The Giants spent most of Monday morning cleaning up the mess from 2017. That included stuffing gear into boxes and bags to be hauled back home, emptying lockers, exchanging phone numbers and autographs on keepsakes, and, for more than a few of them, taking one last look around as a member of the team.
It’s because the 2018 season officially began at noon.
That’s when the team had its final meeting of the season, and when new general manager Dave Gettleman addressed the players for the first time since he was hired late last week. His message?
“One of the things he talked about is welcoming the change,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “Welcome the change. Don’t run from it. You never know, you can have a lot of fun with it.”
That’s easy for Shepard to take to heart. He’ll be back. For others, the ones who will have change forced upon them, it’s probably a little more difficult to accept.
Not even Eli Manning knows where he falls on that spectrum that runs from definitely returning to “see ya,” and that speaks to just how much things are and will be different.
“I guess there’s more uncertainty this year than after others,” Manning said. He spoke about how every year he hasn’t won a Super Bowl, it’s been “a disappointing day” to sift through the season, handle the exit interviews and physicals, and say goodbye to some teammates.
Manning has been through clean-up day 13 other times in his career. Monday’s 14th time was different because it’s the first in which he can’t say with a degree of certainty that he’ll be back.
“You could probably say that,” Manning said. And while his status is sorted out in the next few weeks and months, plenty will.
As for the rest of the players, they were left to reflect on one of the most arduous years of their football lives. No one was actually wearing one, but it would have been easy to imagine all of them walking around with “I survived the 2017 Giants season” T-shirts.
“It was very tough, but . . . we got through it,” cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “I just looked at the locker room with the guys we had, I thought we would do much, much better. But at the end of the day, it’s football, and you can never truly know what’s going to happen in a season. You just got to live through it, and we got through it.”
Added running back Shane Vereen: “This team had to deal with a lot of stuff that nobody really knew how to deal with, had never gone through, but I think we did it the best we could.”
That included the losing. The fighting. The suspensions. The firing of the head coach and general manager.
And now the cleanup.
For those who will be back, the challenge is clear.
“The only way we can go is up from here,” rookie tight end Evan Engram said. “There are going to be changes. We have to embrace it. Change is inevitable.”
“This team needs to get back to winning,” Shepard said. “I think every guy understands that and is ready to get back to work already.”
And the ones who might not return?
“I think over these next few weeks, you kind of reflect a little bit more on the whole season and try to figure out how you can prevent it from happening again,” Manning said. “It’s never fun losing a head coach in the middle of the season, it’s never fun losing games and being out of the playoffs as early as we were. So it was tough in a lot of areas. But I think just hopefully going through those tough times, you can be stronger because of it.”