The Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning partnership now is more than a decade old, an eternity in today's what-have-you-done-for-me-lately NFL and especially impressive in the crucible of the New York market. It is the second- longest-running coach-quarterback duo, trailing only the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady relationship in New England.
And Coughlin-Manning shouldn't end here.
The two men will conclude their 11th season of shoulder-to-shoulder work, and although there will be no chance to add a third Super Bowl title to their dossier, they have earned the right to continue working into next year and beyond.
The Giants have not yet publicly indicated whether Coughlin will be back next season or whether Manning will earn a contract extension beyond the final year of his deal in 2015. And even though the Giants were eliminated from playoff contention thanks to a seven-game losing streak during the meat of their schedule, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the two men should continue their partnership.
In a sport that usually is decided by which teams have the best coaches and quarterbacks, you don't make changes unless there is proof that either man deserves to go. In the Giants' case, neither fits that category -- although the same can't be said for defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
"We've been at this a long time, and I do enjoy the opportunity to work with a young man of [Manning's] quality," Coughlin said. "He's been the same type of individual through anything that's been thrown at him. The idea that we can start with that basis, the fact that he is the quarterback and he's been able to play as many years, is a heck of a starting point. You can throw anything you want at him."
Coughlin flashed back to the final game of Manning's rookie season in 2004, a turning point of sorts in his development. Manning rallied the Giants from a 16-7 fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Cowboys, 28-24, at Texas Stadium. He threw two touchdown passes, and on the winning score, he correctly read the Cowboys' defense and switched from a pass to a run up the middle by Tiki Barber.
"You remember when he checked to the run and we scored to win that game," Coughlin said. "It's the idea that there's a tremendous amount of faith and trust that we have in him."
That faith and trust continues today.
"The way he's accepted the challenge of the new offense and has responded is a great plus," Coughlin said. "There's no question it's a wonderful starting point."
That starting point comes at the end of a disappointing season, which will conclude Sunday when the Giants host the Eagles in what has turned out to be a meaningless game for both teams.
It is the third straight year -- and fifth in the last six -- that the Giants haven't made the playoffs. But there was enough to see down the stretch from this team to conclude that there is reason for genuine optimism about how good this team can be in the future.
Meaningless games from a mathematical standpoint, yes. But there were answers, too. The Giants remained unified -- a credit to Coughlin's insistence that they not break apart from within. And there was genuine improvement from a team that went through a major roster transition.
Start with Manning, who overcame a sluggish initial transition to the West Coast offense and put together one of the most efficient seasons of his career. In eight of the games, he had a rating over 100.0, matching his career high.
He has taken to first-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system, and at age 33, he still is in his prime. He wants to stay with the Giants the rest of his career, and they should make that happen with a contract extension in the offseason.
But there is more to like beyond Manning. The fact that 20 of the 53 men on the roster are first- or second-year players bodes well for the future. While the mistakes of those young players -- particularly against the upper-echelon teams during the losing streak -- cannot be ignored, their progress later in the season shouldn't be overlooked, either.
The Giants found a star receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. There are promising young defensive players in Devon Kennard and Kerry Wynn and good young running backs in Andre Williams and Orleans Darkwa. And young tight ends Daniel Fells and Larry Donnell will get better with time.
While Coughlin showed his mettle during trying times -- something that has been a hallmark of his career, even if those difficult times came about as a result of poor play -- he also may have discovered the coach who one day will take over for him and provide a smooth transition.
McAdoo not only has done a good job with the offense, but his leadership skills make him a fine head-coaching candidate down the road. That time is not now; one year on the job is not a big enough sample. But there is plenty to like about him, and not just his tactical approach to the game.
So as the Giants close out a season that will keep them out of the playoffs yet again, they do so with legitimate hope for the future.
It starts with the coach and his quarterback.