The grass is not always necessarily greener on the other side of the fence and it’s human nature to take things for granted. It’s not until we don’t have those things that we begin to appreciate them.
Such was the case for former New York Giants wide receivers Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham, who didn’t entirely realize what they had in quarterback Eli Manning until they went elsewhere.
Cruz, of course, spent a brief amount of time with the Chicago Bears in 2017, while Manningham called San Francisco home from 2012-2013.
In Chicago, Cruz was paired with quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Mike Glennon. With the 49ers, Manningham caught passes off the arms of Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith and Colt McCoy.
It wasn’t the same. And while Cruz and Manningham weren’t critical of any of those quarterbacks, it became quickly evident they were a step (or two or three) down from Eli.
“I don’t think people understand. Every Friday after practice — before we showered or any of that — we would go right into the receiver room with Eli and he’d probably have, what, 12 or 13 plays,” Cruz said during the latest episode of the All in NYG podcast.
“Plays he knew were going to work,” Manningham added. “On third down and whatever, short, long…whatever. We just knew that he always knew what they were going to be lined up in. So he always wanted to have us prepared. He [would] see things that we didn’t see as a receiving corps.”
“And you knew on that Friday to pay attention,” Cruz said, drawing agreement from Manningham. “If he’s circling you. . . Nobody made those adjustments better than Eli. Nobody saw that blitz 0 better than Eli, for real. He knew when it was coming, he knew the tendencies, he called it out, he got us to the right play every single time.”
Cruz, Manningham and fellow wide receiver Hakeem Nicks appreciated that about Eli, but it was also all they had ever known. When it came time to play with Trubisky, Kaepernick and even Smith, it was a different story.
“After a while you kind of take that for granted until you go somewhere else with a quarterback that’s not as experienced and you’re like, ‘okay. This is different,’” Cruz said.
“Yeah. Right,” Manningham agreed. “We got spoiled. We did.”
“We got spoiled early. It’s not every day you get to be around a Hall of Famer like that and a guy who’s been around that much football. So, Eli… We appreciate you, G,” Cruz said.
“Definitely,” Manningham added.
After joining the show, Nicks provided an example of what Cruz and Manningham had been discussing earlier.
Nicks recalled that during the 2011 wildcard game against Atlanta at MetLife Stadium, Manning noticed a specific coverage that looked like man but was actually zone. He alerted Nicks and told him if he sees it on a cross, to catch the ball and keep running as opposed to shifting back inside and trying to find running room.
“Eli had actually told me about . . . the streak X shallow. He said, ‘look, it’s going to be zone but it will look like man. So stay on the move.’ That was like a coaching tip right there for that specific play that Eli gave me,” Nicks said of his 72-yard touchdown.
Another moment of realization arrived for the three receivers in the 2011 NFL Championship Game. We don’t need to rehash why that is — it’s arguably Eli’s shining moment as a professional.
“I knew he was tough but it wasn’t until me seeing it in person in San Fran. . . That showed you how tough Eli was that he kept picking himself up off the ground. How many times was he in the huddle ripping the grass out of his helmet,” Cruz said.
“He had a lot of mud and grass on him that day, man. We knew we had a tough quarterback. We knew how tough Eli was,” Manningham said.
“And not one time in that huddle did he ever complain,” Nicks said.
With one final nod of respect to Eli, the three receivers praised his footwork — an often unseen focus of the NFL veteran.
“We don’t really give Eli enough credit for the little footwork things he did in the pocket to get himself throwing angles,” Cruz said. “Kids out there, pay attention to that. Go back and watch some Eli tape if you want to learn footwork.”
“Not the fastest guy in the world but he had the proper footwork,” Manningham said.
“He’ll shake you in a phonebooth,” Cruz added to the agreement of Nicks and Manningham.
The trio tossed out a few other solid Eli stories that followed the same pattern and it’s certainly worth listening to. It speaks to the level of Eli’s preparation and performance, and should only further endear him to Giants fans and the eventual Hall of Fame voting committee.