There’s an old football axiom that the backup quarterback is the most popular player on the team. That was never so true as last week when Eli Manning took over that role with the Giants and the sports world began smothering him with praise and flinging indignation on his behalf. Everyone from fans to media to former teammates to opposing players around the NFL seemed to have nice things to say about Manning — and bad things to say about the Giants — after he was removed from his starting job last Tuesday, and for the quarterback it was an eye-opening experience.
“It was overwhelming,” Manning said on WFAN on Monday night. “I guess you don’t know how fans or people are going to react to that news. As a player you sometimes listen to the bad noise. Across 14 seasons there are going to be complaints and people attack you. There are a lot of praise and a lot of great fans. The amount of support that people came out with, I read some of it, I didn’t read all of it. My wife, she was into it more than me, and I would read a couple of things that she thought I needed to see. But it was overwhelming.”
It was a little like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn getting to listen to their own eulogies. Manning said he was glad to learn the kind of impression he has made on people.
“It made me feel special just for the impact that you’ve made over 14 years,” he said. “Winning championships and good years and bad years, but it is a great reminder to be a professional about things and to be a good person. My dad always stressed that: ‘Hey, be nice to people, be a good person.’ That’s what I’ve tried to do and doing that, being nice, working hard, being a good teammate, it paid off and people have noticed. I really do appreciate the support that everybody has given me this past week and has given me these past 14 years. It does mean a lot to me.”
Manning will undoubtedly be the center of the narrative again this week. There has been no official announcement whether he will start on Sunday against the Cowboys at MetLife Stadium, but he has already spoken to interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo about it.
“I hope I’m the starting quarterback,” he said. “I went in today. I did speak with Coach Spagnuolo for a little bit. It had only been 30 minutes since I had been told he was the head coach. I told him I wanted to be the starting quarterback. I want to be out there and help us go win these four games. I hope I’m out there on Sunday playing against the Cowboys.”
If he is, the public appreciation for Manning at MetLife Stadium should be even more deafening.