ARLINGTON, Tex. — Eli Manning wants that third Super Bowl ring as badly as he wanted the first.
This could be Manning’s last best chance to jump from the list of 12 quarterbacks who have won at least two Super Bowls to join the exclusive club of quarterbacks who have won three or more: Tom Brady, who has five rings, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, who have four, and Troy Aikman, who has three.
Jerry Reese has built this team to win now, which is the only thing he could do with a 36-year-old quarterback. There’s no way to predict when Manning’s skills will erode or if he will suffer a bad injury. The Giants are going for it now.
“Every year you assume it could be your last chance, whether it’s to play or win a championship,” Manning told the Daily News. “You don’t know how it’s going to go year-to-year, week-to-week in this league. You want to go out there and take advantage of the opportunities that you get.”
The Giants face the Cowboys on Sunday night in their most anticipated season opener since 1986, when they were among the favorites to get to the Super Bowl, just as they are in 2017.
Manning loved the first ring he earned after the 2007 season because it was the first. The second one four years later reminded him how great the first one felt. Now he’s six years removed from his last championship and desperately wants to get up on the podium at least one more time.
“I don’t think it’s something that you get one and the desire goes away,” he said. “It’s probably the other way around. Once you get a taste of it, you want it again.”
Was the second as good as the first?
“No doubt,” he said. “The first one, obviously, I had never felt anything like it. The second one is still a sweet feeling and it’s contagious and you want it again.”
Manning will join Brett Favre and his older brother Peyton on Sunday as the only QBs to start at least 200 consecutive games. Manning has started every game going back to the 10th game of his rookie season in 2004 when Tom Coughlin benched future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. Reese has surrounded Manning with enough pieces that should get the Giants deep into January and possibly to Feb. 4 for Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
The first step comes Sunday night. The Giants will go as far as Manning takes them.
First stop: AT&T Stadium.
Manning is all set with his pre-game routine. He will board the first set of buses in the late afternoon from the team hotel that will arrive in the tunnel by the locker room 3½ hours before kickoff. The next set of buses leaves one hour later. Manning is always on the first bus. He will come out on the field to warm up with his receivers two hours before kickoff. Their routine goes for 25-30 minutes.
They will then go back to the locker room and return for the pre-game warmups with the rest of the team before one more pre-game trip to the locker room.
Not even Manning, who rarely shows emotion, is immune to the pre-game butterflies that show up in every stomach before the first game of a new season. “There is definitely nervousness to it or excitement,” he said. “You don’t really know what it is. I’m prepared, but it’s just that first play, you just want to get that first play going, get it under your belt, whether it’s a handoff or a pass and just try to get into a rhythm as early as possible. There are always some butterflies that first series.”
What’s missing from this great rivalry? No. 9 with the star on his helmet.
“The Giants-Cowboys game is a big game,” Tony Romo said. “I played in it a lot of times in my career. I know the excitement. It’s Game 1. Everyone thinks they have a shot to win the Super Bowl.”
Romo lost his starting job to Dak Prescott last season when he was injured and couldn’t get it back. He retired and took a job with CBS rather than sign with the Houston Texans. Romo will be in Nashville on Sunday broadcasting the Raiders-Titans game.
He had some compelling showdowns with Manning over the years. “He’s Eli Manning, he’s a legend of the game and he’s still playing,” Romo said.
I think Manning has already done enough, with two last-minute game-winning drives in the Super Bowl, and two Super Bowl MVP trophies, that he should make it to Canton five years after he retires. Playing his best in the biggest spots is what it’s all about in the NFL. It overshadows the fact that his Super Bowl years are the only seasons in which he’s won a playoff game. He’s 0-4 in the playoffs in non-Super Bowl seasons and has missed the playoffs seven times. It’s an interesting resume.
A third Lombardi Trophy is sitting there waiting for Manning. Now he has to go and grab it.