Eli Manning understands these situations don’t always come along, that the kind of special seasons he hopes for are inevitably buried beneath the weight of failed expectations. So a quarterback who has two Super Bowl championships to his name, but no playoff wins in the last six years, realizes how precious his opportunity can be.
“You work hard, and you get to these situations where you feel you have good players and a good team,” Manning told Newsday on Wednesday as the Giants’ veterans reported to training camp. “You’re excited about the possibilities, and there’s an urgency to do something with it while you still can.”
That Manning is still here is a testament to his fortitude and to a painstaking decision in the offseason by the Giants’ new management team and coaching staff that he still can be a championship quarterback at age 37. GM Dave Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur came to that conclusion after careful video study and after a debacle of a season in 2017 that saw Manning benched for the first time in his career by overmatched head coach Ben McAdoo.
And after an aggressive offseason of player acquisitions that included first-round running back Saquon Barkley, second-round guard Will Hernandez, left tackle Nate Solder, as well as several defensive rookies and free agents and the return of a healthy Odell Beckham Jr., Manning senses there could be a unique possibility here.
He also understands he remains the single most important player in whether this turns into a season filled with hope, or one that ends with the kind of crushing disappointment he has felt since last winning a Super Bowl at the end of the 2011 season.
“With the quarterback, there’s always expectations, and no one has higher expectations than I do for myself and this team and what we want to do,” he said. “I see the talent there. You never know when there will be that opportunity, that special team where you can make it a special season.”
There aren’t many more chances.
“You don’t know when opportunity is going to come, and how many more you have left,” he said. “You try to make the most of it each and every year. I don’t know if pressure is the right word to use, but I want to go out there and make something special this year.”
Manning said he feels exceptionally good heading into camp, although you wouldn’t expect him to say anything less, given his track record of relentless optimism and a can-do spirit that has largely carried this franchise since he came here in 2004.
“Arm feels great,” he said. “I feel healthy, feel strong, and feel as good as I’ve felt going into any camp.”
He admits there are challenges to learning a new offense — only the third time in his career he’s had to adapt to a new system. But Manning believes in Shurmur’s approach and is convinced he can learn things quickly enough to be ready for a strong start to the season.
“I think [Shurmur] does a good job of not overcomplicating things, keeping things as simple as possible, but giving you an opportunity to be successful and be complex enough to attack the defense,” Manning said.
How well and how quickly Manning adjusts almost certainly will be the key to what happens this season, and whether the team’s faith in the veteran quarterback will be rewarded.
Or whether the problems Manning has had the last two seasons were more an indication of a quarterback in decline.
Pressure? There’s plenty of it.
Even if Manning himself doesn’t feel it.