Earlier this offseason, when the Giants held a Town Hall for season-ticket holders, a selection of players and coaches were introduced to the crowd. Most were met with applause and a few cheers. One of them received a standing ovation.
The quarterback had just endured the worst season of his career in nearly every regard imaginable, from the team’s 3-13 record to a benching that ended his streak of 210 starts. It was a year that literally drove Manning to tears, put him on the brink of his tenure with the Giants, and left many fans scratching their heads, wondering if the team’s next championship is even within sight of the ashes that remained from that most forgettable campaign.
Yet the welcome for Manning at the Manhattan theater was as warm and enthusiastic as if he’d led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory the week before.
Manning soaked it in graciously, but he knew the cheers were not entirely sparked by what he did during his previous 14 seasons in the NFL (two Super Bowl wins), and they certainly were not a reflection on the most recent one. Rather, those fans seemed to be ushering in something new.
“I think there’s some excitement for this year, which is good,” Manning said, making a comment rarely uttered by a quarterback coming off a 3-13 season, just a few days after the event.
“Hopefully, guys remember that two years ago we won 11 games. Last year obviously we went through a tough streak, but that’s football. It can change very quickly from year to year, from good to bad or from bad to good. I think it’s good to see that the fans are excited, and I’m excited to be back and give them something to keep cheering for.”
The quest for sustaining that optimism begins in earnest on Wednesday, when Giants veterans report to training camp (the rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans reported Sunday). They have a new coach in Pat Shurmur, a dazzling new running back in Saquon Barkley, and new schemes on offense and defense. They have a rebuilt offensive line and a roster of returning players who seem to have mostly recovered from the injuries that led to last year’s demise. All of which have been brought together in an effort to recapture old glories.
Make no mistake: The enthusiasm for 2018 exists inside the team’s walls just as surely as it does beyond them.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of excitement right now because it’s new,” defensive tackle Damon Harrison said. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but I like what I see from everybody so far.”
If that sounds like what the Giants were saying last year, when there was talk about being a championship contender before that conversation fizzled by October, well, know that the new message comes with a hard lesson learned.
“I honestly don’t think we were what our record was last year, and I know it’s tough to understand that,” Harrison said. “Going 3-13, you would expect guys to come back and be down on themselves. That was just a humbling season for everybody. So, if anybody was on their high horse, they have no choice but to get down now and get back to the drawing board and work all over again, which is a good thing to see.”
Even the new players — ones who were part of playoff teams last year — are buying into that philosophy.
“Everybody is hungry to win,” said linebacker Alec Ogletree, who was acquired from the Rams in an offseason trade after seeing that team go from pitiful to the postseason in one year. “Last year was last year. You can’t change what happened last year. Everybody is excited about this year, but you don’t just show up. You’ve got to go out there and play and put it on film and do the work to win games and make it to the playoffs.”
And, if they can, keep the fans clapping.