In his four years as a member of the New York Giants, Eli Manning hasn't shown off much of his personality, but one part that has seeped out is his fondness for practical jokes. He once reprogrammed a teammate's cell phone so all its displays would be in Japanese, and replaced all his offensive linemen's shoes with purple ones.
Intentionally or not, he gets away with another good prank midway through the Super Bowl 42 installment of NFL Films' awesome "America's Game" series.
While discussing the second half of the playoff game against the Cowboys, Eli says that whenever the Giants' defense was out on the field, he made sure to park himself in a certain spot on the bench, and to watch the action on a scoreboard screen instead of looking at the field, and the more he did that, the harder the defense seemed to hit Tony Romo.
"I'm not superstitious," Eli tells the camera, "but I am a little 'stitious. I know that's not a real word, but it's my own little saying."
In fact, it's not Eli's saying. It's Michael Scott's, from the fourth season premiere of "The Office." But the NFL Films producers, and narrator James Gandolfini, apparently didn't realize this, and so later in the episode, Gandolfini repeats the line with all the gravity of John Facenda referring to the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.
It's one of the sneakier laughs in the very funny, very inspiring (though not so much if you're a Pats fan) episode of the show, which premieres on NFL Network on Sept. 3 and will be released on DVD later in the fall.
As usual, we're taken through the season by three members of the team: Eli, Michael Strahan and Tom Coughlin. You know Strahan can tell a good story, and he has a bunch of them, from him mocking Eli's rushing touchdown in the London game against the Dolphins to him discussing neat-freak Coughlin relaxing the team by eating a sloppy In-N-Out Burger (Strahan provides home video evidence of it) the day before the Super Bowl. Coughlin is relaxed and happy (why wouldn't he be?) and though Eli doesn't open up much about his early season struggles and controversies -- the only thing he has to say about the game where he threw an astounding 34 incompletions against the Redskins is, while smirking, "I'm proud of all my records I've broken." -- Coughlin and Strahan both talk at length about their quarterback's refusal to open up about anything, ever. ("Archie told me he can't get anything out of Eli," says Coughlin.)
Among the other highlights:
• Footage of the now-legendary training camp field trip to a bowling alley where Coughlin let the team know he wasn't going to be the same old martinet, followed by Strahan complaining that this finally happened at the training camp he skipped;
• Footage of the infamous pre-Super Bowl practice where David Tyree dropped every ball but one (on the same play on which he scored the Giants' first touchdown in the real game);
• The truth about the story of Eli's then-fiancee sitting in the freezing cold of Lambeau;
• Footage of Coughlin's pre-Super Bowl pep talk to the team, and of Iraq war vet Lt. Col Greg Gadson's (the team's unofficial good luck charm) giving his own motivational speech;
• Strahan doing a perfect impression of the hangdog Eli Manning Face, which fades immediately into a shot of the real thing;
• Strahan in mid-game telling Osi Umenyiora, "I'm very offended that they're leaving (Tom Brady) out there by himself";
• Extensive analysis of The Double Miracle (or The Helmet Catch, or The Play, or whatever you want to call it), including Eli admitting that he was a split-second away from tossing a shovel pass to Chris Snee while he was still in the grasp of the Patriots defenders;
• A shot of Manning fighting back tears after the upset of the Patriots.
It's going to be a great lead-in to the Giants' title defense season.