Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Eli, the Giants and Tracy McGrady

In 1986, when I was eight years old, my godfather asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I told him to get me anything that had to do with football. The kids on my block and I had just started picking it up, having games outside, alternating on the lawns of every house until we got kicked off. We were always the Oilers and the trees were always Ed "Too Tall" Jones.

That Christmas, I unfurled a long cardboard tube to find... a Phil Simms poster. I had never heard of him, but I knew the Giants were a football team. I loved it, I hung it up immediately, spending an hour trying hang it straight. There he was, Simms standing in the pocket, legs planted, hands calmly gripping the ball, surveying the field. His face was relaxed, his eyes focused, it was almost serene. Phil Simms became my hero by default and every Sunday I'd watch the TV for any mention of him or the Giants (and the Oilers of course). And just one month later, Phil Simms carried the Giants to Superbowl XXI and won. I've been a Giants fan ever since. Not on my t-shirts, not on the street where we eventually moved our pickup football games and certainly not in front of my Oiler blue friends, but in my room.

So it should be obvious there was no small pleasure in seeing the Giants have the chance to play spoiler to the great history that could have been the New England Patriots season. Just as Daniel "Milkshake" Plainview in the brilliant and agonizing There Will Be Blood furtively admits to his misanthropic tendencies, I feel inclined to likewise admit to such a tendency. I really wanted the Patriots to lose and I don't think I was the only one. With each win the Patriots tallied, 16, 17, 18, the more I knew it would hurt this... lets face it, prideful team. They were arrogant to be sure and deservedly so perhaps, but nobody likes an arrogant winner. It had to be the Giants to knock 'em down a peg. Struggling for most of the season, they were as humble as professional football players can be--no doubt the influence of Strahan and Coughlin. They quietly, unassumingly came in and rewrote New England's history... as the greatest team not to win the Super Bowl.

All of us haters can thank Eli Manning. In the most critical sports city in the country, Eli was a bum. For 16 games in the regular season, New Yorkers wanted him on the next bus outta town. He was too unemotional, he wasn't a leader and he wasn't a winner. Until he was. No, he didn't suddenly raise his ire, didn't even change his game. He stayed just as poised as ever, just as calm. And it came around. His team came around.

From the first snap on the Giants last drive, I found myself repeating that this is what the legendary stuff is made of, this is what makes a life-long Giants fan. My brother was telling me to shut up and not jinx him. But Eli was transcendent and damn near as good in the 4th quarter as Phil Simms was in '87. I felt like that 8-year-old, chanting to myself, "I believe in you Eli, I believe in you Eli..." over and over. Somehow, he did it. And he'll be thanking David Tyree for as long as Simms has thanked Phil McConkey.

Which finally leads to the point. Perfection isn't all that interesting. We watch the game as underdogs, rooting for them to see if the embattled can overcome their history, their media-adorned image or their shortcomings... their human condition. Because in them, we see ourselves overcoming the odds. I found myself thinking after watching Giants cornerback Sam Madison say Eli Manning was his quarterback (without all the tears and showmanship of TO's proclamation to Tony Romo), that when the Houston Rockets make the playoffs this season, I'll still be channeling that 8-year-old boy and repeating to myself, "I believe in you T-Mac, I believe in you Yao," for as long as it takes.

Originally posted at Yao Central on February 4, 2008 07:08 AM

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