Namath picks the Giants
Who else can’t wait till next Sunday? Hopefully it won’t be a boring blowout.
Eli Manning better off-Broadway
At no point this week will Eli Manning grab himself a cold one, kick back in a lounge chair at poolside and announce how his team is guaranteed to shock Football America come next Sunday.
First of all, that’s not his personality, and besides, some other quarterback has been there and done that already.
But that other quarterback, nearly 40 years after his famous prediction, came up with another the other day.
“Eli and the Giants can do it, I’m telling you,” Joe Namath said.
Can they? Well, if anyone has a feel for this sort of thing, it’s Namath. Eli and the Giants will arrive in Arizona Monday the same as Namath and the Jets did in Miami in 1969. The”ll be bracing to fight tremendous odds and an outstanding opponent. The New England Patriots, with their perfect record, genius coach and loaded offense, are equipped to pummel the Giants and keep suspense from entering Super Bowl XLII. In many ways, these Patriots look a lot like the formidable Baltimore Colts of 1969, who were coached by Don Shula and widely expected to thump Namath and the Jets, although we know how that turned out.
So once again, a lightly-regarded New York team, led by a rising young quarterback, finds itself up against the world, and there aren’t many who see a major upset brewing, other than a New York icon who saw something four decades ago.
“I’ve got nothing against New England,” Namath said. “But this will be the first time I’ll be pulling for an NFC team. I like what I’ve seen from Eli and the Giants.”
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We’ll know a week from Sunday if the Giants can match their namesake football brothers on the shock meter. We do know that no quarterback since Namath and Phil Simms has captivated New York until now. And, funny thing: Namath and the “new” Namath couldn’t be more opposite in terms of, well, everything.
For starters, Namath lived the high life in Manhattan and earned the nickname “Broadway Joe” from hitting the clubs hard. Manning is “Easy Eli” who only sees Manhattan from the window of his condo in Hoboken, N.J. And he isn’t known to touch many clubs unless he pulls one from the deck.
Namath once wore a full-length fur made from the pelts of either 200 mink or three albino subway rats. He shopped for shoes on Fifth Avenue. Meanwhile, based on his casual threads, Manning is big on the GAP.
Namath did quite a few commercials, none more popular than the one for pantyhose. In another commercial, he had his Fu Manchu shaven off by Farrah Fawcett. As for Eli, he did a commercial with his brother Peyton.
Namath loved to risk it all on the field by throwing deep and going for broke. His style played to the crowd and the camera, which is how he wanted it, because if nothing else, Namath was a natural born showman with the football. Manning’s game is more play it safe and is suited for public television, which makes sense in one respect, because his mistake-free playoff performance could be described as Masterpiece Theater.
There is one common thread between the two, however. In their own way, they were expertly suited to play quarterback in New York. Namath defined a glamour position on and off the field. He craved the attention that came with it and relished the role of team spokesman and leader. Namath loved the town and the town loved him back. That’s why he’s rooting for New York to win, once again.
“New York sports teams are very special to me in general,” he said. “I’m always loyal to the Jets, but the Giants represent the city, too.”
Manning fits New York for other reasons. His temperament enables him to deal with the rigors that come with being a New York quarterback. He doesn’t allow his emotions to throw him one way or another. He’s never too high or low, no matter the victory or defeat. That keeps him focused and keeps him from becoming unraveled in a city of 50 million opinions. Manning survived New York partly because his performances improved, and partly because he never allowed New York to get to him.
“I’ve known Archie, his father, for many years,” said Namath. “I’ve followed the Manning family. I’ve watched as much of Eli as I could. I was far more patient with Eli than most. I’ve always thought he handled himself beautifully. And it didn’t matter what people said about him. For his teammates to elect him captain, that speaks the loudest. They knew what he could do.”
The Giants, obviously, are more than Manning, just as the 1969 Jets were more than Namath. Nobody’s done a better coaching job in the playoffs than Tom Coughlin, and the Giants are making a road killing, with 10 straight wins away from home, including the entire playoffs. Namath even suspects the Giants haven’t played their best game yet.
“That game against the Packers wouldn’t have gone into overtime if the Giants didn’t make mistakes,” said Namath. “They know they can do better.”
Well, this would be the right time for that to happen. It’ll take a supreme effort to slow Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Randy Moss and company, just as it took to upset Unitas and Shula nearly 40 years ago. Namath made a place in history for himself off that game, which people ask him about, oh, every day.
“And I’ve never gotten tired of answering,” he said.
All Manning and the Giants need to do is beat the Patriots, and New York will show them the same love given to Namath and the Jets. Guaranteed.