Eli Manning reported to training camp with the Giants for the 16th time on Wednesday.
Sixteenth and final time?
Manning recognizes that it is a possibility. Maybe even a strong one. He’ll be 39 years old when this season is over, he’s in the last year of his contract with the Giants, and he’ll spend the rest of his career with the team trying to keep a step ahead of sixth overall draft pick Daniel Jones, who was brought in to replace him.
So yeah, the veteran quarterback who has seen it all, from euphoria to indignity, is taking some time this summer to absorb as much as he can of the experience of being a Giant. If for no other reason than that at this point next year, he might not be.
“I think the longevity of things, you have more appreciation,” he said of feeling ”blessed” (a word he has not used much in the past) to be back for 2019. “You don’t know how long you get to play this or how long you get to do it … You don’t know what the future holds. When you are younger you assume you are going to keep playing, you just assume you’ll be back playing and you don’t think about it. Now there is that mindset that you don’t know kind of the future of things. Which is fine. I think that makes you appreciate being here and want to take advantage and prepare more and be ready to take advantage of this opportunity.”
That’s not to say that Manning is in a reflective mood. Just more aware of how fragile it is and how unique his tenure with the team has been. No one, after all, has ever suited up for a 16th season with the Giants.
And when Manning does trot down memory lane, thinking about his two Super Bowls and the indelible mark he has left on the franchise — not to mention its record books — he uses it to focus more on the present than the past.
“I think about the players we have on this team, I want those guys to experience some of the successes we’ve had here with the Giants in the past,” he said. “To make playoffs, to win championships, to get on winning streaks and feel like you are playing better than anybody else in the league at that moment. Those are fun and great memories, but I’m not reflecting on those. I want these guys who haven’t had that to experience that.”
He also wants what may be one last chance at feeling it himself. For Manning, the urgency heading into this season is palpable. If he can’t succeed in guiding the Giants to wins early, if he gets off to a slow start in the offense the way many of his past few seasons have, the Giants may decide it’s time to see what the kid can do.
Manning said having Jones in camp nipping at his heels doesn’t change his approach to this summer.
“Hey, I have a job to go out there and do my best,” he said. “It hasn’t changed for 16 years and it never will . . . First and foremost I’m a competitor. I love to win and succeed and do my best and have great games, great practices. To win, to have that feeling of winning in the locker room, that’s what drives you, to create those feelings. We feel like we have a good squad, a good character of guys, a good talent of players. All the guys are hungry to make something special this season.”
None of them, however, see it from Manning’s perspective. Having been with the same franchise for so long. Having experienced such highs and lows with one organization. And facing a season that could punctuate a career that will either fade away in an ellipsis or end with an exclamation point.
“I never worried about playing a certain amount of years or this or that,” Manning said. “It’s just all about taking advantage of this year and making something special with this year, this team, this season.”
And determining whether this season if Manning’s Sweet Sixteen, or a Bittersweet Sixteen.
Bleeding Big Blue
Most seasons playing for the Giants:
16 Eli Manning
15 Mel Hein
14 Charlie Conerly
13 Roosevelt Brown