Yours truly was in his early 20s when I interviewed my first professional athlete. I have talked to pro players on and off for the past 35 years, regularly since launching Big Blue View in 2007.
When I meet people who find out what I do they often are excited by the idea that I get to talk to these guys. To be honest, as much as I understand and appreciate that, it isn’t that much of a big deal to me any more. They are, to me, mostly just people. Few of these conversations make me think “wow, look what I’m doing.”
Tuesday was different. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning appeared Tuesday at an Offense-Defense Football Camp for youngsters at Kean University on behalf of Gatorade Beat the Heat, a program to teach kids about heat safety and staying hydrated.
Media was invited, but that’s a 2.5-hour drive for me and wasn’t happening. I asked about phone availability, thinking no way that would happen. But, it did. Lo and behold, Tuesday morning I found myself on the phone 1-on-1 with Manning.
What follows are 7 good minutes with Manning.
Question: You won two Super Bowls during the first part of your career. The last six years haven’t gone as well. Does that change your perspective, maybe make you appreciate the opportunity you still have?
Eli: Yeah, it means a lot that vote of confidence in me that they still believe I can perform at a high level and win games and win championships for this organization and I want to prove them correct. I’m on a mission to continue to play well, play at a high level, get this team going and know that I can get this team back in the right direction and win a lot of games.
Question: You hear the doubts, all the speculation that the Giants might have gone in a different direction. Does that add motivation or change this part of your career, the way that you approach it or think about it?
Eli: I’ve always had the same approach every offseason, trying to get better, trying to improve. Excited for the upcoming season. Each season is a new year, you never know what can happen. The championship years that we won it wasn’t like we were favored or it was an easy journey that we knew right off the get-go we were going to win. It was tough years, we overcame a lot of adversity, but you found a way to do it. I understand that you never know when you’re going to have a special year, when things click, when you find a way to win tight football games. But I know it comes through hard work and dedication and a commitment not just from myself but the whole team believing that this is something special and we’ve got to work extremely hard to reach that goal.
Question: One of the things I’ve always appreciated is the work at the line of scrimmage. After the spring practices with Saquon and the idea that Odell would be healthy do the possibilities in this offense excite you, especially in terms of standing up there at the line of scrimmage and finding the mismatches.
Eli: On paper it looks good and the team looks good. You look at the skill positions and the adjustments up front with the offensive line, the play-making ability of the players it’s all great. Now we’ve got to find a way to put it all together on game day and be consistent. ... There’s going to be bad plays during the course of a game. We can’t have those plays be terrible and change the game. We’ve got to be able to play smart and make the plays when they’re there.
Question: Are you down with the Saquads nickname? Have another one for him? Still searching?
Eli: It makes sense. He’s got some quads on him. I don’t know if he likes or if I’ll call him that, but it tends to work with the media. I’ll call him Saquon until he tells me to call him something differently ... or I come up with something differently.
Question: You’re still playing and hope to for a few more seasons, but do you ever think about your place in the game? Your legacy? Whether you’ve done enough to be a Hall of Famer?
Eli: That’s not something I think about. For me the way I’ve always done it is you think about the upcoming season. That’s all you can guarantee that’s going to happen in this league. You don’t know what’s happening next year, you don’t know what’s happening down the line. I don’t have a plan to how many more years I want to play or this and that. I know I want to play this year, I want to win a championship, I want to play at a high level and enjoy playing football and winning games and the work that goes into it, and being a great teammate. I’m excited about that, looking forward to it. I don’t know how many more years you do have or how many more opportunities you’re going to have so you want to take advantage of the ones that are in front of you.
Question: I saw you throwing to some of the kids out there. Did you find any future wide receivers out there?
Eli: Maybe. A guy ran a pretty good go route. First couple thought I’d just get some completions and kinda set ‘em up, throw a little hitch route. Third down, third play said let’s do the Old Faithful, everybody run deep and we’ll throw it out there. Looked at my matchup, thought I had a good one and hit the go route.”