Elisha Nelson Manning has the ability to go on about his business without any visible signs of the noise that comes with being an NFL quarterback in the nation’s largest media market.
Even as his New York Giants are 1-7 and the noise related to his competence as a quarterback, as well as his future, grows louder No. 10 just keeps it moving. This is a skill that cannot be taught. No level of training can help one acquire such traits, it’s simply a part of his personality.
Lost in the noise of the Giants’ 51-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams was Manning etching his name among a select group of quarterbacks. He became only the seventh quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 50,000 yards in a career.
The other six are his brother Peyton, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Dan Marino, and John Elway. Favre, Marino, and Elway are all in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Peyton Manning, Brees, and Brady will join them.
This Sunday’s game against the winless San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium will mark another milestone for Manning. He will make his 208th consecutive regular season start, tying his brother for second on the all-time list. Only Brett Favre has more consecutive starts at the quarterback position with 297.
On Nov. 21, 2004, Manning started in his first career game: a 14-10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Since then, Manning has won 109 regular season games, eight postseason games and two Super Bowls.
He’s one of only five players to win multiple Super Bowl MVPs (Brady has four, Joe Montana has three, and Manning, Bart Starr, and Terry Bradshaw each have two). Manning has also thrown 332 touchdowns (seventh all-time behind his brother Peyton, Favre, Brees, Brady, Marino, and Fran Tarkenton) to 221 interceptions and owns every significant Giants franchise passing record.
Of course, No. 10 will downplay the significance of starting in his 208th consecutive regular season game. It’s because of the season the Giants are having and because it’s simply his nature to shrug off such milestones, even one that involves his older brother.
“I mean, I guess yes and no,” Manning said when asked if this Sunday’s start has meaning. “I’m happy to be out there each and every week with my teammates. That’s a goal of mine to stay healthy, to play through injuries, to be accountable, and so, like I said, that is important to me to be there for my team and my teammates. But it’s not about breaking a record though.”
And Manning has definitely played through some injuries. He separated his shoulder early in the 2007 season and was expected to be sidelined for a several weeks. Manning didn’t miss a game. When he broke his ankle in the 2013 regular season finale, Manning was back before the start of training camp like nothing ever happened.
Even if it’s not in Manning’s nature to toot his own horn, it doesn’t mean his iron man prowess is lost on those around him.
“Well, he’s a true pro in terms of taking care of his body,” said offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. “I don’t imagine him doing anything other than, when he gets home, spending quality time with his wife and kids. He’s not out running the streets, obviously, but you know, he does — you look at what he’s eating. It’s hard to find him putting anything but nutritious things in his body and you guys have all documented the whole how he goes through his routine as far as stretching his arms, you know, stretching his shoulders and so forth.
“His commitment is full time. It’s not just what he does in the film room and preparing himself. It’s not just what he does on the practice field. But, I think in all phases of his life he has a great balance and a perspective and certainly has served him well through this long streak.”
Backup quarterback Geno Smith knows how difficult it is to stay healthy in the NFL. He was injured last season with the New York Jets trying to avoid a sack but tore his knee when he was hit by a second defender. Smith missed the remainder of the season before signing with the Giants in the offseason.
“It’s definitely a skill,” Smith said. “You can’t practice it because you don’t get hit in practice. But 208 straight starts you’ll get good practice at it on Sundays. You just have to go with the hit. It’s like when you fight for extra yards or you’re trying to stay up, sometimes they got you. Tom Brady does it. Peyton does it and those guys play forever.”
Manning said in the summer he wants to play into his 40s. He turns 37 on Jan. 3 and has two years remaining on his contract. Head coach Ben McAdoo has said that, at some point, he wants to take a look at some of the younger players: namely rookie quarterback Davis Webb.
Webb is the Giants’ highest quarterback selection in the draft since the Giants drafted Philip Rivers and traded him to the then-San Diego Chargers for Manning in 2004. Webb, who didn’t run anything close to an NFL offense in college, has spent the season watching and learning from Manning.
The Giants are also looking at this year’s crop of college quarterbacks. The Class of 2018 is already drawing comparisons to the Classes of 1983 (which included the Hall of Fame trio of Elway, Marino, and Jim Kelly) and 2004 (which included Manning, Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger). It would be prudent to see what Webb has learned and what he can do before deciding on a course of action related to the quarterback position.
Regardless of the team’s record, Eli Manning deserves more respect than he has gotten throughout his career. If the noise bothers him, you cannot tell by looking at him. He simply goes about his business regardless of what some fans, the media, and even his head coach has said about him.
The most important ability is availability and No. 10 has been available for every Giants game for the equivalent of 13 full seasons. It’s something that deserves recognition, even though it will get drowned out by the noise of the Giants’ first 1-7 start in 37 years.