by Scott Mandel
For those of you old enough to recall a former NFL great named Y.A. Tittle, you may remember the iconic photograph (shown above) of a bloodied and beaten Tittle at the end of his career as the quarterback of the New York Giants.
Then, there was the story of Joe Namath, the Super Bowl III championship quarterback of the New York Jets and cultural icon of the hippie-dippy 60s, whose quick release from the pocket, zipping the football 40 yards downfield on a straight line coupled with his football moxie and predictive powers (“We will beat the Colts in the Super Bowl”) changed the sport, forever.
You also probably remember Namath’s bad knees, particularly later in his career, that made him a veritable statue in the pocket who couldn’t avoid the rush of oncoming defensive linemen.
Namath, at age 34, was a washed up quarterback who gave it one last try with the Los Angeles Rams in 1977. It was a miserable and sad happenstance to observe. He had never been mobile enough to avoid being sacked with some regularity when his Jets’ offensive line broke down but, in 1977, the Rams were terrible and their offensive line, much worse than terrible.
Like watching Willie Mays playing centerfield for the New York Mets at age 42, Namath and his arthritically-wracked knees was an easy target for pass rushers. He would get sacked before he even got set in the pocket to throw a pass. Watching Mays and Namath, and Tittle in the twilight’s of their careers were among one young man’s saddest boyhood memories.
We are hoping Eli Manning, at age 37, can put on a better show than Namath did 42 years ago when he starts for the Giants this Monday against the Philadelphia Eagles in front of a huge national television audience that will be tuning in to see the two-time Super Bowl champion’s potentially final performance in the NFL.
How ironic is it that Manning, in his 16-year NFL career, started 210 consecutive regular-season games from Nov. 21, 2004 to Nov. 23, 2017, the second-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history, until temporary Giants head coach, Ben McAdoo, replaced him for one start with the great Geno Smith. Yet, here we are, in season one of newly-crowned Giants quarterback, Daniel Jones getting injured with a high ankle sprain that may keep him sidelined for the remainder of his rookie campaign.
So Manning, holding a clipboard for the past 11 weeks, is back. No doubt, rusty and no doubt fearful this game could get very ugly for him and the Giants.
The questions most fans are asking today are: Does Eli have anything left in the tank? Is he playing for a contract with the Giants or anther team for next season? Will he get sacked a dozen times as the Eagles rush punctures the porous Giants offensive line?
NFL fans, and Giants fans, in particular will be tuning in on Monday night to get their answers. The little guy, who saw Namath and Mays at the end of their careers, shedding a tear or two, hopes history does not repeat itself in the same way. But, there will be a box of tissues nearby, just in case.