It could not happen organically because, well, no one wanted it.
Not Pat Shurmur. Not ownership. And, first and foremost, not Eli Manning.
“Never came up,’’ Manning said Wednesday, a silenced voice suddenly awakened and audible, a sure sign something — a really big thing — is amiss in Giants World.
No, it never came up. No discussion whatsoever about giving the 38-year-old a courtesy final start down the stretch of this dreary season, a farewell at MetLife Stadium to send him off the right way.
The right way is not seeing Eli Manning in a baseball cap, on the sideline, looking grim and in need of a shave, a bystander as the final embers of his career flicker, turn to smoke and then dissipate forever. The wrong way was any cockamamie, prearranged Eli Manning Day, filled with some token playing time, one last start and a video tribute as a reminder of past glory.
For it to happen, it had to be like this.
Bad for Daniel Jones, who has a right high ankle sprain described as “moderate” by Shurmur, significant enough to make the chances of him playing Monday night in Philadelphia slim to none. Good for Eli Manning, who gets to dust himself off and make his 233rd start for the Giants and first since he was benched after two games, both losses, in his 16th season with the only NFL team he has ever played for and, almost definitely, the only NFL team he ever will play for.
Jones will get over this. He is a tough guy and said he played through a high ankle sprain last year at Duke — however implausible that sounds. Taking a game or two off might be beneficial, considering the rookie has lost eight consecutive games and last week threw the ball up for grabs three times against the Packers.
Manning needs this. A competitor cannot accept fading away without breaking a sweat.
For the past 11 weeks, Manning learned what life is like for a backup quarterback, running the scout team like some undrafted wannabe — “Sometimes you’re running other people’s plays — but you’re still throwing it,” he said.
Manning is the consummate pro, everyone said, but it was not easy accepting the new normal.
“It is difficult, especially when you’re been the starter for so long and you’re not really accustomed to preparing, preparing and not putting it to use, in that sense,” Manning said.
“You’re always eager to play. That’s why you play. When you’re not doing that you miss it.”
It might be cruel, sending a rusty Manning out to face the desperate Eagles in prime time, a be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario a distinct possibility. Still, seeing Jones last only 11 games and 10 NFL starts before going down to injury should reinforce the most underrated Manning trait: invulnerability.
“That’s part of what makes Eli who he is,” Shurmur said. “Being available is huge. … That’s important that the franchise can trust that you’re going to be out there.’’
Manning was at 210 consecutive starts, with no sign of physical decay, when his streak ended, in 2017, not by injury but with a demotion.
“Staying healthy in the NFL is harder than you think,’’ said someone close to Manning, sensing the irony of the young Jones getting hurt opening the door for a Manning redux.
There was not a crackle of excitement or sentiment reverberating around the locker room, in part based on Jones being hurt, in part because, well, there is not much confidence within a team that is 2-10 and, the past few years, did plenty of losing with Manning running the show.
Sterling Shepard, the only player on offense familiar with winning with Manning, said, “To be honest, no, I didn’t,’’ when asked if he ever thought he would catch another pass from Eli.
“Here we are,” Shepard said. “Pretty cool.”
Tight end Evan Engram, always a Manning loyalist, seemed relieved, and delighted, Manning gets another shot.
“Honestly, yeah,” said Engram, hoping to come back from a sprained foot. “Eli has given everything he has to this franchise and he has been nothing but a pro with everything that happened with Daniel this year. I think it’s God working for him, for him staying the course and being a good teammate. We don’t like to see DJ get hurt, but it’s going to be a special time for [Manning] and I’d love to be a part of it.”
Manning gets to be a part of it, perhaps for the last time. He said he feels “fresh and ready to go’’ and stated his goal:
“Try to get a win for the Giants if I’m asked to do that.”
The Giants are asking Eli, again.