Has Eli Finally Silenced the Critics? By Ken Palmer and Paul Schwartz Paul Schwartz: The summer is upon us, the Giants have gone their separate ways for their final vacations before the start of training camp and the start of the grind. You have to believe this was one incredible offseason for Eli Manning. At this time a year ago he was a young quarterback established in name only, certainly not a proven commodity among the fan base. A year later, Manning is the reigning Super Bowl MVP after fulfilling the grand destiny envisioned for him much sooner than anyone anticipated. He's a champion, recently married and on top of the world, seemingly untouchable. No matter what else he accomplishes or fails to achieve in his Giants career, no one can ever deny the superb post-season run he orchestrated and completed in such stunning fashion. But to those who suggest Manning now owns a Lifetime Pass let us offer a sobering reality:
This is New York. Manning has won a place in the hearts of Giants fans but there is no doubt the fickle nature of the relationship between athlete and fan will rear its ugly head. It won't happen in the season opener and probably won't happen early next season, but if Eli falters and takes the team with him there is no doubt the doubts will return. You can almost hear it now. All Eli did was get hot at the right time. The menacing Giants defense was the real MVP of Super Bowl XLII. Eli's statistics were never really anything special. And so on and so on. Manning has earned a grace period but he understands the deal and has already issued warnings that he realizes it is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately profession he's chosen.
Ken Palmer: My goodness, Paul, you are finally catching on. There's almost no question that Eli Manning will hear the boos and catcalls at some point again – and quite possibly this coming season. Is it fair? Of course not. Does it make sense? Not even a little. But like Paul wrote, that's just how it works in this business. I'd bet my bottom dollar that anyone who claims they never even need to see Manning complete another pass in his career will be voicing their displeasure the loudest the next time things don't go as smoothly – or miraculously – as they did down the stretch last season. There is no such thing as a free pass in professional sports, especially in the Big Apple. My good buddy, Scott Barton, and I talk often about how awful Manning was just prior to the Super run. That entire mid-December game in the elements against the Redskins; he threw more than 50 passes and completed less than 20 of them. That first half in Buffalo the next week also left plenty to be desired. Fortunately Eli is mature and smart enough to know what's coming this season and beyond. He's as even-keeled as they come, which is one of the reasons Ernie Accorsi was so enamored of him before the 2004 Draft. These Giants don't need Manning to throw for 300 yards and three TDs every Sunday to win; they just need him to play as patient and smart as he did late last season. He's proven that he can bring the troops from behind, but in an ideal world between the running game and solid defense all Eli will have to do is run the offense just the way he did last season. Or else…
PS: Since we surprisingly see eye-to-eye on our first topic, let's move onto something we can really thrash out. No, not the inevitable Phillies collapse we both know is coming sometime this summer. The Giants last season were not thought to be the team to beat in the NFC and, despite their Super Bowl victory, again are not considered the top dog. That title belongs to the Cowboys, the reigning NFC East title holder. There's no doubt the Cowboys have what it takes to capture the conference crown. Tony Romo is maturing by the day, Terrell Owens has 34 million reasons why he should be a happy camper and, unless he completely self-destructs, Adam (don't call me Pacman) Jones is a huge addition both as a cornerback and return man. Don't forget, the Cowboys hammered the Giants twice during the regular season before the first-round playoff upset. The 'Boys have the goods to do it again and you know will be primed to give the Giants some payback for the unceremonious ouster from the playoffs.
KP: I'm going with the Cardinals. No, not because they signed undrafted rookie QB Anthony Morelli, formerly of Penn State. And no, not because I've picked the Cardinals as the NFC's breakout team each and every season this decade, or so it seems. And certainly not because Cards QB Matt Leinart used to date KP dreamgirl Alyssa Milano. It's not for any of those very solid reasons, but just because they're due. If the Browns can go from being the Browns to almost making the playoffs in one season, my Cards can make a serious run at the NFC title this season. Everyone can talk all they want about the Cowboys, who crumbled when the lights shone the brightest last season. Or the supposedly resurgent Vikings or quickly descending Pack. Go right ahead. I'm sticking with the Cards and their explosive offense. And I'm sticking with my Phils as well. Boy that Carlos Beltran sure sounds brilliant for his preseason ‘team to beat' claim. On second thought, he was just about dead on – the Mets have been the team to beat for just about everyone else in Major League Baseball this season.
PS: What ya hear about Shockey? I imagine, Kenny, you heard that question plenty this offseason. The Giants did so many incredible things, yet that one question was on everyone's mind. Well, since Shockey isn't whispering in my ear I really don't know what to expect out of the unpredictable tight end but I do expect him to show up for training camp on time, in shape and ready to go to work. I am not burying my head in the sand, I do realize there are real issues between Shockey and the team that need to be addressed and smoothed over. But I also believe much of the nastiness and craziness of the offseason can be wiped clean once the real practices get underway up in Albany. Shockey rarely has any problems when he's mixing it up with his teammates. It is when he's away from the group or injured or feeling unloved that things go awry. He has no leverage as far as demanding a trade; that ship sailed away after the NFL Draft. Unless he becomes a terrible distraction, there's really no reason for the Giants to give him away for under market value. I do not anticipate him being a terrible distraction. I suspect his leg and ankle will be strong enough for some work, perhaps limited at first, at the start of camp and once he gets in the swing of things and sees some physical progress, his mind should be able to heal as well. This might be naïve on my part, but I don't think this relationship is unsalvageable.
KP: I sure hope you're right (that's a surprise). But I don't think so (that's not). Even new sportscaster Michael Strahan has already said the Giants should just cut the cord and let an obviously angry Shockey go. No, I certainly don't expect Jerry Reese to let Shockey force his hand. But if he's perceived as going to be a problem by the organization, which very well might be the case, then the Giants need to do whatever possible to avoid the usual distractions that help elongate Super Bowl hangovers. I've stated time and again that the Giants offense is much better with Shockey than without him and I stand firm on that. But if he's really that upset that he's going to do more harm than good, maybe just maybe it is time to let him go. Only Shockey knows whether he plans to show up in Albany as a happy camper, if at all. Surely no one in the front office or any of his teammates knows his intentions, let alone anyone in the media. Here's hoping he's matured enough to want to be part of the team's title defense; not a reason to sabotage it.
Has Eli Finally Silenced the Critics?
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