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Tom Rock: The story behind the Daniel Jones-Eli Manning photo

Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones is surrounded by

Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones is surrounded by media as two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli Manning, right, is seated and getting dressed after a preseason game against the Bengals in Cincinnati on Aug. 22, 2019. Credit: Newsday/Tom Rock

I usually refrain from taking pictures or videos in locker rooms. It can be dangerous.

But as I was interviewing Saquon Barkley in the visiting locker room at Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday night after the Giants’ win over the Bengals and casually glanced around to see who else was available, I knew I had to reach for my iPhone and take the picture.

There, holding court with reporters, was the young rookie quarterback of the Giants’ future, surrounded by reporters and camera operators and microphones and all the fawning that goes with being a successful up-and-coming player . . . even if it is just the preseason.

And there, off to the side, sat a veteran who had been in the middle of so many of those scrums but now had to shift out of the way and watch the media embrace what essentially is a younger version of himself.

So while Barkley spoke and I held my digital voice recorder in my left hand, I turned slightly, made sure everyone on that side of the room was fully clothed, and snapped the photo with my right hand.

Never say sportswriters aren’t multi-taskers.

It wound up producing the photograph of Daniel Jones and Eli Manning that you probably have been seeing online and on TV throughout the day. I’ve seen it compared to Mr. Rogers, to Woody and Buzz from the original “Toy Story,” to Roxie Hart after she is acquitted — only to have another femme fatale shoot someone on the courthouse steps and steal her spotlight in “Chicago.”

It even had a few Crying Jordan faces added on to it, the ultimate sign that something has infiltrated our culture (if only for a few hours).

I actually thought long and hard about posting the photo on Twitter, mostly because it was an incomplete thought. It was the photographic equivalent of a sentence fragment. Within about two minutes of that photo being taken, Manning was standing up in front of his locker and was surrounded by just as many reporters and cameras asking him questions (although many were about Jones, but that’s beside the point).

That’s the way things work in postgame locker rooms. One guy is fully dressed and ready to talk, so he talks. Then the next guy. We move through the room like an assembly line, only instead of putting together cars or washing machines, we’re building stories.

I even tried to explain that Manning was not being ghosted so much as respected by the lack of attention he was receiving at that moment, and as soon as I posted the photograph, I followed it up with a second tweet that said as much.

Obviously, that got much less attention than the first. I even tried to lighten the impact of it by writing a corny caption about the “star quarterback” and by referring to the two-time Super Bowl MVP as “another nearby player.” That didn’t seem to work either. I guess maybe I knew neither of those efforts would.

So why did I decide to post it? Because it felt like an important metaphorical image that illustrated the state of the Giants at that particular moment. It shows a changing of the guard, even if it was for a sliver of time. At that split-second, that was the truth of the locker room, of the organization, of the fan base, and of the reporters who cover the team. Daniel Jones was the center of attention and Eli Manning was on the outside looking in. He was just a guy trying to put his shoes on in peace.

I doubt it will go down in history like the iconic photo of Y.A. Tittle with blood dripping down his head, but it sort of felt like a modern-day version of that image. It’s a portrait of a proud warrior in his final fights.

That’s not to say Manning is finished. He will be the starter for the Giants on Sept. 8, and for all I know, he has several if not many years of football ahead of him. But the picture captures the circle of life in the NFL. The entrance and the exit. Sunrise, sunset.

That’s why so many people connected with it, I think. Because we’ve all been in that spotlight that Jones was enjoying. We’ve all been on the outskirts of it as well, as Manning was. And if you haven’t been in one or the other at some point in your life, well, just wait. You will be.

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