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The Giants’ Unceremonious Benching of Eli Manning Had One Silver Lining

Mike Francesa’s outrage over Big Blue’s QB change led to an utterly iconic showing on the Pope’s farewell tour  

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

With his final WFAN show scheduled for December 15, the Mike Francesa farewell tour has been in full swing for quite some time. A couple of weeks back, he hosted a star-studded live performance on Long Island for which Bernie Williams’s band played music and superfans paid hundreds for VIP tickets. Special guests have been lined up for most of Francesa’s final shows—Andy Pettitte was scheduled for Tuesday—to help him remembuh da good days, like an advent calendar packed with Hall of Famers instead of Hershey’s Kisses, all counting down not to the birth of Christ but the renunciation of the Pope.

The goodbye frenzy has rivaled MLB teams showering Derek Jeter with kayaks and cowboy boots in 2014 as he made his final rounds through the league. But this is bigger than that; this is someone far more important to New York sporting history than Jeets; this is Mikey. This is not a man who would ever be caught dead lowering himself into a kayak, and he certainly has no interest in pulling on heeled, pointy boots. Francesa already, famously, owns a top-of-the-line snowblower. (He’s a self-described “Picasso” with the machine.) He’s already achieved immortality. So what the heck do you get the guy who has everything?

Tuesday, the New York Giants came up with a genuinely brilliant answer: They deposed, in the most unceremonious way possible, the beloved, maligned manchild who has started 210 straight games for the franchise—and dutifully, blandly appeared just about every subsequent Monday at 5:05 p.m. on Francesa’s show—Eli Manning. The Big Blue news contained multitudes. It had levels. It was like a goddamn Bloomin’ Onion—which, based on his entire vibe, is almost certainly coach Ben McAdoo’s delicacy of choice—of a poorly-thought-out sporting franchise decision.

Note that I didn’t say bad decision; there’s for sure an alternate universe out there in which the Giants make a nearly identical roster move but manage to do so in a way that doesn’t piss off pretty much everyone. (Recall the way Tom Coughlin went out: That, too, involved Eli tears, but they weren’t as painful to see.) Evaluating backup quarterbacks Geno Smith and Davis Webb to close out the season is a reasonable enough football decision if handled properly; the team is 2-9, after all, and it hasn’t played “good football” in quite some time. Manning is more or less middle-aged; to everything, there is a season; Valar Morghulis; etc., etc.

But this is not that universe, because this universe is the one that features a mumbling, bumbling McAdoo (asked whether the team could still have a future with Manning after this decision, his response was a creepy “time will tell”) and a voice-cracky Eli and, best of all, the sudden re-emergence of one Eugene Cyril Smith III. It’s that last part that is most fitting, really, both because it involves the equivalent of a locker room sucker punch and because the Giants—who have long prided themselves, however eye-rollingly, on being The Classy New York Area Football Team—have now out-gangrened even the Jets.

An unfathomable implementation of a shaky idea? Check. (Sure, they gave Manning the option to still “start” the game to continue his ironman streak, the NFL’s second-longest, but imagine the ridicule if he had said yes!) Throwing their quarterback(s) unfairly and abruptly to the media wolves? Check. (When the dust settles, I may actually feel worse for Geno than Eli amid all of this.) And giving Mike Francesa the kind of material that causes him to (a) go into full-on growl mode; (b) exhale loudly through his nose to punctuate a point; (c) use the phrases “this clown” and “dey don’t have da guts” more than once; and (d) take calls from angry listeners describing the Giants’ coach as a “slick-haired ratface”? Check, check, check, and check. (The only thing missing was a “Mista Tannenbaum.”)

On Twitter, the reaction to this news ran the understandable gamut from dispassionate to meme-y. ESPN tweeted a set of wild statistics about Manning’s longevity compared with the quarterbacks of other NFL teams. Former Giant and current NFL Network analyst Shaun O’Hara described an “ambrosia of emotions.” A Twitter trending topics screenshot was posted with “North Korea” sandwiched at no. 2 between “Eli Manning” and “Geno.” The New York Daily News offered a fresh perspective. Bomani Jones summed up the way Giants fans feel about Manning as accurately as I’ve ever seen.

As all this news rolled in, I first evaluated my own well-being, because you can’t help others unless you’ve put on your own oxygen mask first, and then I unironically called Eli a “man of principle” in Ringer Slack, posted the Carole King “Now and Forever” music video, and then, fingers trembling, swiped through my iPhone to get to the radio app I use to stream WFAN. As I hoped he would, with the stakes at their highest, Francesa delivered as if he were wearing a Giants jersey and facing Tom Brady in the Super Bowl.

He was part therapist, letting biased listeners get their rawest feelings out. This was not the time or place for, say, measured debates about the interplay between true football talent and dumb luck; this was a safe space for fans to be their emotional, irrational selves. One man ranted that this particular quarterback change, conceived by this particular coach, was akin to “the janitor firing the CEO” or “a foot soldier who can’t shoot straight canning the general.” Another said that the closest McAdoo will ever come to “class” is the last three letters. A guy with galaxy-brain laid out his theory that this was actually the best-case scenario; starting Geno was a thoughtful, 3-D chess attempt to help the Giants achieve the highest draft pick possible. Frank in Massapequa told Francesa that “I was so disappointed today that I would have stayed on the line for four hours” to get on the air.

Francesa was also part newscaster, reading statements from Kurt Warner and Coughlin, cutting live to interviews with Manning and McAdoo, and telling listeners who had just tuned in that Pettitte had “graciously” agreed to push his scheduled segment to Wednesday so WFAN could focus on the day’s breaking news. (Pettitte’s revised timeslot with Francesa will come after NBA commissioner Adam Silver and before Rangers legend Mark Messier. Just anothuh Wednesday.)

And he lived up to his longstanding reputation as a true maestro of the sports radio rant, getting the most out of every crescendo and fermata, milking the word “disgraceful” as if it were a haunting flute solo. If there was a silver lining to this dark day in Giants history, it was that it took place during Francesa’s final days on the air. “I’m so glad this happened now,” one caller said, sounding emotional, “so that you can process this over the next few weeks with the fans.” Hearing that heartfelt sentiment is when it fully struck me: The end of an era that I am really going to mourn as 2017 comes to a blessed end isn’t the Giants’ no. 10, but New York’s Numbah One.