A lot of people said a lot of things last week, both inside and outside of the Giants’ locker room. There was Ben McAdoo’s “brutally honest” film session, a players-only meeting for the defense, and a raucous if nearly indecipherable address from D.J. Fluker during pregame warmups.
But ask the Giants whose words made the biggest difference in Sunday’s win over the Chiefs and they’re likely to point to the same player: Eli Manning.
Before he took the field as the Giants’ starting quarterback for the 209th consecutive regular-season game, Manning delivered a pep talk in which he urged the entire team to play hard on every snap.
Of course it worked. He’s still Eli Manning. Still the face of the franchise. Still the most respected player on the Giants.
“Eli is the heartbeat of our team,” running back Orleans Darkwa said on a Monday conference call.
Manning’s motivational talks often have garnered both surprise and results. Sunday was no different.
“In pregame he gave a fiery speech that got everybody riled up,” Darkwa said. “To have a guy like that who has been through so much, who has those two Super Bowl rings, we follow his footsteps in everything. To have him come up there, it shows the weight that he carries on this team. He’s definitely up for it, and everybody tries to follow in his footsteps because he’s been there, he’s done that, as far as reaching the Promised Land.”
The fact that he was doing that — winning two Super Bowls and being named the game’s MVP each time — when most of the current Giants were in high school or college only magnifies his clout in the locker room. Roger Lewis Jr., who made the key catch in the 12-9 overtime victory, has spoken about wearing an Eli Manning jersey in middle school during the Giants’ 2007 title run.
It’s a power Manning always has seemed reticent to use, though. There have been plenty of times throughout the years when he could have changed the course of the team with a few stern words. While coaches and front office members try to get through to Odell Beckham Jr., Manning likely would be able to handle the situation much more effectively. Who in the locker room could have confronted Janoris Jenkins about blowing off practice a few weeks ago? Manning is on the short list.
Want to put an end to anonymous quotes disparaging the coach? Put Manning on the case.
Instead, he typically takes a more subdued approach to such matters of leadership. That’s effective when the Giants are in the middle of a game-winning drive and the keel needs to be even. It’s probably needed more during tumultuous times off the field.
“He talks to us a lot,” Darkwa said. “The difference yesterday was just you could sense the fire in his voice. But at the end of the day, Eli is going to be Eli. He shouldn’t change the way he commands a room, he shouldn’t change the way he talks to us. That’s just how he is. That’s how he leads us.”
He’s not Ben Roethlisberger, who calls out teammates and coaches. He’s not his brother Peyton, who would get in the faces of teammates who were not getting their assignments just right. He’s not Drew Brees or Russell Wilson, who give weekly rah-rah sermons.
He’s just Eli Manning. And, as Sunday showed, he’s still Eli Manning. The team went crazy when McAdoo asked Manning to break them down after the win. They responded to him, just as they always do.
“If the Super Bowl rings don’t hold any weight, then I don’t know what else should,” Darkwa said. “You have to be able to follow a guy like that and listen to what he says.”
The only issue is that he probably should say more.