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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Eli Manning’s benching, though handled poorly, doesn’t change the bigger picture for Giants

Manning was in decline and on his way out, and was nice enough to leave a lovely parting gift in the form of a draft pick high enough to use on his replacement.

Eli Manning of the New York Giants against the

Eli Manning of the New York Giants against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Nov. 12, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw

The sun rose on Wednesday, making it official that there is life after Eli Manning. So let’s all take a deep breath here.

No one died. No one was even hurt, if you don’t count feelings.

And no one thought Manning would be the Giants quarterback when the people hired to replace Jerry Reese and Ben McAdoo get this mess fixed.

Was the transition to the post-Eli era handled well? Um, no. McAdoo has proven incapable of handling anything well publicly, one reason he should be through around here come early January.

(Mini-rant: Next time I write how important media relations are for New York coaches and a reader tells me that only journalists care about that, I will point to a picture of Coach McHandley.)

But for all of the justified – and hugely entertaining – venting on Tuesday, by everyone from Bob Glauber to Mike Francesa to Tom Coughlin to former Giants to fans, nothing changed in the bigger picture.

Manning, who will turn 37 on Jan. 3, was in decline and on his way out, and was nice enough to leave a lovely parting gift in the form of a draft pick high enough to use on his replacement.

Tuesday was nothing more than a historical blip, as will be the final five games of this lost season, especially if Geno Smith starts them ahead of Davis Webb.

Manning’s place in history, and fans’ memories of him, are secure.

Movie-script endings are rare in sports, as in life. What always matters is the journey, and now that we have had a few hours to digest this news, let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture.

Smith, who on Sunday will become the answer to a future trivia question, summed it up well Tuesday, simultaneously praising Eli while keeping it real:

“This guy has done a tremendous job in this league, done a bunch of things for this organization,” Smith said. “None of that can ever be taken away or forgotten.

“This is a business, man. It’s tough and my number is up, so it’s my time to go out there and do what I’m supposed to do and make sure that I get the job done.”

Five years from now, or five months from now, maybe even five days from now, all that will matter is what Eli did in 14 seasons that place him second to Derek Jeter in the pantheon of recent New York sports stars.

Like Jeter, Manning always knew the right thing to say and do in public, never allowed the spotlight to intimidate him and along the way did more than his share of winning.

Count me as a skeptic in 2004 when the Giants canned a seemingly more than competent quarterback in Kerry Collins for the promise of young Manning, who promptly lost his first six starts upon taking over for Kurt Warner in late November.

But it was evident early that there might be something special there, on and off the field.

I was assigned that year to write a series on the “Education of Eli” as he learned the NFL ropes, and it did not take long to see that Manning required only minimal education, as he arrived fully prepared. (It also did not take long to figure out that colorful quotes were not his thing.)

Part of that was a credit to his upbringing, both in terms of values and NFL pedigree. But it also was a credit to his own personality, which never wavered.

That continued into early Wednesday, when former teammate David Diehl reported in a tweet that he grabbed a coffee in the Giants’ cafeteria and found only two players there.

Posted Diehl: “It was Eli Manning sitting next to Davis Webb mentoring him #Respect #Character #Selfless”

That – and a couple of Lombardi Trophies – will endure long after Tuesday’s debacle becomes a footnote.

New York Sports