Eli Manning – the New York Giants’ quarterback and two-time Super Bowl MVP, at Tom Brady’s expense no less – was at Mulino’s of Westchester restaurant in White Plains, N.Y. May 11, ostensibly to talk about his role as host of next month’s 38th annual Guiding Eyes for the Blind Golf Classic.
But as often happens, there was breaking football news right before the cocktail party-press conference: Tom Brady, quarterback of the New England Patriots, has been suspended four games without pay for his “more probable than not” awareness that two lower-level employees had deflated footballs before the Pats’ AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. The implication being that locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski doctored the balls according to Brady’s tastes to make them easier to throw and catch, particularly in inclement weather. (The two have since been indefinitely suspended by the team.)
The Patriots were fined $1 million and will lose a first-round draft pick next year and a fourth-round one in 2017. Brady has said he will appeal.
Prior to the news, Eli Manning’s brother Peyton – who as former quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts and now QB of the Denver Broncos has had a long rivalry with Brady – said that the embattled New England star is his friend and always will be. He didn’t really address Deflategate. Eli took a different tactic.
“Tom has been a friend of mine, and you don’t like to see this happen to anyone, any quarterback or any other player, or to the NFL. I don’t know. It’s about the integrity of the game. You have to follow the rules.”
The loss of the draft picks will hurt not only the Patriots but Brady as well, said Manning, who’s looking forward to working more closely with the Giants’ recent draft pick, offensive tackle Ereck Flowers.
Deflategate has led Manning to study air pressure in footballs. During the off-season, he himself experimented with a deflated ball. Is it an advantage?, he was asked.
“It’s noticeably different,” he said of the doctored football. “Whether it’s an advantage depends on the quarterback and the weather.”
Manning is known as one of the standup guys in football, and at the press conference he didn’t disappoint. The hearty applause and respect he commanded from the attendees said a lot not only about the position of quarterback in American society – there is no greater dream job – but about the character Manning has exemplified.
He told a funny story about taking daughters Ava and Lucy to see the Guiding Eyes’ Canine Development Center in Patterson, N.Y. The puppies there will ultimately go on to serve as guide dogs for the visually impaired as well as autistic youngsters. The girls were all smiles – until they realized they wouldn’t be getting a puppy themselves.
Tears for four days – until baby sister Caroline was born. “That should hold them off for a few months,” Manning said.
What’s the relationship between football and puppies?, he was asked. Both, he said, require training.
But in the end, football is a game. The puppies, which will bring autonomy to the sightless and peace of mind to the parents of autistic children, are more important.
“Eli,” I said, “you’re a man with his priorities straight.”
“I try,” he said.
For more, visit guidingeyes.org.