EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Giants blew the benching of Eli Manning, and they absolutely know it. It was clumsy, undignified, and made the entire organization look small. Unfortunately for everyone, there's nothing they can do about that now. The damage to the franchise is already done.
But there is one way they can salvage something out of this calamity.
They can give Eli Manning one last start.
So he and the fans can say a final goodbye.
Yes, I know, John Mara said it's too early to write Manning's obituary with the Giants, but the lead of his memorial is already finished and barring a stunning reversal -- which would open up all sorts of questions of why Manning and the Giants had to endure this mess of a week in the first place -- the Manning Era in New York is over. There's no turning back.
So Mara and Steve Tisch should bring Manning into their office and put a schedule in front of him and give him a choice of one more game to play. It can be against the Dallas Cowboys in two weeks if he wants, or against the Eagles the week after. Or he can even choose the finale to this miserable season against the Redskins on New Year's Eve.
It's player's choice. Manning deserves at least that much.
And it would be good for everyone else, too. You want to throw a bone to the fans, to give them a reason to show up and watch this pathetic team? Watch how fast the fans return and the stadium fills up for a Manning sendoff. You want to give this group of Giants losers in the locker room a reason to fight, to show some effort, to play like the championship team they were supposed to be before they started believing their own hype? Watch how hard they suddenly play one last time for the leader they all admire and love.
Sure, the Giants would be throwing away a precious chance where they could be evaluating rookie quarterback Davis Webb or, for some reason, former Jets washout Geno Smith. And they've already said that's their primary goal in the last month of the season. But come on, if the other four games aren't enough to paint a picture then the evaluators are just incompetent.
Besides, what's more important to the Giants and their owners? Taking a look at a couple of quarterbacks who probably won't show enough to stop them from trying to draft Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen anyway? Or doing right by a franchise quarterback who has done nothing but right by the Giants for the last 14 years?
Maybe it would be a little humiliating for head coach Ben McAdoo or GM Jerry Reese, who have made it clear behind the scenes (and somewhat publicly) that they believe Manning's best days are far behind him, and seem unbelievably intent on running the iconic quarterback out of town. But you know what? Too bad. Who's franchise is this anyway? They might not even be here next season.
So if they object to a Manning sendoff, Mara should fire them on the spot.
Sure, this might be a little unconventional. It goes against football instincts for a team to turn a game into a party. It might even make the game and the week feel a little bit like the Pro Bowl -- without Pro Bowl players, of course -- with players and fans focused on the celebration rather than the result. And really, who knows if Manning would even want this? Maybe he'll decide it's beneath him to make one final, token, celebratory start.
But it's really not unprecedented. It also works. Remember what happened in 2003, the last of the pre-Manning years for the Giants franchise? The team was collapsing around coach Jim Fassel. Fans were furious and calling for his head. Ownership was ready to grant their wish and they had already decided to fire him at the end of the season. Fassel knew it too -- or at least he sensed it. So on Dec. 17, with two games remaining in the season, he went to Mara and basically fired himself.
There was a catch, though. Fassel wanted to stay on and coach the last two games. And you know what happened? The tone changed. Fans (and media) who were furious at the way the season was going and were overly critical of Fassel turned his final home game, two weeks later, into a week-long celebration. There were stories about his accomplishments, about how he took the Giants to the Super Bowl. His players went all out for him, but came up short in a hard-fought, 37-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the meaningless finale.
And the fans who had been chanting for him to be fired earlier in the season, saluted him and showered him with cheers.
Manning is far, far more accomplished than Fassel. He's been the model franchise quarterback for most of the last 14 seasons. He helped bring the franchise two Super Bowl championships, punctuating them with two brilliant, heart-pounding, game-winning drives. As Mara has said over and over again, he was the ideal team spokesman -- a polite, classy, controversy-free face of the franchise. He was always the safe harbor in a storm, the one who had a calming influence on the entire organization. And he will go down as one of the greatest athletes and most beloved sports figures New York has ever had.
The Giants returned that favor with this clumsy, stupid week where they treated him as if he was just another player, not the icon that he is. Even Mara has admitted the benching, the transition to whatever comes next, didn't go as he planned or hoped. He admitted he could have, or maybe should have, done things a little differently.
He can't fix that now, but he certainly can rewrite the ending and give Manning the parting gift he deserves. If by some miracle he's back in 2018 and this becomes a faux finale, they can deal with that later. But for now the Giants owe it to Manning to give him one last game, one last start, one last moment in the Meadowlands with the fans and with his teammates.
It would be a day everyone would remember. It would be a game worth watching. It would be a chance for Giants fans to give a loud, long thank you to the man who brought them so much joy and excitement in this era. And it would give Manning one last great day as a Giant, one more thing to remember.
After this horrible, inexcusable week, the Giants owe that much to their quarterback. He deserves one final chance to say a proper goodbye.