POMONA, N.Y. - The idea that Eli Manning was in decline was laughable to former Giants center Shaun O'Hara. From what he's seen, his former quarterback hasn't lost anything, even at age 37.
It's just that the team around him the last few years was bad.
"To be honest with you, they've wasted the last few years of Eli's career," O'Hara said on Saturday night at the Landon Collins Celebrity Softball game at Palisades Credit Union Park. "They've wasted his prime. And it's been hard to sit and watch that happen."
That's a sentiment that has been echoed over the last few years by many former Giants, especially those that played with Manning on the Super Bowl XLII and XLVI teams. Many of them spoke out loudly last season when Manning was benched midseason by former Giants coach Ben McAdoo in favor of Geno Smith.
O'Hara has long been one of Manning's most vocal supporters, as well as one of his closest friends. So perhaps it's no surprise that he concurs with new Giants coach Pat Shurmur that Manning has "years" left at an elite level -- especially now that the franchise has focused on rebuilding the offensive line by signing players like left tackle Nate Solder.
"I'm glad to see that they've found a way to correct it," O'Hara said. "But Eli can still play the game. People forget Peyton set an NFL record, threw 55 touchdowns in one season at 37 years old and after neck surgery. So I laugh at people who say Eli can't play, because I know he can play. I know he can throw the rock. And I know that he's still got that fire. He still has that passion to play.
"Look, I can think of about 25 throws from last year when Eli made unbelievable throws with guys at his feet, hitting him in the knees, getting hit as he throws," O'Hara added. "The Giants led the league in drops last year. Eli wears that record because he's a quarterback and that's what happens, but he can play. And I'm looking forward to him having a great year. I know he will. I don't know what that looks like in wins and losses, but I know the Giants are going to be a totally different team."
Former Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck agreed that a better offensive line will make all the difference in the world for a quarterback that's been beaten up far too much over the last few years.
"At the end of the day he's got guys like me coming after him every play," Tuck added. "And if you don't have people up in front of you that you can trust? You stand back there. That's why I'm excited. I'm glad to see we made (the offensive line) a priority in the offseason and I'm hoping it pays dividends. I believe Eli has a lot left in the tank."