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How Little Eli Grew Up Before Our Eyes

And all your other questions answered, in this week’s Bake Shop.

Eli Manning

What’s the best way to apologize to Eli Manning after years of rooting for the Giants but considering him to be an accomplished Special Olympian at best?

— Joey L.

Eli Manning is a benevolent god. It matters not to him what you may have said during certain dark nights of the soul, whether it was in 2005, or 2009, or that time he threw the game-ending interception to lose to the freaking Seahawks this year in Week 5. You don’t need to apologize to Eli. He’s already forgiven you your words, in part because he’s already forgotten all those games.

I kid, I kid, because the jokes about Eli Manning being an overgrown boy never get old. The jokes are funny because they’re true. In an ESPN appearance from Disney World on Monday, Eli happily regretted that he didn’t have more time to hang around the park (he had to appear on Letterman that night.) But he explained that it was okay: “I’ve been here before in the past and ridden all the rides.” Seeing him hoist his adorable baby daughter in Super Bowl celebration did less to make him look like a dad and more to help you visualize exactly whom he monkeys around with on the floor. But what’s most amusing is how the jokes don’t matter at all — other than making Eli’s career seem all the more bewildering or rewarding, depending on what you’ve always thought of the guy.

In the afterglow of the Super Bowl, we’re clearly in a bit of an Eli appreciation bubble — Peak I-Always-Defended-Him, call it — but Giants fans who insist they stuck by the kid early on in his career are probably mostly telling the truth. Eli’s circumstances had always been interesting in that they let him succeed — most quarterbacks without the last name Manning don’t have quite the draft-day clout — while setting him up to fail (he’ll always be the little brother). Perhaps he was pushed into his starting quarterback role a little too early, and likely he will linger there a little too long. But that’s what a franchise quarterback does, and that’s what Eli is and was drafted precisely to be. For all the talk of whether he’s a Hall of Famer or the Best New York Quarterback Ever or even the Winningest Manning, it’s fascinating to think that Eli is something that is relatively pretty rare: a constant.

Remember Tiki Barber? He seems of an entirely different era, but he and Eli briefly coexisted, however coldly. A sure-to-be next-level tight end named Jeremy Shockey was there and was gone. There was a time when the song “September” got obligatory weekly play during Giants’ broadcasts as reference to the “Earth Wind & Fire” running back-by-committee trio of Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, and Derrick Ward. (Two of them are still around, though no longer with the catchy nicknames.) There was also a time that can just be summed up this way: “Other notable free agent signings for the Giants included free safety Will Demps from the Ravens, cornerback R.W. McQuarters from the Lions, and linebacker Brandon Short from the Panthers.”

Michael Strahan is an analyst these days. Plaxico Burress is a free agent. David Tyree, infamously, helmet-caught the ball and never played again. (He milled around near the Giants’ bench on Sunday night, a life-size good-luck charm in a loud tie shifting its weight nervously from side to side.) Hell, the reality is that even Mario Manningham, the hauler-in of Super Bowl XLVI’s most important throw, may not be back in Blue next season. Eli has been around for all of this, in a way that no one who muddled through the replacement-level Dave Brown/Kent Graham/Danny Kanell era ever thought possible. The football world moves quickly. Eras are always ending, legacies are always on the brink of being defined. Eli has fought through this traffic the way he does on the field: sometimes by throwing the ball away, sometimes by fumbling, but increasingly by heaving and, somehow, connecting.

If we owe anyone an apology, it’s a pair of Giants GMs. To Jerry Reese, who stood quietly near the back of the Giants’ “power float” during the victory parade, arms crossed, surveying the scene like a proud grandfather assessing his brood? I’m sorry I compared you to a slick-talking hedge fund manager. And to Ernie Accorsi, GM before him, the guy who insisted on obtaining Eli Manning? Sorry for all the things we’ve said during those certain dark nights.

A 2004 New York Times Magazine Michael Lewis piece on Manning, then a rookie who had only weeks before been pushed past rental Kurt Warner into the starting role, is eerie in its prescience. He quotes then-GM Accorsi as explaining: “A great quarterback, unlike a great running back, cannot be stopped. And if you have a great one, you’re never out of it. He walks on the bus and the whole team sees him and thinks, We have a chance.”

Crazier still, Accorsi had come away from scouting Eli in a 2002 Ole Miss-Auburn game with these notes:

SO HE’S TAKING SOME BIG HITS. TAKING THEM WELL. CARRIED AN OVERMATCHED TEAM ENTIRELY ON HIS SHOULDERS. I IMAGINE, EXCEPT FOR VANDERBILT, HIS TEAM IS OVERMATCHED IN EVERY SEC GAME … HE’S BIG, NEVER GETS RATTLED. RALLIED HIS TEAM FROM A 14-3 HALF-TIME DEFICIT BASICALLY ALL BY HIMSELF. LED THEM ON TWO SUCCESSIVE THIRD QUARTER DRIVES TO GO AHEAD, 17-16.

Sounds familiar …

THE FIRST TOUCHDOWN, ON A 40-YARD STREAK DOWN THE LEFT SIDELINE, HE DROPPED THE BALL OVER THE RECEIVER’S RIGHT SHOULDER.

So much has happened in the time between that collegiate play and Sunday’s similar 38-yard streak down the left sideline by Mario Manningham, over whose right shoulder Eli dropped the ball. Eli has gone from young to promising to a bust to way-too-laid-back to cool-as-a-cucumber to not-as-good-as-Philip Rivers to underrated to lucky to clutch to Super Bowl MVP to a doofus to no-Peyton-that’s-for-sure, to a prankster to a secret leader to a Childlike Emperor to, perhaps, a Hall of Famer. And he’s done it all, calmly, in one crazy place.

My friend is having a bachelor party in Vegas and the wedding in New Orleans. A lot of invitees are grumbling at the combined expense of these two trips from the East Coast. Is there like a dollar limit for what you can impose on your combined bachelor party/wedding for your friends?

— Bobby B.W.

I recently had a conversation with a friend about whether I could somehow write off wedding-related expenses in the name of business. (Research for my Wedded Blitz column, you know?) It was a half-serious inquiry — in that if the answer was yes, I was serious; if the answer was no, then haha, isn’t it fun to imagine? — but it led to a serious contemplation of all the matrimonial money I’ve spent. In 2011 alone I sprang for three bridesmaid dresses, six engagement gifts, several weeks’ worth of hotel rooms, three or four cross-country flights, a pair of new shoes, lots of pairs of new earrings, two crystal pitchers, two sterling platters, three bachelorette T-shirts, and too much communal booze. I’ve pooled money for lingerie showers and collected recipes for keepsake binders. I’ve gotten hair done and makeup done and taken last-minute car services straight to the ceremony and woken up early to go to the mall for emergency Spanx and stayed up late sipping through penis straws for which I probably still owe someone a few bucks.

These things truly add up. And yet there’s still no easy way to quantify what is too much, or at what point you can start to say no. I wish there were some sort of Wedding Worthiness Index that could help you make judgments about the value of your potential investments. You’d get positive points for things like:

  • If you have one of those huge fancy rehearsal dinners that are secretly more fun than the wedding: +300 points
  • A stir-fry station: +100 points
  • Late-night food like little grilled cheeses that come out at, like, 1 a.m.: +200 points
  • Open bar: +100 points
  • Pre-ceremony cocktails: +200 points
  • Being a really cool/fun couple in general: +200 points
  • Some kind of big break on lavishness (“Everyone is staying in waterside cabins — our neighbors were kind enough to donate them, so it’ll just be $60 a couple for the full weekend to cover maid service” or “I know the bachelor party is in Aspen, but we’re using my dad’s plane to get there and we can charge all our meals to the club”): ranges between +200 and +500 points.

Then, you get to trade in this goodwill for things like:

  • Having a destination wedding: -200 points
  • Having a destination bachelor(ette): -300 points
  • Going with an obtrusive DJ: -100 points
  • Choosing an unflattering bridesmaid dress: -100 points
  • Asking guests to send in recipes/photos/quilt squares/poems/travel tips: -100 points
  • Making your guests perform a choreographed dance: -300 points
  • Having an engagement party AND a bridal luncheon AND a bachelorette AND another engagement party at your other country club AND informal engagement drinks AND a housewarming party for the house you moved into the day you got engaged: -500 points

You see how it goes. I guess the scale would still be somewhat subjective, as things like “Many single friends” or “Features an O.A.R. cover band” could be credits or debits, depending on your odd priorities in life. As an example, you’d be correct in noticing that in my own scoring, late-night little grilled cheeses are enough to cancel out the hassle of making me go to a destination wedding. I’m a cheap guest.

What was more stunning — notorious softy Ilya Kovalchuk getting in a fight or landing a TKO? The whole thing was straight out of bizarro world. And no way he knew anything about Brayden Schenn, right? Either way, he gets a Gordie Howe Hat trick – whoo!

— Ross G.

Ilya Kovalchuk is having a remarkable season, but it has remained under the radar for two reasons: First, because expectations for him are automatically high, given his contract. (Can we pause for a second and pour one out for the delightful brazenness that was the Devils’ first shot at that deal? I’ve seen top-of-the-mortgage-bubble-era derivatives that were more outrageously structured.) And second, because he’s entered the “I’ll believe it when I see it in the playoffs” cycle of his career. Ask Ovechkin how much fun that is. But for a player who has in the past been accused of not showing up for every shift, his work product seems more regular this season. Kovalchuk is 16th overall in the NHL in time on ice per game, averaging 24:43 minutes — the next-closest forward, who doesn’t turn up until 67th overall, is his teammate Zach Parise — and has been on a greater than point-per-game pace. His “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” was a nice reminder of the well-rounded season he’s having. As for Brayden Schenn, props to him for fighting the good fight and being willing to stand up for his teammate. But I’m sure the Flyers’ organization was just thrilled to see their recently concussed young asset getting a fist to the face for Zac Rinaldo’s slew-footing sins.

You say in your Twitter bio that you want John Tortorella to coach your life. Would you like to pair this with Mike Emrick announcing your life? Seems to me it would be pretty awesome to have Doc follow me around to, like, the grocery store and do his crescendo-ey play-by-play, only stopping for a breath every couple paragraphs.

— Christopher R.

If I could choose one person to play-by-play my life I actually think it would be Bob Papa, because I think he comes fully equipped with epic-sounding piped-in crowd noise. The best case for Doc Emrick would be that he’d be able to describe, say, my morning routine without having to change much around. ” … WAFFLEBOARDED ASIDE! Katie takes out the cream cheese and KNIFES IT AROUND! She’s moving into the garage now, and … BIG DRIIIIIIIIVE! Ohh, but caught up in the MASS OF HUMANITY, now, Katie is!”

This ad appeared in Canada during the Super Bowl: shocking two rec hockey league teams with fans and an “NHL Experience” for a night. But wouldn’t this have been about a million times funnier if they pulled it off at a Phoenix Coyotes game?

— Adam G.

I just pressed this button with my big toe several times on behalf of all the poor hockey fans in Arizona. Things that cannot possibly be fun include (a) having to read detailed assessments of the cities that could become your favorite team’s new home, and (b) getting boom-simmered like that by Adam G. But anyway, Adam G. is correct that this Bud commercial was great. It reminded me of a blend between this awesome Nike ad from during the NBA lockout — I’m pretty sure Melo made the exact same face about Jeremy Lin the other night that he makes when the Jewish Under-40 League kid drains the jumper — and one of my favorite Improv Everywhere operations. (I don’t know the noun for what Improv Everywhere does. Tricks? Stunts? Happenings?) It annoys me to no end that they only showed this hockey ad in Canada because I think it would have killed in the U.S. Instead we got a dog named Weego. Speaking of Super Bowl ads …

Why isn’t the Geico commercial getting more publicity? Because it was right before the national anthem? Ridiculous- This commercial was genius. In case you missed it, a fat slob trying to lose weight walks around with popular high school girls who snicker and humiliate him every time he’s about to eat a double bacon cheeseburger. Talk about a visceral experience. I don’t think I’ve ever been so emotionally invested in a commercial, ever. Whoever made that commercial is onto something huge here. If I had a group of bitchy high school girls shame me out of food I would easily lose 20 pounds in one week?

— Rami L.

I missed this one during the Super Bowl myself, most likely for the reason you identify, but I did happen to see it later during some other broadcast and definitely made a mental note of approval before having to direct all my energy to fighting old teenage insecurities that I thought I had deeply repressed. The ad is brilliant in the near-universal terror it taps into. “Popular middle school girls” may not be the world’s scariest microdemographic, but it’s certainly a close second to “evildoers.” If you haven’t had an “Ew. Seriously?” refrain ring in your ears at some point in your life, it’s only because you were the chorus. (In which case, let me guess: You “developed early” and somehow possessed both clear skin and lenient parents.)

In all seriousness, though, this commercial is kind of a reminder of how heartbreaking it must be to have kids. How do you convince your sweet tween that the opinions of these vile young thangs won’t matter at all one day (unless you opt for a career at Condé Nast), that even the mean girls have problems of their own, that the one little twerp in particular is going to inherit her mother’s hips in less than five years? You can’t. You can just know that they will know all these things one day as well, and that they, too, will still be unable to prepare and soothe their own kids, and on and on it will go, the slow and sad death march of time, and oh, speaking of death, that reminds you that you’ve been meaning to get that insurance quote. Better give Geico a call!

I’m a 14 year old Mets and Jets fan and have been exposed to extreme pain and suffering which will build character and make me into a better person as a result. I have also been a Rangers fan for most of my life, and am astounded by the success that one of my teams is finally experiencing. (I’m not talking about the 2 great moments of making AFC Championship Games, that has been WAY overshadowed by our certain cross-town rivals) Is the Blueshirts’ success, as us young-folk say, “for realz”? Or is it going to fade and die like all of my other dreams. Are the Rangers actually going to have extended success? You are my only hope here for an answer since ESPN refuses to cover the NHL.

— Kirk M.

This was hands-down my favorite e-mail of the last several weeks, from the first sentence (which reads like it was written at the point of a knife being wielded by a stern boarding school headmaster) to the tough-but-fair BURN of the last. And while they sound comical coming from a 14-year-old, forgive this kid his laments about the death of his dreams — keep in mind, he’s right in the sweet spot of having to deal with, and possibly even date, those scary mean girls from the Geico commercial above, so things might seem to be pretty dire. Kirk M, stay strong, little buddy. We are all Kirk M.

Here’s the good news about the Rangers: They have remained remarkably disciplined all season long. They’ve been on a bit of a middling stretch of late, winning and losing in near equal measure, but they haven’t lost three games in a row since the first three games of the season, and they haven’t lost back-to-back in almost two months. Playoff hockey is all about that kind of recovery. Playoff hockey is also about: hot goaltenders (check, and check), physical grinders (check), deep rosters (check), and not-atrocious special teams (this one they may need to work on). The risks, of course: that the Rangers are peaking a little earlier than planned, that regular-season success does not always predict playoff victories, that the relative luck they’ve had with injuries will come to an end at any moment, that Lundqvist can’t possibly keep up this type of season. (Also a worry of late: that pesky New Jersey team they’ll meet three more times.) But they genuinely seem to have bought into the system and to understand Tortorella, and if you follow enough Rangers players on Twitter you’ll notice the team seems to have developed a rallying cry: “The right way.” Can’t go wrong with that.

Are Patriots fans (like me) allowed to still feel proud of our team, or do I have to totally dump on them like the vast majority of the press seems to delight in doing?

— Shaun K.

I have great empathy for Patriots fans because I have seen the following alternate universe flash before my eyes numerous times since Sunday night to the point where I’m still not sure what has actually happened:

Tom Brady puts up that final Hail Mary. It’s batted down in the end zone but then there’s a commotion and everyone is shouting and jumping and pointing and what is happening and oh god Rob Gronkowski, that ridiculous beast, has somehow managed to come up with the ball. And it’s over, the game’s over, the Patriots just won, and ugh, that’s so effing Patriots, everything good always happens to Boston fans, it’s not fair, and Tom Brady gets named MVP and now we’ll have to hear about nothing except his legacy for the next month, and I can’t even deal with reading the papers right now. And what were the Giants thinking with that touchdown, they should have held the ball, they gave the Patriots way too much time, I knew they were going to lose the second Ahmad Bradshaw fell into the end zone like that, what a disgrace, he may have helped get us to the Super Bowl but he couldn’t convert when it counted. And Eli Manning couldn’t even get his teammate to take a knee? He’s a sham leader, he’s lost the team, he’s always been overrated, and what on earth were Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride thinking? Get those guys out of there, it’s time to clean house, Jerry Reese is to blame, and did you see how those guys were out celebrating after that loss? Ugh, Chris Russo is right, you’d never see Starr or Lombardi out there shaking it shirtless.

It’s a dismal thing to imagine, and yet because of a few inches here and there this almost exact scenario played out in reverse. (Except for the last part about Chris Russo, which is for real what happened.) Had the Patriots lost to the Ravens, fans would be disappointed, but I don’t think they would be raging so much. I guess when you get to the Super Bowl, the line between dynasty and disappointment stretches way too thin. Al Pacino was right.

The goalie situation in Chicago has become a real issue the past few weeks for fans of the Blackhawks. Crawford seems to have lost every bit of confidence he has gained over the first half of the season which means Emery is poised to take over the starting role for the rest of the season if he can get hot on the road in the next few games. Do you see Chicago going out and getting a goalie if neither can become the true number 1? Chicago has already gotten a center but could really use a strong second line defenseman and possibly a goalie. What do you see happening in Chicago before February 27th?
— Michael M.

The Blackhawks have faced uneven stretches by Crawford throughout the season — back in early December I wrote a little bit about the team’s insistence that there was no goalie controversy even as they began to give Ray Emery additional starts. But Crawford’s recent swoon has brought the discussion back to the forefront, and the Hawks have had to publicly insist that they’re committed to sticking with him. (The team signed him to a three-year deal worth about $8 million after his strong play last spring.) “I always tell people Corey is a young guy and you don’t lose your talent in a matter of a few months,” GM Stan Bowman told ESPN.com’s Craig Custance this week.

So while it’s possible Emery will wind up the starter over Crawford in the short term, it’s unlikely the Hawks will be out in the market looking to land any other option in net. Where the Blackhawks will be trying to make a move is on the blue line, but they won’t be the only NHL team seeking a big defenseman. (The pool of trade candidates, which includes guys like Bryan Allen, Steve Staios, and Pavel Kubina, got smaller last week when the Carolina Hurricanes re-signed Tim Gleason, who had been widely considered on the block.) Put it this way: The phrase “Hal Gill Sweepstakes” may yet be an actual thing, and if it is, the Hawks and their deep pool of prospects will certainly be involved.

My dad was born and raised in the heart of New York City. He is a diehard fan of the Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. Just like any other kid with a diehard New York sports fan dad, I was brainwashed from a very early age to live and die with New York sports. My dad and I bond the most over sports and going to events. We went to Lambeau Field for the 2007 NFC Championship game, and now to this Super Bowl.

Long story short, I got drafted by the Phillies, and got called up for a month and a half this past season. My love for the Yankees has disappeared but my love for the Giants and Knicks is as strong as ever. I also have fallen in love with the city of Philadelphia and truly believe they are the best baseball fans in the country. The last thing I ever want to do is lose support from these fans, but I love the Giants. So am I allowed to outwardly root for the G-MEN or do I have to keep that to myself because I happen to be employed by the Phillies?

— Michael S.

“Long Story Short, I Got Drafted by the Phillies” sounds like Bill Bryson’s next work of participatory journalism (which I would excitedly preorder, obviously), but I’ll also accept it as a throwaway line in my first mailbag letter from a professional athlete. Hello there! Not sure if you and/or anyone else watches Sister Wives, but it had a great reality show wrinkle in time a season or so back during which they spent numerous episodes agonizing about whether or not to “go public” with their polygamy — when, clearly, they obviously already had gone public or else how would I be watching them agonize about it on a show called Sister Wives in the first place, you know? Anyway, my point is, your question kind of reminds me of Sister Wives: You’re already out in the open and now there’s no point in hiding it.

Sooner or later, everyone has to learn that there are two types of sports fans: those who intrinsically understand that it’s unreasonable to assume any particular athlete would have grown up as a fan of their team; and those who are certain to spit things like “He stinks. He’s a Giants fan, what do you expect?” in angry earnest down the road. But regardless of whom you’re dealing with, it’s best at this point to remain gracious in victory, because it’s hard to say how long it will endure. I say this not as any sort of reverse jinx, but rather because any fan of any NFC East team knows this much to be true: No one lasts too long on top. There’s as good a chance as any that the Eagles could knock the Big Blue right down to size next season. And if/when that happens, it’s going to be annoying enough without a horde of I-told-you-so-ing Philly fans getting all up in your face. (Just don’t wear a Giants shirt into a Wawa.)

Here’s a recent and relevant precedent that you can use in your favor, if needed: The Giants’ own resident salsa dancer, Victor “they’re not booing, they’re saying” Cruuuuuz, not only outed himself as a longtime Cowboys fan this December, he did so in the most potentially damaging way possible: by lamenting how he “was pretty upset when we lost to the Giants a couple of years back when I was in college.” That’s right, He used the “loyal we.” The sound bite made headlines, but Giants fans were secure enough to know it really wasn’t that big a deal. And after the Giants won the Super Bowl, the New York Rangers’ Brian Boyle, a noted New Englander, was revealed to have obviously engaged in a pro-Patriots bet. Rangers fans understood. So you’ve got leverage over Philly fans in that respect: If they give you any trouble, it’s just proof that they’re vastly inferior to their counterparts in New York. Let’s go Mets!

Have a question or opinion for the Bakeshop? Send it to katiebakeshop@gmail.com.