No one associated with Sunday’s game will ever forget it.
The standing ovation when he came on the field, the chants throughout the contest, the quarterback being taken out of the game in the middle of a possession and then the man of the hour himself tearing up on the sideline as appreciation and respect rained down on him.
Eli Manning etched yet another indelible moment into New York Giants lore and New York sports history. The images from Sunday’s relatively meaningless win over the Dolphins now stand among the many others in his career, even if this was more an afterword in the Book of Eli than the chapters that cover the championship games and Super Bowl wins.
It was a reminder of just how special the relationship has been between Manning, the Giants and the people who have been rooting for both of them for the better part of the past 16 years.
And in the background of it all, wearing a blue and gray parka on the sideline, was a 22-year-old inactive quarterback who got the first real sense of the enormity of the role he is being asked to fill.
Daniel Jones knew when he was drafted by the Giants in April that Manning won two titles for the team. He knew that Manning’s accomplishments (if not his more recent play) were deeply valued by the organization and the fans. But all of those achievements by his predecessor took place when Jones was growing up in North Carolina. They were history lessons, not current events.
When Jones was named the starting quarterback in Week 3, he was replacing a 38-year-old on his last legs who just about everyone agreed was a shell of the dynamic player he once had been.
When Jones returns to the field next — most likely this Sunday in Washington — he’ll understand that he is replacing something else.
A beloved icon.
Jones didn’t stop to answer any questions on his way out of the locker room on Sunday. Most of that probably was due to the unwritten Quarterback Code of not inserting yourself in someone else’s glory. Just as Manning established radio silence with the media during Jones’ time as the starter, Jones undoubtedly was respectful of not intruding on Manning’s big day.
But it’s reasonable to assume that Jones, at some point on Sunday while watching the festivities and the feting, reflected on the significance of it all. Whether he’ll get a similar send-off someday. Whether he’ll earn it.
Jones has not shied away from the idea of being Manning’s successor. Early in his time with the team, he spoke aggressively about wanting to win multiple Super Bowls and match the bar that had been set by Manning. And maybe he will. Maybe he will exceed them.
On Sunday, though, it became clear that Giants quarterbacks are not judged only by wins and losses, by the number of silver trophies they put in the case. Those things are important, but there also is an essence that has to be maintained and lived up to.
For 16 years, Manning has embodied that role … and probably done it better than he actually played quarterback most of the time. That’s why Manning was embraced so warmly and overwhelmingly on Sunday. Not because of the games he won but because of the way he won them.
“Listen, Eli earned all of the really good things that happened to him [Sunday] over many, many years,” coach Pat Shurmur said on Monday. “I think we can all learn from that. There is a lot to be enjoyed and I guess savored in some of the praise that Eli received. I think it was all for the right reasons.
“I hope Daniel takes something away from that.”
In a year in which the team hoped Manning would be able to teach Jones all the ins and outs of being the quarterback of the New York Giants — some with actual explanations but mostly by example — Sunday may have been the last lesson imparted by the professor. It certainly was a memorable one.
And if Jones was paying attention, it could wind up being the most important one.