For one very obvious pregnant pause, it seemed as if Eli Manning was about to take his teammates to task for their impromptu visit to Miami. It sounded as if he was ready to express an opinion diametrically opposed to what his coach said a day earlier.
Manning was asked Tuesday afternoon about the trip taken by Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis Jr. after Sunday’s win at Washington. The story had gained traction on social media, especially after a picture of the receivers on a boat surfaced. Manning’s stern expression made it appear he was none too happy about their frolicking in and around South Beach less than a week before a playoff game in Green Bay.
“I think as a team, we always pride ourselves on being well prepared, so when I saw some of the pictures, I was a little disappointed,” Manning deadpanned.
Could this really be? Was Manning, who spent his off day watching tape and talking to coaches, about to create a controversy by chiding his primary receivers? Would he repudiate Ben McAdoo’s comments that he had no problem with what the players did on their day off? Was the Giants’ week about to devolve in back-page quicksand that could threaten their chances against the red-hot Packers?
Manning continued, with a slight grin.
“Obviously, they didn’t pack accordingly,” he said. “They didn’t have any shirts, all long pants, no shorts, no flip-flops. Disappointed on their packing and not being prepared for that situation.”
The laughter quickly ensued from reporters at Manning’s post-practice news conference. This was no dressing-down from the quarterback, who celebrated his 36th birthday Tuesday. This was vintage Eli, the kind of moment he lives for, one that defines his unique brand of leadership that is every bit as important to the Giants as his on-field performance.
In a town where controversy can be ignited into a firestorm with just a single Snapchat or Twitter post, Manning managed to defuse the situation with a dry wit that has been as much a part of him as his soaring downfield passes and clutch performances. Whatever fallout there might have been after the receivers partied into the wee hours was quickly transformed by Manning from bubbling controversy to a tempest in a teapot.
“I don’t really get into what guys do on their off day,” he said. “They can do what they want. It’s about coming here today, being prepared and getting ready for tomorrow’s practice and be able to go out there and perform at a high level.”
Manning admits he never has done something as impulsive as taking a flight a few hours after a game and burning off energy in South Florida, especially with the likes of Justin Bieber and rappers Trey Songz and Fabolous, who were part of the Giants’ contingent.
“My off day, I’m always in here getting prepared, talking with the coaches about schemes,” Manning said. “That’s what a quarterback has to do. Guys want to get away for a day.”
Manning even offered a tongue-in-cheek excuse for the excursion. “I think they were a little low on their vitamin D,” he quipped. “They wanted to get some sunshine, get their vitamin D up, make sure they are staying healthy for the cold weather in Green Bay.”
The receivers were with a handful of other partygoers, posing shirtless, and wearing pants and shoes. Perhaps Manning really was there?
“I was telling people that I was the one that took the picture, and they wouldn’t let me in with my shirt off,” he said. “So they made me take it.”
It’s on to the playoffs, where Manning has made his reputation. This is what it’s all about, not the buzz about Florida.
“These last couple of years have been a great reminder of how difficult it is to make the playoffs, and you want to take advantage of every opportunity, because you don’t know if or when you’re going to get another chance,” he said. “You understand it is special when you get here, so you try to make a run when you can.”
It has been an up-and-down year for Manning, who has not been as consistent as in the previous two seasons. Is there a “playoff Eli” about to return, the quarterback whose last two extended playoff appearances ended in Super Bowl wins?
“I don’t know what that means exactly,” Manning said. “If there is one, hopefully it comes out.”