For Eli Manning, the year 2012 has gone pretty much like so many Giants games — and even seasons — have through the years. You've got your wild inconsistency, with its mind-changing highs (remember all the Hall of Fame talk in February?) and derptastic lows (last weekend in Atlanta). You've got your blowout games followed directly by hapless stinkers. You've got pranks, performances, and awkward photos; you've got pick-sixes and hung heads and submissive shoulder shrugs. But through it all, one thing will always be a constant: He'll always be good old Eli, and all he'll ever want to do is Play Good Football.
January 1: The Giants ring in the New Year with a 31-14 win over the Cowboys in a game to decides the NFC East champion.
January 3: The Star-Ledger runs a "caption contest" on a photo of Eli Manning and Tony Romo talking after the game. Sample responses from readers:
Tony says: "Hey Eli, this is a Godsend for us"
Eli says: "Why is that?"
Tony says: "Jerry says by losing to you guys we will have an easier schedule next year"
Eli says: "You gotta love Jerry, he is so intuitive!!"
Eli Manning: Things will be better when Obama is out of office.
Tony Romo: Yeah Vote for this Guy from Texas he'll straighten this mess out then we'll make even more money and get to KEEP IT!
January 5: With a potential playoff matchup with Aaron Rodgers on the horizon, Giants scribes try to goad Eli into saying something about the Green Bay quarterback, but he refuses. “‘He's playing good football,' was the most Eli had to say," reports Dave D'Alessandro.
January 8: The Giants beat the Atlanta Falcons in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, 24-2. Eli throws three touchdown passes, including a 72-yard sequence to Hakeem Nicks, and no interceptions.
January 15: The Giants upset the top-seeded Packers off a 330-yard, three-touchdown performance from Eli Manning that included a 66-yard touchdown connection with Nicks in the first quarter.
January 16: Eli, on how fun it is to see the team's confidence building: "It's fun when you're playing good football, when everybody is executing, when the team is playing well together."
January 20: San Francisco sandwich shop Ike's Place pulls its Eli Manning sandwich off the menu in advance of the NFC Championship game. In other news, Giants teammate Antrell Rolle goes on the radio and has this to say about his quarterback: "I never knew how mentally tough he is ... This guy, man, he has that look on his face sometimes and it makes some people question him. That’s just a look. He’s extremely confident. He’s that dude. He’s the one that I consider that dude."
January 22: The Giants beat the 49ers in overtime on the road to advance to the Super Bowl. Eli Manning does Eli Manning things.
January 26: A website for bored housewives conducts a highly rigorous scientific study and determines that "women would rather have affair with NY Giants QB than Patriots quarterback." When Grantland's Robert Mays asked Archie Manning about a similar phenomenon back in 2011, his dad's answer was: "That’s not the first time I’ve heard that. That came up somewhere else not long ago. Eli kind of favors his mother, so he’s a nice-looking guy. He doesn’t have a big ego, and he knows how to behave himself. He’s a gentleman. Although, he is spoken for.")
February 4: With 3:46 remaining in the Super Bowl and the Giants trailing 17-15, Manning connects with Mario Manningham three times — one of them an iconic catch — to get New York to within second-and-goal on the six-yard line. This sets up one of the strangest Super Bowl-winning touchdowns of all time: Due to a miscommunication, Ahmad Bradshaw falls into the end zone instead of stopping just short to run time off the clock. And so the enduring victory image of Super Bowl XLVI is Eli Manning halfheartedly making a touchdown sign with all kinds of confusion on his face. Fitting, really.
February 5: We all wake up in a world in which Eli Manning is a two-time Super Bowl-winning MVP. Eli Manning makes a super-quick trip to Disney but rushes back to appear on Letterman. He tells ESPN that he wasn't too upset that his time in the Magic Kingdom was cut short: "I've been here before in the past and ridden all the rides."
March 8: Eli restructures his contract. "It was likely players like Brandon Jacobs would have to take a pay cut or get cut," the Star-Ledger reports. "One other option was to do a simple restructuring of a big contract. The team has done just that with Eli Manning."
March 23: Mac Miller releases a song called Aliens Fighting Robots that includes the lyrics:
Capicola sandwiches are tasty from Primanti's
I'm a 5'7" giant, Brandon Jacobs, Eli Manning
March 28: Brandon Jacobs signs with the San Francisco 49ers.
April 3: All you need to know is that this URL contains the hyphenated phrase "Eli-Manning-Shirtless-Pictures-Baby-Wife-Miami."
April 24: At an Ole Miss event, Eli says that "these next seven years are going to be my best football years" (echoing a line he used back during his "elite" assertion) and jokes that, despite having won a Super Bowl, he's "still the third-most talked-about quarterback in my own city."
April 25: Members of the band Ra Ra Riot tell me (EXCLUSIVE, MUST CREDIT GRANTLAND) about spotting Eli Manning on a balcony in Mississippi the night before. "Just drinking a Bud Light. Seemed like a very down-to-earth guy."
May 5: Eli hosts Saturday Night Live; his three funniest skits are a Brett Favre-inspired sexting trial in which he mumbles phrases like "my penis" and "the banana is larger"; a send-up of his brother's beloved old United Way "ad"; and a Madden motion-capture session in which he wears a spandex bodysuit and tries to come up with a good touchdown dance. (The folks at Madden did an actual mock-up of one of the best ones — we'll call it the "Oops, I dropped my sandwich.")
May 8: Eli, on his teammates' reactions to the show: "All good-hearted. They all said they got some good laughs out of it, so that's always good."
June 16: Eli talks to Parade magazine about his daughter, Ava. "She's still working on her throwing motion a little bit," he says. "She does like playing with footballs, basketballs, and baseballs. One of her first words was 'Balls.'" (No word on whether he challenged Marilyn los Savant to beat his Wonderlic score.)
June 17: Holding his daughter, Ava, Eli throws out the first pitch on Father's Day at a Mets game. A bizarre and borderline hypnotic YouTube film soundtracked by — is that trance music? — shows them messing around in the infield and, later, hanging out on the floor of what looks to be a corporate box. Later in the video, Eli says the words "You can go to the Pampers Facebook page and tap on the ‘Most Valuable Dad’ section."
June 18:Eli works the drive-thru window at Dunkin' Donuts and tells the sad tale of his failed friendship with R.A. Dickey. It's been a weird three-day stretch for the guy.
July 5: Former Giant Amani Toomer compares Manning with Tony Romo and — if you look at him statistically — he's probably the best quarterback in the NFC East."
July 29: Many of the pranks for which Eli had become notorious have been avenged by his teammates, we learn. “Listen, we’ve always made fun of the guy,” says offensive lineman Chris Snee. “He’s a goofy guy. He’s easy to make fun of, from his running motion, I love when he wears cutoff shirts to try to show off his arms."
August 1: In a profile of Olivia Manning in Garden & Gun magazine, Eli addresses the time his love for "antiquing" was broadcast to the world a week before Super Bowl XLII. "I don't think I'd ever use that word," he says, "but since I was the youngest, a lot of the time it was just me and my mom, and I did enjoy walking around with her and seeing lots of unique things." Antique unique New York.
August 2: Eli, weighing in on the replacement refs situation: "It's not the ideal situation if it works out that way. We'll keep hoping for the best. Right now, we have to worry about playing good football."
August 3: As reporters swarm the Jets camp, Eli comes up with an idea to drum up Giants coverage. "I told David Carr to take his shirt off while we were running sprints after practice," he tells ESPN Radio.
September 16: Following an opening-day loss to Dallas, the Giants win their second game, over Tampa; Eli throws for 510 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. "After not playing well," he says after the game, "it's kind of getting back to that level of playing good football. Really good. No punts, no turnovers."
September 21: A day after the Giants beat Carolina, 36-7, ESPN.com publishes what is allegedly Eli Manning's preferred workout mix. The playlist includes such pump-you-up jams as John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane," The Verve Pipe's "The Freshmen," Dave Matthews Band's "What Would You Say" (AND "The Space Between"), and Crash Test Dummies' "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm." Eli Manning may be messing with us, folks.
September 30: The Giants lose to the Eagles, 19-17; Eli throws two touchdown passes and an interception on 309 yards. "The guys know we're not far away," Eli says after the game. "We're close to playing really good football."
October 7: Eli throws three TD passes and an interception as the Giants beat the Browns in bizarre fashion, 41-27.
October 14: The Giants beat San Francisco on the road, 26-3; Eli throws for one touchdown.
Eli on the game, part one: "We played [them] twice last year in very close games, so we knew we had to go out there and play really good football to get a win."
Eli on the game, part two: “It was going to take a full team. Offense, defense and special teams all played really good football, and I think that was by far our best performance as a team."
October 17: Eli, previewing the upcoming Redskins game: "We know as an offense we’ve got to play good football, try to win the time-of-possession, don’t turn the ball over, because their offense is explosive and can score some points.”
October 18: A letter arrives in my mailbag bearing more information on Eli's musical preferences: During one pregame warm-up, the stadium TV screens played selections from various players' iPods. "Osi and Cruz played hip-hop and Tuck played 'In the Air Tonight' by Phil Collins," explained the e-mail. "Eli? 'The Warrior' by Patty Smyth."
October 21: The Giants beat Washington, 27-23, but the real star of the game is Robert Griffin III. A week later, the Giants beat the Cowboys; Eli throws an interception but no touchdowns, the first of three straight games where he won't complete a scoring pass.
November 1: Eli Manning surveys the damage to his flooded apartment building lobby following Superstorm Sandy.
November 2: And lo, a meme is born.
November 4: The Giants lose to Pittsburgh, 24-20; Eli throws for 125 yards and an interception.
November 5: Eli, on whether the loss is indicative of a slump: "Whatever you want to call it, we're not playing good football."
November 7: Eli, on how the team can turn things around: "We've still got to do a better job of getting off to a good start, sustaining when we play good football for 60 minutes.
November 11: The Giants lose to the Bengals, 31-13; Eli throws for 215 yards and two interceptions. "Oh, that was terrible," head coach Tom Coughlin says of Eli's performance the next day. "He'd be the first one to tell you that."
November 13: Phil Simms posits that Eli ain't elite.
November 22: Olivia Manning gets the TMZ treatment and tells them she'll be spending Thanksgiving with Eli, not Peyton. He is the mama's boy of the family.
November 24: Eli, on how the team can break out of its funk: "The only way … is to play good football and execute at a better level than what we've been doing."
November 25: The Giants beat the Packers, 38-10; Eli throws three touchdowns, passing Phil Simms for no. 1 on the Giants' all-time list. On his weekly radio show the next day with Mike Francesa, he says "ya know" a grand total of 238 times; it's unclear, unfortunately, just how many references he made to Good Football.
December 3: The Giants lose to the Redskins, 17-16; it's their first loss when leading at halftime since 2006.
December 5: Eli, on whether he still feels he's an elite quarterback: "My concern is trying to play good football, get wins for the Giants and having a good season."
Eli, on whether the team fears a Super Bowl hangover: "We are going against a good team and we have to make sure we are prepared to play good football."
December 8: In a New York Times masterpiece about "groin sanctuaries," Eli explains why he doesn't wear a cup. "You know, it's supposed to be centered, obviously," he explains. "So, if it goes to the side and then you get hit and it presses into ... Well, that's not good."
December 9: The Giants roll over the Saints, 56-27; Eli throws four touchdown passes and two interceptions.
December 12: Eli, on his late season outlook, part one: "Late in the season, these games are important and they're big and we've got to make sure we continue to play good football and making our strides and getting better each week and have great preparation and get excited for these opportunities.”
Eli, on his late season outlook, part two: "I think these last few weeks we've played good football and we've got to continue to do that and keep making strides."
December 16: The Giants are shut out, 34-0, by the Falcons; Eli throws two interceptions, no touchdowns, and costs me a fantasy playoff game. "Last year, Eli Manning could do no wrong," went the lede in the New York Daily News. "This year, far too often, it has gone all wrong."
December 19: Eli, on where the Giants now stand: “I think we have to be proud of where we are right now and what we’ve done. We’ve won some big games. We’ve played some good football. We’ve got to make sure we’re playing our best football at the end of the season.”