The Giants have had several former players stop by and address the team after training camp practices a few times already this summer. The men who have won rings for Big Blue receive their due respect from the current roster and the sweaty post-workout players gladly take a knee and listen to the lessons imparted on them.
Tuesday was different, though.
Tuesday was when Eli Manning showed up.
He’s certainly been connected to the organization since his playing days ended but this was the first time he was actually mingling with the team because of the COVID restrictions put in place just a few weeks following his retirement ceremony in January 2020. For a good chunk of the roster this was their first opportunity to interact with him.
“I can’t lie, that was cool,” said linebacker Tae Crowder, who was one of those first-timers. “Growing up watching Eli and seeing all the great things he did and to have him come back and talk to the team, that means a lot.”
Even the players who did get to be teammates with Manning recognized the guest speaker quotient was getting cranked up about as high as it could go when Manning stood on the sideline watching the practice and then strode across the field to deliver his oration.
“I always called him the GOAT,” defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence said. “It was good to see his face.”
The fans, too, were overjoyed to have Manning in their midst. There were cheers for him and shouts of his name throughout the day and wherever he went he was treated as a legendary icon of the franchise.
That wasn’t always the case, of course. Manning may be King of East Rutherford these days but it wasn’t long ago he too was under the kind of daily scrutiny and temperature readings and training camp completion tracking that quarterbacks often face. That Daniel Jones is facing now.
So perhaps it was significant that after Manning addressed the team with his message — something along the lines of “if you are not getting better each day you are getting worse,” according to those who absorbed it — he spent some one-on-one time with Jones walking the length of the field.
Just the two of them. Talking about . . .
Well, only they know for sure. Which is appropriate because they are two of the only people who know what it is like to quarterback the Giants in this age of continuous microscopic attention and evaluation from the outside world.
If there is anyone who can offer Jones advice on getting through this season in which every snap will be parsed and every game dissected, through this training camp in which that level of inspection and criticism that has already flared up around him as his summer has gotten off to an uneven start, it may be the guy he replaced as the starter a little less than three years ago.
The guy who was often roasted during the second half of his career but is now revered.
“You try to help players focus on what they can control, which is their ability to prepare, their ability to be a good teammate, their ability to go out there and execute and focus on that rather than anything else,” coach Brian Daboll said regarding outside evaluations of Jones, which have generally been pretty sour. “But you understand people are human. They’re not much older than my older kids. You learn to deal with different people differently, and you have some empathy for guys when they’re going through a tough stretch. I’m not saying [Jones] is going through a tough stretch, I’m just saying in general.
“The biggest thing,” Daboll added, “is take the coaching, listen to the people in the room that are coaching them, and work to get better.”
It’s one thing to hear advice from a coach. It’s another to possibly hear it from someone whose No. 10 is hanging among the retired numbers in the stadium, whose image is painted and printed all around the training facility, and who once sat next to you as a teammate and mentor.
Now that COVID restrictions are over for the NFL, Manning told the current players he intends to be around a lot more often and offered himself as a resource if anyone has questions or wants to talk. That’s good for the team. It could be great for Jones.
When the Giants drafted Jones in 2019 they wanted him to spend that rookie training camp watching and learning from Manning. They wanted Manning to impart as much wisdom to Jones as he could.
Four summers later that mentoring relationship is still important to Jones’ development . . . perhaps even more now than it was when they were teammates.