutes left at midfield, Atlanta was allowed to eat up valuable clock time with the Giant penalties.

Still the Giants had one last opportunity. 1:52 on the clock, one timeout and 74 yards to go. We had all seen Eli do it before. However today was not the day and the drive fizzled on a fourth down pass from Manning to Shockey that was knocked down by an Atlanta linebacker Keith Brooking from Georgia Tech at the Atlanta 35 with 49 seconds left on the clock. As Coach Coughlin said, "Plenty of opportunities, many lost opportunities."

" I am disappointed we didn't come up with the win," Eli stated.

Tiki Barber, the star running back of the Giants commented, "Eli played great. Eli is a competitor, he is the future. He showed a command you don't see with a rookie."

Overall Eli completed 17 passes in 37 attempts for 162 yards, one touchdown and 2 interceptions, not great but not bad for his first start in the NFL.

His brother Peyton said, "I've always been real proud of Eli. I have always thought he's had the most pressure on him with the comparisons he's had. He's handled himself well, so I'm proud for him."

Peyton was right. The youngest Manning was a real leader the way he played. He had terrific composure with the media all week and the team responded to Eli on the field. You can see just like at Ole Miss his teammates like and respect Eli.

One final note in an exclusive interview with the OLE MISS SPIRIT, former Dallas Cowboy Hall of Fame quarterback, Roger Staubach, a contemporary of Archie Manning, commented on Eli.

"He is a mature QB. I have known the family for many years and Eli has studied the game. His arm strength will help make up for his inexperience. This is the beginning of the Manning era in New York. His future is bright. He is one dedicated competitor, as is the whole family. Archie is tough and so are his sons," said Staubach.

Look out, Big Apple!

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