Eli's latest surpasses all others for Giants

Finally a Ticker-Tape Parade for the New York Football Giants. Hard as it is to believe, there'd never been one before.

From war heroes and astronauts, from the Mets and Yankees to the New York Rangers and even the former New York baseball Giants who since 1958 have called San Francisco home, the football Giants never had bestowed upon them this time-honored tradition dating to the 1886 ceremony for the Statue of Liberty.

On Tuesday morning they will.

Charlie Conerly has to be smiling. It took a long time, but finally another Ole Miss quarterback has led the Giants to a championship, like the late former Rebel quarterback, who died in 1996, did in 1956 when New York beat Chicago.

Many have said the 1958 NFL title game, almost a decade before the first Super Bowl, was the greatest game ever played. The Colts beat the Giants that day in the league's first overtime game as Conerly faced Johnny Unitas in a contest credited with lifting the popularity of the NFL more than any to that point.

Super Bowl XLII has taken its place. Preliminary reports are that it was the most watched in history.

Isn't it almost mind-boggling how it's been an Ole Miss person or team that has so changed the face or grown the popularity of certain sports events through the years? Like Eli's dad and his teammates being a part of the first-ever televised night college football game in 1969 vs. Alabama. Conerly in the 1958 "greatest game ever" and now as the world watched Sunday's Super Showdown with Eli becoming the MVP.

Amazing indeed.

Conerly was from Clarksdale, and when I attended a graveside there a few years ago, I found his own nearby.

The service was for his longtime friend and fellow World War II mate Tom Harris. Tom's grandson, Russell, and I are friends through Rebels, meaning Ole Miss is our bond. As I read Conerly's gravestone, I wondered how many Ole Miss people he had affected, just how much a regular fellow from the Delta had meant to so many Ole Miss fans, New York Giants and NFL fans, too.

Charlie Conerly Day in New York wasn't held after he retired in 1961. It was held during the 1959 season. Garry Harris, Tom's father, drove from Clarksdale to New York to present Conerly a gift at the ceremony. Kind of a hometown representative for the native son.

Garry ate dinner with the Giants after the game. He got a game ball signed by the entire team. Russell now has the ball which has signatures of men like Frank Gifford, Andy Robustelli, Rosey Brown, and Sam Huff, the four NFL Hall of Famers on that team.

The saddest part of the Conerly story has always been that he isn't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His absence should be enough to call for shutting down the place. It's a travesty.

Conerly was the NFL MVP in 1959, a season in which he ended as the league's top-rated passer, just ahead of Unitas. On Charlie Conerly Day, Nov. 29, 1959, 20 years to the day before his great-grandson Russell was born, Garry was there as the Giants beat the Redskins 45-14.

"It's all kind of eerie to me," said Russell this morning. "Just so many connections. I was thinking about all that as we watched the Super Bowl Sunday night."

I was too, like when the Giants' trainer, who has been with the team since 1948, was shown on the sidelines during the game. That was the first year Conerly was with the team, the year after he'd led Ole Miss to its first SEC title the year before. He was there for all the Conerly years and remains with the team.

Conerly's wife, Perian, wrote columns during their years there for the New York Times on her life as the wife of the Giants' quarterback. They were the toast of the town, along with many Ole Miss players from that era who played for the Giants.

But they've all been upstaged now by Eli. Heck, they never got a ticker-tape parade back then, and not even later when the Giants won the Super Bowl after the 1986 and 1990 seasons.

Tuesday at 11 a.m. Eastern, that all ends as the Giants are honored in the Canyon of Heroes. And someday Eli will likely take his place in Canton, Ohio, where Conerly should have been for years.

I don't think we can truly put in perspective just what all this means, certainly not what Eli means now. From a guy who was only really known to Ole Miss fans until his college career blossomed, except for the fact that he was the son of Archie and the brother of Peyton, to Super Bowl XLII and the newest greatest game ever played.

Through all the negatives and question marks about who he was and how good he could become, we've witnessed the story become this – the most watched Super Bowl ever and maybe the most improbable, all things considered.

And you know Charlie Conerly has to be smiling.


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