Geno Smith never asked to be one to end Eli Manning‘s streak. With the deed done, angry Big Blue fans need to ease up on him.
Eli Manning’s backups normally descend into relative obscurity, mainly asked to wear headsets and baseball caps and hold clipboards or Microsoft Surface tablets, as Manning’s uncanny durability and consistency during a 14-year NFL career has mainly relegated them to the sidelines. In the process, they’d collect an NFL backup quarterback’s salary, a payday many in the general public would yearn for.
Geno Smith was not afforded such luxuries.
The former Jet has forever gone down in history, as he became the first new Giants starting quarterback over 210 games subbing for Manning in the Giants’ season gone horribly wrong. Smith’s insertion was not due to a Manning injury, but rather a decision made by the Giants’ leadership triumvirate of owner John Mara, head coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese … two of which are no longer with the organization thanks to a decision by the third.
While Mara said no one event led to the decision to let McAdoo and Reese go, the departed duo’s lasting legacy will be the decision to sit Manning and end his historic streak for Smith. Reactions from both fans and ex-Giants were swift and furious, livid over Manning’s sitting for the Giants visit to Oakland to play the Raiders last Sunday.
In the process, another victim emerged, one that’s still here and left to deal with the mess: Smith.
Enough has been written about the decision itself, a decision that Giants fans have admitted would’ve gone over easier if the team opted to start rookie Davis Webb, perhaps the closest thing the Giants have had to an heir apparent to the Manning throne. One of interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo’s first announcements at the Giants’ helm was to reinsert Manning as the starter, but reporters once again swarmed Smith’s locker in the aftermath.
“To be put in that situation where you get a chance to play and then you’re being pulled, but it’s not because you played bad so you try to figure out why,” Smith said when he spoke on Wednesday afternoon. “But you got to understand that some things happen in this business and you just got to roll with it.”
Being a franchise quarterback likely isn’t in Smith’s future, but the idea he could be a reliable backup, a la Shaun Hill or Colt McCoy, wasn’t far-fetched. In his final stands with the Jets, Smith put up solid numbers in relief of Ryan Fitzpatrick. It’s why the Giants signed him.
The Green Bay Packers, for example, are fighting for their playoff lives after subbing the injured Aaron Rodgers with the inexperienced Brett Hundley. That wasn’t a problem for Dak Prescott and last season’s Dallas Cowboys, but 2015 was a nightmare when Tony Romo‘s injury was made all the more painful with the appearances of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, and Kellen Moore.
If the unthinkable were to happen to Manning, Smith, an experienced veteran who showed he could keep the team afloat if absolutely necessary. At 2-10, of course, there was no season to keep afloat, making the situation more puzzling than it already was. Some viewed as the final attempt of a desperate leadership group, one that had tried to deflect blame to Manning all season, to save their jobs, and despite Mara’s approval of the idea and subsequent acceptance of the blame, it didn’t stop conspiracy theorists from reaching this hypothesis.
Lost in the furor over the Manning headline, though, was the fact that Smith, keeping up with his final days in green, was actually pretty serviceable. The results, including the one on the scoreboard, wasn’t enough to ease many angry souls around the tri-state area, but Smith did what he could, going 21-for-34 for 212 yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Evan Engram. Though a pair of fumbles in Oakland territory likely doomed the Giants’ chances in the 24-17 loss, Smith’s 89.3 passer rating was higher than all but four of Manning’s previous 11 efforts this season.
The Smith game proved that the quarterback was nowhere near the Giants’ biggest problem (something we all knew without a Manning benching). Yet Smith, merely a pawn in a confusing game played by management, is the one who’s dealt, and possibly still dealing with, the worst of Giants fans.
Smith’s father, Geno Jr., recently told NJ Advance Media that he received a death threat prior to the Oakland game. Geno Smith III praised his father’s handling of the situation but expressed disappointment in the caller’s dealing.
“It’s just kind of shameful that would be happening because of someone doing their job,” the younger Smith told NJ Advanced Media’s Dan Duggan. “When he told me that, I was like, ‘What?’ But you kind of get a sense of comfortability from him. He was like, ‘Man, it’s nothing, don’t worry about it. Just do your thing, play your game.’ So that was why I was able to be easy with it.”
As a result, yet another question is raised in a season full of them: Is this what Giants fans have been reduced to?
Sending death threats, no matter the occasion, are stupid, but to do so to the family of a man trying to fulfill the American Dream is downright stupidity at best. Threatening a man over a form of entertainment, for doing his job in a game doesn’t make you a fan. It makes you a pathetic individual desperate to feel important.
Smith never asked for this. Sure, he has been very grateful for the opportunity, but to be the one that indirectly ends Manning’s streak makes him the answer to a dubious trivia question. That doesn’t mean he should be relentlessly dragged over the coals for simply doing his job. What was Smith supposed to do? Reject this opportunity?
Let’s keep in mind Smith was likely playing for a job, not just in New York, but for a job in general. He was signed to a one-year deal this offseason, one with the aforementioned “dependable backup” purpose. Just because that purpose was missing, just because his insertion was questionable, doesn’t mean he should turn down a rare chance to showcase what he has to offer to his current, or future, employers.
Smith, to his credit, has remained classy and professional throughout this ordeal. He expressed disappointment over his return to the second-string, but understands the reasoning. If his number is called upon over these last four games, he vows to be ready.
“As far as sympathy or something like that, I’m not looking for it. I don’t need any sympathy,” Smith said. “I’m built for all of this. I’m built for everything that’s going to come my way and I know that all of these tests and these trials are preparing me for something greater. So I look at adversity as something that can be positive. I’m thankful for the adversity and I look forward to it.”
In this week, Smith, perhaps the one most affected by the decision other than Manning, has displayed more class, more professionalism than a good number of Giants supporters and detractors alike. Couldn’t we all take a lesson from the veteran?
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490