Like every great competitor, Eli Manning will not turn down the chance to play again if the situation warrants.
Moments after Sunday’s emotional 36-20 win over the Dolphins, most likely the last time Manning will start a home game in a Giants uniform, he was asked if he wants to start the final two games against the Redskins and Eagles.
“Yeah, of course,” he said. “Of course I’d like to.”
He understands that might not happen, especially with Daniel Jones looking as if he’s just about ready to return after missing two games with a sprained ankle. And if Jones replaces him for what certainly looks like the last two games of his NFL career, Manning is fine with that.
“I get it either way,” he said. “I know they want to get him back and get him more experience and more reps and everything. Whatever I’m asked to do, I’ll do it.”
Spoken like the true professional Manning has been throughout his 16-year career with the Giants.
But there is something to be said for Manning never taking another snap so all the joy and all the exuberance from Sunday’s breathtakingly special day can be frozen in time. It was such a perfect send-off for the 38-year-old quarterback, who was feted by more than 70,000 fans at MetLife Stadium in one of those unforgettable moments in sports.
Only the legends can create this kind of magic. Manning delivered the last two Super Bowls in the Giants' trophy case, and though his best days are behind him and the Giants have been a shell of a team since his last Super Bowl run after the 2011 season, his legacy still resonates with fans who got to say goodbye one last time to the greatest quarterback in franchise history.
But was that the last time? Was it the storybook ending that will serve as the exclamation point to his career? Or will Manning be called into action again, whether it be because Jones isn’t ready to return from his injury or can’t make it through the final two games?
Coach Pat Shurmur was just as happy as the next guy to see Manning get a hero’s send-off Sunday afternoon, and he will not soon forget the raw emotion of the moment. Hearing the chants of “Eli Manning! Eli Manning!” from the crowd. Seeing the standing ovations, the last of which came after Shurmur wisely took Manning out of the game with 1:50 to play so fans could celebrate their quarterback one last glorious time. But Shurmur was not inclined to go any further than that in terms of future celebrations.
He was asked Monday if he had given any thought to not playing Manning in the last two games so his last memory of playing in the NFL could be the Dolphins game.
“No,” Shurmur said. “Listen, if Daniel can’t go and Eli is our starter, we are going to go in with the idea that we’re going to put a winning performance on the field against Washington. I think that’s overthinking it a little bit.”
For now, the plan is to get Jones ready to start against the Redskins and the Eagles to finish off the season.
“We’ll just push him along like we did last week,” Shurmur said of Jones. “We started [last] week with the idea that he might be ready to play, and we’ll do the same this week.”
Manning is willing to be the dutiful teammate, just as he has been all along. When he was benched after the second week of the season, he faded into the background to give Jones some room as he began his NFL indoctrination. And when Shurmur needed Manning to replace Jones because of the ankle injury the rookie suffered against the Packers, he did as asked and never batted an eye.
Regardless of what might happen the next two weeks, no one can ever take away the special moment Manning created for himself by summoning one more winning performance.
He has no control over whether that will be his final act on a football field before taking his rightful place in the Giants’ Ring of Honor.
But it still would be cool if Manning’s last NFL pass came on a day when fans were able to celebrate the kind of career and the kind of legacy that no Giants quarterback might ever produce again.