Eli Manning, a man with the right last name and NFL bloodlines, going against Michael Vick, a flashy, exciting, young QB already with his own NFL pedigree and success. Vick won the battle and the war.
"Football is about making plays, and I didn't make enough of them out there," Manning said.
Perhaps not, but he did do enough to open a lot of eyes, in the process, showing a small glimpse of what's to come. Looking back on some of the greatest – and most forgettable – Giants signal-callers, you can see that their first game results were rarely a fair assessment. If that were the case, then Giants fans would be talking fondly about Jerry Golsteyn right now, instead of either laughing or scratching their heads at the mention of his name.
Golsteyn was a young QB who split time with Joe Pisarcik during the 1977 season. In his debut performance, he directed a run-oriented offense, but still completed 7-of-14 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown with only one interception in helping the Giants to a 20-17 upset over their division rivals, the Washington Redskins. That was essentially the highlight of a forgettable Giants career.
Both Randy Dean and Phil Simms had similar starts to their career; however, that's where the similarities ended. Dean's rookie year was the year before Simms', and he managed to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in his first start, 17-0. His numbers – 8-14 for 24 yards with one TD and one interception – were certainly nothing to rave about, but the win was. His stats were eerily similar to Simms', who debuted a year later in October of '79 with a 17-14 win over the NFC Championship-bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Simms only completed 6-of-12 passes for 37 yards, with no TDs or INTs. Simms however, would go on to put together a nice four-game winning streak until a last-second Rafael Septien field goal put an end to that with a 16-14 win for Dallas in early November. As we all know, Simms posted what is essentially a Hall of Fame career, garnered two Super Bowl rings, one Super Bowl MVP, three Pro Bowls and had his No. 11 jersey retired, while Randy Dean is a mere footnote in Giants history.
The following season after a late-season injury derailed Simms' sophomore year, rookie Scott Brunner made career start No. 1 at the Kingdome in Seattle, and turned in a pretty good performance. The Delaware product completed eight-of-18 passes for 161 yards and a pair of touchdowns in New York's exciting 27-21 win over the Seahawks. Still, history has shown that no one in his or her right mind would ever pick Brunner over Simms.
On October 5, 1987, on a cold Monday Night at Giants Stadium, Jim Crocicchia only completed six of his 15 passes attempted, however, he did get 89 yards, a large chunk of which came on an amazing TD pass to receiver Lewis Bennett, a play that was later voted the greatest catch in Monday Night Football history. Still, the Bill Walsh-coached 49ers won big, 41-21, forcing Bill Parcells to switch QBs the following week and start another rookie, Mike Busch. The South Dakota State product threw 41 times – completing only 14 of them – for 183 yards and a touchdown, as well as one pick in a 38-12 loss at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champs, the Washington Redskins.
Of course, to put those games in perspective, you must realize that they were two of the three strike games New York played during that tough '87 season. But again, those two replacement debuts illustrate the point that one game, and possibly even one season, is not a true yardstick.
If it were, Danny Kanell might still be starting for the Giants, instead of playing baseball for the Newark Bears. Kanell had a fine start to his career, completing 13-of-28 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown in a 27-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals in 1997, incidentally a year the Giants would win the NFC East. Still, Kanell could not sustain that momentum and was gone two years later.
Further evidence is offered by former No. 1 pick Dave Brown, who, unlike Manning, was able to lead New York to victory in his first career start. He threw for 171 yards and a TD in a 28-23 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Still it was not to be a storybook career for Brown.
While already in his fifth NFL season, Kerry Collins' Big Blue debut was a bit of a microcosm of his career in the Big Apple. On Nov. 28, 1999, Collins threw for 298 yards (22-of-45), but three INTs and only 1 TD in a loss to the Cardinals. While his time spent with the Giants continued along a mostly similar path, Collins did enjoy a breakout 2000 campaign, during which he led New York to Super Bowl XXXV. Three seasons later he was unceremoniously released following the trade for Manning.
That's just one of many reasons why Giants fans should not get too down with Manning's inability to lead a come-from-behind victory in his first game, nor should New York tabloids describe the loss as 'dismal.' The only thing dismal about it was that some people – including popular radio talkies – failed to put the game in perspective.
Terry Bradshaw had to battle through one of the toughest rookie seasons ever under Head Coach Chuck Noll, and by 1974, the year Pittsburgh would go on to win the first of its four Super Bowl titles under Noll, Bradshaw had been replaced by Joe Gilliam. He later got the job back after Gilliam was suspended for substance abuse, and went on to a Hall-of-Fame career.
So, the moral of the story is not to be so critical of Manning. The real results won't be tallied for at least a few years. Just cross your fingers, that as years go by, he will be compared with Simms instead of Dean.
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Scout NFL Network08/24/2016