De­fi­ant Eli wants to be Gi­ants starter — well be­yond this sea­son

New York Post - - SPORTS - steve.serby@ny­ Steve Serby

ELI MAN­NING has loved be­ing the quar­ter­back of the New York Gi­ants through three pres­i­dents now. And be­cause he still clings to this Jeteresque dream of re­tir­ing with the team that traded for him on draft day, you can bet your No. 10 jersey he was de­liv­er­ing a mes­sage, per­haps even a plea, to the next gen­eral man­ager and head coach:

“I don’t think I’m in de­cline,” Man­ning said.

“I think I can make the throws and be a good quar­ter­back and win a lot of games.”

The next game he gets a chance to win comes Sun­day against the Cow­boys at Met Life Sta­dium now that in­terim head coach Steve Spag­n­uolo has taken the foot­ball from Geno Smith and handed it back to him fol­low­ing a one-game ab­sence that felt like an eter­nity to him and to so many Gi­ants fans.

“I want to be the start­ing quar­ter­back next year,” Man­ning said.

He recognizes he may be asked to sit again so rookie Davis Webb can be eval­u­ated. The new regime will be draft­ing a new fran­chise quar­ter­back.

So Eli Man­ning knows he could be here to­day, gone to­mor­row.

Gone to a place and a coach that wants him to be the start­ing quar­ter­back.

“That may be the case,” Man­ning said. “Af­ter the sea­son, I’m sure I’ll sit down with John Mara or who­ever the new GM or who­ever the next head coach is and see if I’m in their plan.

“If I’m not, I think I got a lot of good foot­ball in me.

“I don’t want to leave the Gi­ants. I ap­pre­ci­ate and love the New York Gi­ants. I love my job. I love play­ing quar­ter­back for the Gi­ants.

“I don’t wish to go any­where else. “But we’ll see.” But you want to play? “I want to play,” Man­ning said. That’s No. 1. You want to play? “Sure,” he said. Ev­ery player — es­pe­cially the great ones — wants it to end on his own terms.

“I’m not wor­ried about the end,” Man­ning said. “I’m wor­ried about play­ing a game. Go do my job, go try to beat the Dallas Cow­boys, and end on some pos­i­tive notes this sea­son and then go from there.”

He will turn 37 next month. He still be­lieves he can play un­til he’s 40, or close to it. Beauty will be in the eye of the be­holder.

“Three more years, two more years, I don’t know,” Man­ning said. “I feel healthy. You go through the sea­son, you get some bumps and bruises, but I kinda feel as good right now as I have all year. Feel like I can make all the throws and can hang in there. ... I’m not sure how much longer.”

The over­whelm­ing love and sup­port he re­ceived from fans, team­mates and for­mer team- mates a nd, of co urs e, fa t her Archie and fam­ily helped him through the an­guish of tem­po­rar­ily los­ing his job, his streak, his team.

“This past week doesn’t change my love for the New York Gi­ants, and ev­ery­thing we’ve been able to ac­com­plish and what we con­tinue to want to ac­com­plish here,” Man­ning said.

Tears welled in his eyes when he re­vealed this story told him by his sister-in-law.

“My old­est brother, Cooper, kinda wrote a note to his kids, just say­ing, ‘Look how your un­cle’s han­dled this sit­u­a­tion,’ ” Man­ning said. “I got a lot of that, friends just say­ing ‘A great ex­am­ple for my kids, a great les­son to show them.’ That was prob­a­bly the most emo­tional part.”

Big Brother Pey­ton was livid with how the Gi­ants botched the bench­ing.

“He was great to have kinda in my cor­ner,” Man­ning said.

Spag­n­uolo is in his cor­ner as well.

“When John Mara and I talked, one of the first things he asked was about the quar­ter­back sit­u­a­tion and I said, ‘John, my gut right now is that Eli should be the starter,’ ” Spag­n­uolo said. “So, I took my gut and vis­ited with the of­fen­sive coaches and to­gether with that and my gut, Eli Man­ning is go­ing to be our quar­ter­back.”

Smith is ex­pected to be the backup this week. Webb, who is get­ting in­creased reps, ran the scout team as usual on Wed­nes­day. The Gi­ants will at some point soon get Webb some play­ing time.

“That may come up, I un­der­stand,” Man­ning said. “That’s why you take one game at a time and ob­vi­ously, that start­ing job was tak- en from me, I don’t want to lose it. But I un­der­stand the po­si­tion that we’re in, I un­der­stand why they did it last week. So I un­der­stand the cir­cum­stances and where we stand. I’m go­ing to try to do my best this week and see what hap­pens go­ing for­ward.”

Team­mates play­fully rein­tro­duced them­selves to their quar­ter­back.

“It was good to see 10 in there,” Justin Pugh said. “He was the first call I got af­ter they drafted me.”

In his typ­i­cal hum­ble man­ner, Man­ning said: “Hope­fully they’re ex­cited to see me, you never know. But I was ex­cited to see them. it’s good to get your hands back un­der cen­ter.”

It will be just as good to feel the warm em­brace Sun­day of Gi­ants fans.

“I’m not look­ing for any ex­tra at­ten­tion,” Man­ning said, “but if they want to cheer, al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate cheers. “Bet­ter than boos.” He was smil­ing when he said it. There will be no boos Sun­day for Eli Man­ning.

“I don’t think I’m in de­cline. I think I can make the throws and be a good quar­ter­back and win a lot of games.” — Eli Man­ning

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