During his time as an Eagles assistant coach under Andy Reid, Pat Shurmur came across a quote from Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, who was all too familiar with the fickle nature of Philadelphia fans and media. Even in good times, Schmidt was amazed at how critical they could be.
“Philadelphia is the only city,” he once said, “where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day.”
Shurmur referenced that quote the other day when a reporter asked how he balances the euphoria of the Giants’ recent 4-1 run against the backdrop of their 1-7 start.
“I don’t Google my name,” he said. “Although you guys do a great job doing what you do, I don’t listen to it, good or bad. Mike Schmidt, you remember what I said? ‘The thrill of victory, the agony of reading about it.’ You just stay away from that and you just stay the course. Get your energy high, play with some enthusiasm and let it show on Sunday.”
It’s a good reminder for Shurmur that emotions can quickly change, and that even in good times, the critics will find their voice and find negatives in the team’s accomplishments. He has done yeoman work in maintaining an even keel, although an understandable defensiveness has emerged when he has been pressed about the team’s struggles, particularly after losses. Overall, his equilibrium has remained steady and is one of the reasons the team has managed to salvage something out of the season.
At the very least, these Giants have shown an important sense of resolve and resiliency at a time when the season might have been flushed by the halfway mark. Credit Shurmur for making the necessary changes, particularly on offense, where he has placed a newfound emphasis on the running game and thereby helped Eli Manning in the passing game. But also credit him with sticking to his core principles of maintaining locker-room harmony and a refusal to give up, even when all reasonable hope had seemingly vanished.
After winning all but one of their games in the second half of the season – and they would have won them all if not for some unfortunate decision-making by Shurmur and a brutal interception thrown by Manning in Philadelphia – the Giants remain alive in the NFC wild-card race. The margin for error is razor-thin, and the odds are overwhelmingly against them. But they go into Sunday’s game against the Titans mathematically alive, and there is something to be said for that.
Odell Beckham Jr., who won’t be playing on Sunday because of a quadriceps injury but whose unwavering optimism has helped keep his team motivated, believes the Giants will benefit from some divine intervention.
“I still see us going 8-8, and I just feel like He’s got a plan and it’s all going to fall together,” he said. “Whoever needs to lose and this and that and all the pieces that need to fall in place, I feel like they’re going to fall in place and we’re going to be in the spot we want to be in. Just take it one day at a time. I know we got a tough matchup coming up against Tennessee and we’ll see how it goes from there.”
And now for the word of caution -- the Mike Schmidt moment, if you will.
While it’s all well and good for the players and coaches to dream of one of the most improbable runs to the playoffs imaginable, it shouldn’t obscure the fact that the Giants still are a long way from becoming a team capable of contending for what really matters most: a Super Bowl championship.
Shurmur and general manager Dave Gettleman have reassembled a roster they purposely tore apart after last year’s 3-13 nightmare, and the recent run has highlighted some positive developments in their team-building journey. But let’s not overestimate what’s happening lately.
The Giants haven’t exactly beaten a murderers’ row of opponents during their current run. They beat a 49ers team with third-string quarterback Nick Mullens, beat a bad Bucs team with Ryan Fitzpatrick, beat a Bears team starting Chase Daniel at quarterback and dominated a Redskins team down to Mark Sanchez after losing Alex Smith and then Colt McCoy to leg injuries. And they lost to an Eagles team that was ripe for a home upset, squandering a 19-3 first-half lead.
Give credit where it’s due: They’ve done enough to win, and they’ve looked terrific in many spots. But to extrapolate the recent success into full-blown optimism heading into 2019 may be a fool’s errand. The Giants still don’t know whether Manning will be – or even should be – their quarterback next year. My sense is they haven’t made a final determination about whether to press forward with him or look to the draft or free agency or trade for his successor.
So there is a very real possibility they’re in quarterback purgatory, with Manning too old to be considered anything more than a stopgap solution for next year. And if that’s the case and the Giants need to move on and find someone else, then what’s happening now – even if they somehow make the playoffs – is simply a temporary respite.
It doesn’t mean there can’t be a viable solution moving forward – and Manning himself is doing everything possible to prove he indeed can be the answer in 2019. But the NFL is a league in which things change quickly, and not always for the better. While there is hope for a worst-to-first transformation like this year’s Bears, there also is an equally strong scenario of false hope leading to disappointment. The descent of a Falcons team that reached the Super Bowl two years ago is the latest evidence.
The current spate of wins could amount to nothing if the Giants can’t solve their quarterback situation next season and beyond. And even if Manning proves he’s worth bringing back, there are no guarantees that his recent success will carry over.
So enjoy the ride while there’s still time. And hope.
Mike Schmidt surely would agree.