So, THIS is rebuilding. As a New York sports fan, I always wondered what that word really meant.
Seriously, rebuilding is something that New York franchises generally avoid. And not always with the best results. Last season, the Knicks traded away their future, burdening the team with huge contracts just so they could be a very mediocre playoff team. Not that I really remember the NHL, but the Rangers also became bogged down with aging players making too much money.
The Mets have spent big dollars on mediocre free agents. Trivia question: Who was the highest paid player on the 2004 Mets? Answer: Mo Vaughn. Meanwhile, the New York pressure to win bamboozled the Mets into thinking they were actually in a pennant race this season, compelling them to trade Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. Somehow, I have a feeling Mets fans will always remember giving up the next Randy Johnson in exchange for a guy who routinely leads baseball in walks, hit batters and wild pitches.
Speaking of the Big Unit, the Yankees are certainly not immune to New York pressures either. While no Steinbrenner team is going to rebuild anytime soon, the overly aggressive trades the Yankees have made over the past few years — Brandon Claussen for Aaron Boone, Ted Lilly for Jeff Weaver — certainly decimated their farm system and cost the team the chance to acquire Johnson before the trade deadline.
Personally, I’ve pitied teams in the rebuilding process: the blowouts, the frustrating mistakes, the mind-boggling chokes. Deep down, you probably suspect that your team is never going to be that good anyway. How do fans sit through entire seasons like that?
Well, I’m two games into the Eli Manning era and it seems like maybe a rebuilding year isn’t so bad after all. And it’s not just because I won’t have to invest time worrying about tiebreakers or playoff match-ups. Somewhere along the line, I’ve been instilled with the Yankee mentality that anything less than a championship season is a failure. That’s a tough way to live. It’s easier, and probably much healthier, to realize there are other ways to enjoy your team.
The “rebuilding” label provides hope that your team’s current sufferings will only be beneficial in the long-run. Last Sunday, with the Giants trailing 7-6 in the second quarter, Manning connected on a 52-yard pass, setting the Giants up at the three-yard line. On the next play, Manning’s fade pass to Jeremy Shockey was grossly underthrown and intercepted. The Giants never recovered, losing the game 27-6.
If Kurt Warner were to execute that exact sequence of plays, I would still be banging my head against the wall. But, with Manning at the helm, I find myself saying things (yes, clearly to myself) like, “Oh, he’ll learn from that. It’s okay.” Manning’s final line wasn’t pretty: 6-for-21, 148 yards, five sacks, and two crucial interceptions. Still, it was a good experience to battle the league’s most dangerous blitzing defense.
Okay, maybe this isn’t your typical rebuilding year. The Giants did start the season 5-2. They made the quarterback switch when they were 5-4 and were still in the lead for a Wild Card spot. Even now, at 5-6, New York is not exactly out of the playoff picture, especially in the pathetically mediocre NFC. But with football’s most porous offensive line and both defensive ends out for the season, the Giants aren’t going anywhere. I’m glad that the Giants appear willing to sacrifice some games in order to get Manning experience, rather than reaching for an unlikely playoff spot, a la the Mets.
At least now, even if the Giants finish 5-11, this season is still meaningful. It’s exciting to know that you’re getting a glimpse of the future. I can’t remember anything like this. When the Yankees called up Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in 1995, I definitely didn’t grasp the impact they would have on the team for the course of the next decade. But now, when Manning completes a pass to Shockey, I can’t help but hope that I might get to see that another 500 times over the next eight years or so. For better or worse, Eli Manning is the Giants’ future.
On the other hand, having your team’s future invested in one right arm might be exciting, but it’s also a little scary. Would the Giants have traded up to draft Eli if he was not Peyton’s brother or Archie’s son? Absolutely not. Manning’s career at Mississippi was very good, but not stellar. To some extent, he is certainly trading on the family name.
Will Eli Manning actually pan out as an NFL star? Unclear. Maybe I’ll have a problem with the Giants’ strategy in the future. For now, I’m content to sit back and watch my team take its share of lumps and tough losses.
After all, it’s not baseball season yet.