Can Eli Manning measure up to his brother in the clutch (on Saturday Night Live)?

Eli Manning at the Super Bowl. (nfl.com)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

A weekly column about what the Giants are doing when they're not playing football.

So Eli Manning will host Saturday Night Live on May 5th. Apparently, the slot has been offered to him “a few times” through the years, but he turned it down until now. It just “seemed like the right time,” he said.

This should be fun. The obvious source of humor with Eli is that he is slack-jawed, youthfully awkward, and self-effacing—basically the opposite of the American archetype of the superstar quarterback.

This has been played for laughs before: At the 2008 ESPY Awards, host Justin Timberlake joked that winning the Super Bowl has finally allowed Eli to see a woman naked. (Eli took it like a sport, albeit a little uncomfortably. Michael Strahan, sitting behind him, keeled over in gap-toothed laughter.)

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

Most media reports of Eli’s sense of humor have centered on the goofy, jockish genre of locker room pranks. But Eli has shown a dry sense of humor and ability to riff off his own persona. On that ESPN commercial from several years ago, in which the Manning family is getting a tour of the ESPN headquarters and a bored Peyton and Eli pass the time with antsy brother antics like wet willies and kicks to the ass, Eli deftly plays up his awkward-little-brother aspect.

He’s pretty funny in those Toyota commercials too, especially the one in which he and the dealer spontaneously do a chest bump, and Eli haltingly asks to do it again, only to get rebuffed.

One question about the SNL appearance is how penetrating he and the writers are willing to be; another is the question of how Eli will come across on live television. He was a little wooden on his post-Super Bowl appearance on David Letterman earlier this year, though he loosened up as the interview progressed. As always, he at least came across as good-natured.

If Eli can approach his brother Peyton’s tour de force on SNL several years ago—during which Peyton sent up his own uber-competitive, psychopathically bossy qualities—it should be pretty good.

Then again, maybe we should know by now to stay away from such comparisons. People who assume Eli can’t equal the feats of his brother do so at their own peril.

THE 2012 SCHEDULES WERE RELEASED LAST week. The Giants, it turns out, have the toughest schedule in the league, based on 2011 records: Their opponents had a combined winning percentage last year of .547, which translates to 8.75 wins per team.

Ominous stats followed: Since 2007, teams with the toughest schedules based on previous season records have combined to average just 6.85 wins. The team with the hardest schedule has failed to make the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons, with the sole exception of the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers, who won the Super Bowl.

When asked about the schedule, Tom Coughlin said, in trouper fashion, “To get where we want to go, you have to play the best teams in football, and we certainly are playing the best teams.”

You wouldn’t expect anything else out of Coughlin. And yes, to win the Super Bowl, you have to beat the best teams. But to have a chance to win the Super Bowl, you have to get to the playoffs first, and it’s much easier to get to the playoffs against a weak slate than a strong one.

The schedule passes the eye-test for difficulty as well. The Giants have rematches against their playoff victims Atlanta, Green Bay, and San Francisco. Their out-of-division opponents also include perennially excellent teams like Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore, as well as a Cincinnati team that made the playoffs last year.

There are five ostensibly “easy” games: Two are against Washington, a very poor team last year that nevertheless beat the Giants twice. The others are against Tampa Bay, Carolina and Cleveland. The Carolina game might be particularly difficult for two reasons: One, emerging star quarterback Cam Newtown; two, it’s on the road on a Thursday night, which adds a randomizing element.

The N.F.C. East figures to be tougher this year, if only because the Eagles will look less like the disjointed mess they were for much of last season and more like the juggernaut they had rounded into by season’s end—Philly blew out each of their last four opponents by an average of 21.5 points. On the season, their point differential was 68, good for 74 points better than the Giants’ -6.

Of course, looking at just the regular season discounts the Giants’ last four games, which were much more impressive than anything the Eagles did. But the point is that the Eagles, as overhyped as they were last year, seem underrated going into this year. Give or take some injuries and bounces of the ball, they were last year and will be this year what they always are: An extremely dangerous team that gives the Giants fits.

The season opener, on a Wednesday night at home against Dallas, is a mixed blessing for Giants fans. On one hand, it will be great to raise the championship banner in front of a hated rival that was one better-thrown pass away from eliminating the Giants entirely. On the other hand, if the Cowboys win, the championship glow will fade immediately, the upper hand in the rivalry will immediately switch, and the Giants will be fighting a murderous schedule as they try to get it back.

CHASE BLACKBURN'S MATH-TEACHING CAREER will have to wait a little longer. He signed a one-year deal with the Giants last Friday, thus joining what has become a very crowded linebacker group with the addition of Keith Rivers and the return to health of former second rounder Clint Sintim.

FUN TIDBIT IN THIS GIANTS.COM INTERVIEW WITH KENNY Phillips from earlier this month: Phillips is the only person in his immediate family whose last name is Phillips. When he was born, his parents weren’t married, so he took his mom’s last name of Phillips. But when his parents married when Kenny was in high school, his mother and the couple’s subsequent son changed their last names to Wilson, the father’s name.

Phillips thought about changing his name at that point—he shares his first and middle name with his father—but decided against it.

It’s a nice piece on Phillips, who always comes across as a level-headed guy. It turns out he had a 3.7 G.P.A. in high school, although he downplays it:

“I can’t like and say I liked it, but I did what I had to do as far as the work and the tests and everything,” he said.

“I studied when I had to study and did the projects when I had to do them. I never was just a fan of just sitting in class. I’ve never been that guy.”

I love this answer. Not everyone has to profess a passion for the pursuit of knowledge. But if you follow Woody Allen’s advice and show up and do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll be alright.

When it comes to Giants’ safeties, Phillips has always presented himself as the quiet straight man to Antrel Rolle’s recklessly loquacious “dog”—the humble athlete to Rolle’s “cocky motherfucker.”

When I interviewed Phillips in the Giants’ locker room for a story last year, Rolle, changing at the next stall over, seemed uncomfortable about not being the center of attention. He kept interjecting with jokes, including one where I couldn’t make out what he was saying, except for the word “dong.” At that point, Phillips, exasperated, turned to him and said, “Who are you? Go bathe.”

EVIDENTLY, THE BROKEN BONE IN PRINCE AMUKAMARA'S left foot, which caused him to miss training camp last year and likely contributed to his struggles during the season, still hasn’t completely healed.

The Star-Ledger’s Jorge Castillo reports that Amukamara won’t run for another couple of weeks, and quotes Amukamara as saying, “The x-ray didn’t show quite as much healing as they wanted…”

Last month, doctors performed a procedure on Amukamara that involved taking stem cells from his hip and injecting them into his broken bone to aid regeneration.

This isn’t good news. The Giants lost starting cornerback Aaron Ross to free agency this offseason. While Ross wasn’t especially good last year—he allowed quarterbacks who threw in his direction a 98.0 rating last year, including playoff games, compared to the league average of 82.5—but he wasn't awful. Terrell Thomas will replace Ross. While Thomas had become the Giants’ best corner before suffering an ACL injury in preseason last year, if and when he’ll return to form is an open question. In other words, the Giants need Amukamara to make good on his promise as a first round draft pick last year. At the very least, he’ll be counted on to be the nickel corner, and thus be on the field around half the time.

Amukamara intercepted the first pass thrown his way last year after he returned from his foot injury, in a late-season game against Philadelphia. But after that, he proved he wasn’t ready for the big leagues: According to the game charting stats of Pro Football Focus, Amukamara allowed 14 receptions on the 20 balls thrown in his direction, for an average of 70 percent. He allowed two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 125.0, closer to the highest passer rating one can achieve (158.3) than the league average (82.5).

TEAM MARKETING REPORT, A SPORTS INFORMATION firm, released its list of the five most expensive stadium experiences for a family of four, based on something it called the Fan Cost Index: Four tickets at average price, two small beers, four small sodas, four hot dogs, parking, two programs and two team caps.

Going to a Jets game was the league’s most expensive experience, with an F.C.I. of $628.90. Going to a Giants game was the fourth-most expensive, with an F.C.I. of $592.26.

Cowboys Stadium was second, Gillette Stadium in New England was third, and Soldier Field in Chicago was fifth.

On the other end of the spectrum, Everbank Field in Jacksonville ($316.50) was the cheapest. It was followed by Cleveland Browns Stadium, Bank of America Stadium in Carolina, Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, and Ford Field in Detroit.