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Giants learned a long time ago of Eli Manning's poise, toughness

The week-after-the-Big-One column is heavy on the Giants, as it should be. And I'd be remiss if I didn't touch on the greatest Anthem I've ever heard at a game -- the late Whitney Houston's, 21 years ago. I'll get to other things around the NFL, too, but I still find so many things fascinating about the rise of Eli Manning, and the rise of this cornerstone franchise with him.

We'll start in the stands at a football game in the small city of Oxford, Miss., a little more than nine years ago.

***

Scene 1: Nov. 2, 2002, Oxford, Miss. The general manager of the New York Giants, Ernie Accorsi, is sitting outside, in the row of seats in front of the Mississippi press box, scouting the quarterback of Ole Miss, Eli Manning, against heavily favored Auburn. It's bitterly cold. Taking notes that afternoon for his scouting report (which six years later would be an important element of Tom Callahan's insightful book, The GM, on Accorsi's last year with the Giants), Accorsi is watching two future first-round picks at quarterback -- Manning and Auburn's Jason Campbell -- and seems riveted by Manning.

A couple of days later, Accorsi types his report in all capital letters to be submitted as part of the team's scouting report on Manning. In a section of the report covering the second half, he writes: "NEVER GETS RATTLED. RALLIED HIS TEAM FROM A 14-3 HALFTIME DEFICIT BASICALLY ALL BY HIMSELF. LED THEM ON TWO SUCCESSIVE THIRD QUARTER DRIVES TO GO AHEAD, 17-16. THE FIRST TOUCHDOWN, ON A 40-YARD STREAK DOWN THE LEFT SIDELINE, HE DROPPED THE BALL OVER THE RECEIVER'S RIGHT SHOULDER. CALLED THE NEXT TOUCHDOWN PASS HIMSELF, CHECKING OFF TO A 12-YARD SLANT. MAKES A LOT OF DECISIONS ON PLAY CALLS AT THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE.''

Scene 2: Dec. 12, 2004, Baltimore. The one thing Eli Manning always has had is poise. That's what makes this horror show at the Ravens so weird, and so troubling.

When quarterbacks go to the line of scrimmage, they most often point to the foe they're using as the middle linebacker, in order for the offensive line to know which man they're going to block. The first man to the right of the "mike'' linebacker, for instance, will be blocked by the right guard, etc. And so when Manning would see Ray Lewis, number 52 on the Ravens, across the line and bark out, "52's the mike,'' Lewis would scurry to the outside of the formation and yell, "I'm the mike!'' And Ed Reed or another defender would slip into Lewis' spot and yell, "I'm the mike!'' They were taunting Manning, and it shook him up.

Says Manning now: "A nightmare. A disaster. They saw me sweating it, and they took advantage of me, to say the least.''

In the fourth start of his Giants' career, Manning was the definition of pathetic, four of 18 for 27 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions ... for a 0.0 passer rating. In the press box, one veteran Giants scribe took to calling Eli "Billy Ripken'' over and over again. As in, "The brother of a great player who'll just never make it.''

Scene 3: Feb. 5, 2012, Indianapolis. Manning was down by 11 that cold day in Oxford. He was down eight here in Super Bowl XLVI. But he led the Giants to two field goals in the third quarter, and when he took over at the New York 12 with 3:46 to go, the Accorsi scouting report comes to life. On the first snap (ON A 40-YARD STREAK DOWN THE LEFT SIDELINE, HE DROPPED THE BALL OVER THE RECEIVER'S RIGHT SHOULDER), Manning, on a 38-yard streak by Mario Manningham down the left sideline, dropped the ball over the receiver's right shoulder, and Manningham made a perfect catch and got both feet down and the Giants were in business at midfield. The Patriots were stunned.

Four plays later, on second-and-eight from the Patriots' 32, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride thinks the Pats may blitz. He gives Manning a running play to use if they don't, and tells him to check to a quick slant if they do blitz. "Alert, alert!'' Manning says, walking up and down the line when he sees safety Patrick Chung and linebacker Brandon Spikes getting ready to blitz. The run is off. The pass is on. (Remember Auburn-Ole Miss, and Accorsi. CHECKING OFF TO A 12-YARD SLANT.)

Manning takes the shotgun snap. Three Patriot blitzers are erased by Kareem McKenzie, Ahmad Bradshaw and Kevin Boothe. Textbook blitz pickup orchestrated by veteran line coach Pat Flaherty and running backs coach Jerald Ingram; both men came to the Giants with Coughlin in 2004. Hakeem Nicks runs a quick slant inside cornerback Antwaan Molden, and Manning throws a strike. Gain of 14.

The other day I asked Gilbride to pick the plays on that drive he thought were the crucial ones. He picked two. "The one to Manningham, of course,'' he said, "and a quick slant to Nicks. We were not settling for the field goal. No way. Not unless we had to. We were attacking.''

Two vital passes against Auburn, a streak down the left side and, on a Manning audible, a quick slant: Gain of 52.

Two vital passes against the Patriots, a streak down the left side and, on a Manning audible, a quick slant: Gain of 52.

Accorsi, who lives in Manhattan, watched the game in the solitude of his home in his hometown of Hershey, Pa. "On that last drive,'' Accorsi said, "I said, 'He's gonna do it.' I've seen it before.''

***

Eli Manning needed to sleep. After three days of revelry, parades, ring-sizing and backslapping, he'd had enough. "We've got to get out of here,'' he told his wife, Abby, and so they left their Hoboken, N.J., nest Thursday and went somewhere. Where, I don't know. But he was good enough to call me Friday and explain two things: how he survived 2004, and how he won the fourth quarter in last week's Super Bowl.

Remember what happened in 2004. The Giants could have stayed where they were on draft day, at number four in the first round, and taken Miami of Ohio's Ben Roethlisberger. But Accorsi traded a bushel full of picks to San Diego to get Manning.

In training camp, Kurt Warner won the starting job. He got off to a 5-2 start, but then lost to Chicago and Arizona, and first-year Giants coach Tom Coughlin went to Accorsi and said he wanted to make a change at quarterback. He wanted Manning to play. He knew Manning was the future, and even though Warner likely would have given them a better chance to beat the defensively strong upcoming foes, Coughlin thought he was going to Manning at some point, and he knew the kid's confidence wouldn't get strafed if he played. That's what Coughlin thought, anyway. "I do recall how desperately Eli wanted to be in there,'' Gilbride said last week. "He was dying to play.''

"I redshirted my freshman year at Ole Miss,'' Manning told me, "and when I was put in there, I was ready to play. My rookie year here, at first, it was an opportunity to watch an MVP play. Kurt was great to me. I would ask him tips about picking up the blitz. And when coach Coughlin went to me, I knew it hurt Kurt. I felt for him. But he was still a professional, helping me. He could have been a lot of things, but I can tell you he was a help to me.''

Warner likes Manning, and vice versa. This was a tough situation, because Warner thought the Giants were throwing away the season -- maybe to justify the trade and the selection of Manning. And Warner looked right for the first month. Manning put up only 23 points in losses to Atlanta, Philly and Washington, and then there was the 37-14 debacle at Baltimore, the day Warner had to come in to rescue Manning in relief. "He was overwhelmed by the situation,'' Warner told me on my podcast last week. "It was some of the worst quarterbacking I'd seen at the NFL level.''

The Ravens, Gilbride said, "did everything they could to humiliate Eli.''

Manning didn't fold. He had a huge week coming up, and a short week. The Giants took the train back to New Jersey after the Sunday game in Baltimore. Coming the following Saturday: a nationally televised game against Pittsburgh, at home, with Roethlisberger, who looked like a big star in the making for the Steelers, coming to the Meadowlands to show everyone in football that Accorsi and the Giants made a big mistake in picking Manning and not him.

On the two-hour ride to Newark, Manning spoke with Gilbride and then-offensive coordinator John Hufnagel. Rather than sulk about the disastrous game he'd played, he told them his eight favorite plays. He told them, "If you could put these in the game plan next week, it'd give me eight plays I'd be comfortable with -- rhythm plays, plays I know I'd have an open receiver even if it was just a short gain.''

Notable that Manning could think about the next game 90 minutes after the most embarrassing game of his life. "I was down, really down,'' he said. "But I knew if we could put some plays in the plan for the next week that I liked, I'd feel better about it -- and the offense would see in practice we'd be able to move the ball.''

That week, he met with Coughlin. "I'm better than this coach,'' Manning told him. And Coughlin said he knew that, and don't look over your shoulder; just play. But around the team, this was a big week, and a tense week. Roethlisberger and the Steelers were 12-1. In the New York Daily News, Gary Myers wrote, "So far, it's shocking how inept Manning has looked. The field looks 200 yards long.'' Accorsi told Myers that week: "I don't want to talk about Roethlisberger. This thing will be written over a long time, not, in Eli's case, four weeks."

Now, Manning says: "I didn't read the paper in high school, and I never got the paper in college. I could kind of tell what was being said about me by the questions the reporters would ask. So I didn't read about me. Same thing when I got to the Giants. But I could tell that week was a big week. The media was like a bunch of hungry dogs. They were coming for me. And I hadn't played well, so that's the way it goes.''

Strange game. Willie Ponder of the Giants returned the opening kick 91 yards for a touchdown. Roethlisberger threw a pick on his first drive. The Steelers scored on an Antwaan Randle El shovel pass. Manning followed with a 55-yard touchdown drive ending in a two-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Shockey. The crowd was getting into it.

Back and forth they went, the Giants taking a 24-23 lead at the end of the third quarter on Manning's second touchdown pass of the day, the Steelers coming back to take the lead on a Jeff Reed field goal, Manning driving the Giants 52 yards for another TD (a Tiki Barber TD run) to put the Giants up 30-26 midway through the fourth quarter, and Jerome Bettis burrowing behind right tackle with five minutes left to make it 33-30, Steelers.

Driving to tie or win it, Manning threw a pick at the Steelers 18 with three minutes to play. Ballgame. "You don't like to say losing a game was a big mental boost for us,'' Manning said, "but it was. That was the day I thought I showed our team I could play at a high level.''

Manning that day: 16-of-23 (.696), 182 yards, two TDs, one interception, 103.9 rating.

Roethlisberger: 18-of-28 (.643), 316, one TD, two interceptions, 84.8 rating.

That's the day Manning took the heat off himself. He's never really felt it since.

***

Now to the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl last week. Much has been said and written about the fateful final drive, and the throw to Manningham in particular, when Nicks and Victor Cruz were lined up to the right and Manningham to the left.

The Giants took over at their 12 with 3:46 to go. Gilbride wanted to take a shot on first down.

"I thought 'Rio' [Mario Manningham] could run by the one corner on the left,'' Gilbride said. "I didn't know if Eli would choose that side, but I thought the play might be there. The thing is, I knew Eli wouldn't make a bad decision there. He's rooted solidly in this offense, and he has a strong belief what's there and what isn't there.''

In a story about this play for Sports Illustrated this week, I wrote that Manningham had gone to Gilbride on Thursday and was blunt about the Giants' playcaller not forgetting him -- or the receivers as a group -- in the game against the Patriots. "We feel we can win this game,'' Manningham said. "You have to understand --we're not nervous. We're excited. The stage is definitely not too big for us.''

On Friday, Manning told me Manningham came to him, too. There wasn't much three-wide stuff in the game plan, Manningham said, so when he's in there, he was going to get open and take advantage of his opportunities. The strong inference: Don't forget me. I'm going to help us win.

During the week, Manning had written notes in his game plan about this play. He wrote about how the New England safeties don't get very wide when they're taking a half of the field apiece. Manning thought, watching tape of the Patriots, "There'll be opportunities to make plays downfield on them.'' But still he didn't think this play was a lock to go right, as he had --according to backup quarterback David Carr -- every time he'd ever seen this play run in practice or a game.

When the ball was snapped, Manning was still thinking Cruz or Nicks first, and that made Chung, the safety who would have responsibility over the top on Manningham, creep over to his left, to provide help if Manning went to that side. "I wasn't looking [Chung] off,'' Manning told me. "I was truly throwing to the right. But the cornerback looked like he was in good position on Victor. I thought the nickel was too close to Hakeem. I didn't like what I saw.''

In his split-second look to the left, Manning saw Manningham with a step or step-and-a-half on corner Sterling Moore, with Chung, hips open to the left and inside the numbers, with very far to turn and run to break up the play if Manning threw left to Manningham.

"It's one of those plays,' Manning said, "where I can't throw it inside, toward the field, or the safety could knock it away. And I can't underthrow it. Those are the two no-nos. If I throw it too far, nothing's lost. It's second down, and we'll be OK.''

The throw traveled 42 yards in the air. As it dropped into Manningham's hands at the Giant 47, Moore's right forearm clubbed Manningham's right shoulder, trying to dislodge the ball; Chung arrived a split-second later and mugged Manningham over the boundary into the Patriots' bench area. Every Patriot but Bill Belichick signaled the play was no good because Manningham surely was out of bounds. But he wasn't. Manningham got both feet in the field of play before the mugging.

Later, Gilbride asked Manning why he'd made that decision. "The other guys got jammed,'' Manning told him. "And I threw it where no one else could get it.''

Eli Manning might play 10 more years and never make a throw better than that one. Sheer perfection ... and thrown to a receiver determined to make a big play in the biggest game of his life.

The audible to the slant to Nicks "was easy,'' Manning said. "I could see the two safeties crowding the line, so it was the only call to make.''

After the completion to Nicks gave the Giants first-and-10 at the two-minute warning at the Patriot 18, Manning looked across the line. "We hit 'em in the mouth,'' he said. "I think they were getting worried then.''

Funny thing about the touchdown, the six-yard score by Ahmad Bradshaw three plays later. Manning thought to tell Bradshaw not to score when he got to the line. However, Gilbride and Coughlin never thought to tell the Giants to beware of the Patriots handing them the touchdown.

Manning saw the Pats being a little lax when he got to the line, and when the snap came, he saw a defensive lineman stand up -- as though he wasn't going to try to make a tackle or rush the passer. So when Manning handed the ball to Bradshaw, he said, "Don't score!'' But Bradshaw couldn't process it in time, and by the time he got to the two-yard line and tried to stop, his momentum carried him into the end zone.

Two takeaways: The fact that Gilbride and Manning have been together for eight years is a huge factor in Gilbride knowing what Manning will execute well in a certain situation. "He completes my sentences,'' Gilbride said. And Manning told me this about Gilbride: "He is what I know about NFL offenses. I can't tell you how huge an advantage it is to be with the same coordinator for so long.''

And Manning's approach to football is a factor in him being so good, late, in such big games. He's been down to the Patriots in the final two minutes the last three times he's played them. And he's driven the Giants 83, 80 and 88 yards in those three games, scoring each time in the final minute to win. How does a person not allow the moment to overwhelm him? Or at least to affect his play? Manning looks like he'd rather play in the fourth quarter, with 116 million people watching.

"I think it comes from the fact I can only do so much,'' Manning said. "And I want to give our team every chance to win, and I want to give myself every chance to compete and to win. I control half the game, and even then I can't control one of our guys fumbling. So I have always had the attitude that if I do everything in my power to prepare, and then I have confidence that we've got a good plan and I know it's good enough to win, then I just go play and whatever happens happens.

"If we lose, will I be mad or upset? Yes. For a few days. But I think after some time, a few days, I'm not going to let it ruin my life for the next two months. I've got a wife and a daughter, and it's not fair to them to ruin the offseason because we lost a football game. I need to be there for them.''

One last thing from that Accorsi scouting report. Something about guts. Manning may not look the part, but someone who plays the way he does late in games has something that Accorsi saw that day in Mississippi, something he'd also seen in his Colts days with Johnny Unitas, something Colts teammate Bobby Boyd saw too. Wrote Accorsi: "BOYD TOLD ME ONCE ABOUT UNITAS, 'TWO THINGS SET HIM APART: HIS LEFT TESTICLE AND HIS RIGHT TESTICLE.' ''

Lots of lessons here. A good organization, with a strong GM, should be trusted above all. Young, Accorsi and Reese have served the Giants extraordinarily well in the last 33 years. Good coaching, with a staff that mostly stays in place, is most often the hallmark of a winning organization. And a good quarterback, with guts, well, that doesn't hurt either.

The greatest anthem ever sung. Well, in my opinion it was Whitney Houston's before Super Bowl XXV -- and I say that even though what we heard was recorded a couple of weeks before the game in a Los Angeles sound studio.

Jim Steeg was the NFL's senior vice president of special events and he organized all aspects of the Super Bowl for 26 years. He booked Houston for the Super Bowl, and he was still shaken up by her stunning Saturday death when we spoke Sunday.

"Last night, [wife] Jill and I sat here, totally devastated,'' Steeg said from his San Diego home. "I have Whitney's anthem on my iPod, and last night I just sat here and listened to it. I got chills. I always get chills when I hear it. That was such a special moment in my life.''

Steeg said he'd booked Houston to do the anthem three years earlier (the Redskins-Broncos Super Bowl in San Diego), but she fired her manager in December and took off on a tour of Australia. "So we got Herb Alpert,'' said Steeg.

Funny. I don't remember Herb Alpert's rendition in San Diego, but I'll never forget Houston's in Tampa.

The Gulf War was 10 days old when the Giants and Bills played. And there was major security in place for the first time at a Super Bowl. Fans were patted down before entering the stadium. Sharpshooters and SWAT teams, in plain sight, were in place on the roof of Tampa Stadium. Airspace was cleared. A stray helicopter with a photographer shooting overhead was nearly shot down before the game; the pilot claimed he didn't know anything about the airspace clearance.

"We were prepared for a possible chemical attack,'' said Steeg. "We'd bought up all the antidotes for a chemical attack that we could find, and they were stored under the stadium. After the game, we sold it off to the NBA.''

The league received a credible threat the week before the game: A police car filled with explosives would try to ram into the stadium during the game. "You hear about things like that and you go, 'Yeah, right,' '' said Steeg. "But on Friday, a police car in St. Petersburg was stolen. So that got everyone's attention. We had two Tampa police cars parked at each entrance to the [stadium] property that day. If a St. Pete police car came up, the cars were there to stop it, blocking the gates. So those cops were pretty happy when the game was over.''

Steeg cleared up a few things Sunday. First, the anthem that day was a combined affair, with the Florida Symphony Orchestra backing up Houston. The orchestra recorded the instrumentals that would go behind Houston's rendition. That tape was brought to Los Angeles, and Houston practiced a few times, then recorded the version that would be played in the stadium, the one we've heard so often over the weekend. "That isn't rare,'' he said. "I'd say about 80 percent of the anthems in my time were recorded beforehand.''

The difference with this anthem was that Houston actually sang it on the field before the game -- in front of a dead mike. "I was on the Giants sidelines, standing right behind Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks,'' said Steeg. "I heard her. It was fabulous.''

Said Steeg: "Lip-syncing is the wrong phrase. She sang it. I heard it. And the emotion on the field when she was finished was noticeable. I saw it on the faces of the Giants. No one knew what the moment would be like, but it was emotion, and fabulous. I'll never forget Taylor saying to Banks -- you think these guys are so intent on the game right then -- but he said, 'Oh my God! Is she good-looking!' ''

Steve Tasker of the Bills was on the opposite sideline. "She hit it out of the park,'' he said. "I'm an anthem enthusiast. I like to listen to them and judge them, and there's never been one like that. I remember looking around when it was over. I looked in the stands and saw fans waving their little American flags with one hand and wiping tears away with the other. I looked over and saw Jim Kelly and Marv [Levy] wiping away tears. And I'm standing right near one of the officials that day, Larry Nemmers -- and he's wiping his eyes. Amazing.''

Lip-syncing or not, it got the crowd going. And the teams. What we heard was a recorded voice and still, after the game, I remember a couple of Giants talking about how special the moment was; players never talk about the anthem. And the next day, radio stations across the country played the anthem so much it shot up into the Billboard Top 20. Houston agreed to give all the proceeds to the American Red Cross; more than $500,000 was raised.

Whatever the method of delivering the anthem, I remember getting teary in the press box when it happened that day. And, like Steeg, I got the chills Saturday night when I YouTubed it.

"Whitney Houston was the greatest singer I've ever heard.''

-- Tony Bennett, after Houston was found dead Saturday evening.

Now there's a tribute.

"If the committee switched up on the guys every five years or whatever ... I think some players would like to see some changes in who is doing the selection process every year because most of the time I think it's the same voters that come in and do all the voting. Outside looking in I would like to see a little more change up on who votes.''

-- New Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee Willie Roaf, on ESPN 101 in St. Louis, via sportsradiointerviews.com.

"I do think part of your legacy as a quarterback is how you bring up the next generation of quarterbacks. And I would be more than willing to talk with him as I have talked with some other young quarterbacks in the past. That being said, I think that the parties, let me just say all three parties, including [Colts owner] Jim Irsay, the Mannings -- which includes Archie and Peyton -- and Andrew Luck, would do a lot of good for the situation by not talking about it as much as there has been. Andrew first and foremost not having been picked yet, although most people assume he is going to go number one. I think it would do him a lot of good for him to have a less-is-more strategy when it comes to talking about the potential situation in Indy."

-- Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, to Jason Wilde of ESPN Radio in Milwaukee, via sportsradiointerviews.com, on being willing to discuss how to handle sitting behind a legend with presumptive first overall pick Andrew Luck -- if the Colts pick Luck and keep Peyton Manning.

Ben Roethlisberger versus Eli Manning has gone from a slaughter to a contest in the last four years, since Manning won his first Super Bowl. Now that Manning has won two, let's see how he and the player the Giants would have chosen in the 2004 draft were Manning not available (Ben Roethlisberger) have fared in the first half of their NFL careers (first stat line is regular-season number, second is each player's playoff numbers):

Roethlisberger has a clear edge in the regular season, and they're close in the playoffs -- though Roethlisberger has gotten his team to one more Super Bowl than Manning (the Steelers lost to Green Bay in Super Bowl 45). But if you break it down further, they're awfully close. Roethlisberger has played a 16-game regular season only once; Manning hasn't missed a game due to injury in his career. In the last three regular seasons, Manning has 23 more touchdown passes.

These two will always be compared to each other, because of the Draft Day 2004 circumstances. The one thing we can say about them: Neither the Giants nor Steelers were cheated with the man they picked.

Jim Steeg told me two teams have forgotten the Super Bowl Trophy in the postgame locker room: the Jets after Super Bowl III and the Giants after Super Bowl XXV. Legend has it someone from Eastern Airlines retrieved the Jets trophy the day after Joe Namath and company shocked the world. The trophy was delivered to the charter before the team jetted back to New York. Steeg found the Giants' trophy, sitting alone on a table in the middle of the locker room about two hours after the game. He phoned Giants GM George Young back at their team hotel.

"You guys missing anything?'' Steeg asked.

"What are you talking about?'' Young replied.

"I've got your Super Bowl trophy in the trunk of my car,'' Steeg said.

That would have been an odd eBay sales item.

I can't tell you much about travel in the past week, because I slept for much of it. (Amazing how you can fall back into a 9:35 p.m. bedtime pretty smoothly.) I did have to go to Boston for a doctor's appointment, and stayed at the Westin Copley Place. A tad pricey, at $251.10 for the night. Then I got my surprises that aren't very surprising anymore with the final bill: $14.31 state tax, $15.07 city tax, $6.91 Convention Center tax (but I didn't use the Convention Center), $46 for parking. That's $82.29 extra. That's what happens when you stay in city hotels. At least they threw in the health club, unlike some hotels that shall remain nameless.

"I did not retire, I graduated.''

"With a degree in Millionaire.''

-- @RickyWilliams, who walked away from football last week.

"We should have kept @jlin7. Did not know he was this good. Anyone who says they knew is misleading U.''

-- @dmorey, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who waived Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin in December.

1. I think these are my Super Bowl leftovers:

a. I've seen 43 people try to spin the Wes Welker non-catch into some deep way of trying to understand why it was too difficult a catch to call a drop. An NFL coach told Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe his team would not have called that a drop. Whatever. The fact is, that ball contacted the palms of both of Welker's hands cleanly, and he was not touched by a Giant defender. Call it a drop. Don't call it a drop. I don't care. But Wes Welker has to make that catch. Has to.

b. Regarding Matt Light and Rob Gronkowski dancing the night away after the Super Bowl loss: I don't care. I don't know why anyone should care. Big loss. Long season. Blowing off steam legally. Big hairy deal. Spare me the reasoning that the Patriots lost and they should stay in their rooms and drown their sorrows there. What do you think past Super Bowl losers have done? Order room service and curse at the TV? The only reason the public found out about Light and Gronkowski is because everyone in America has a camera phone today, and nothing is truly private.

c. Regarding the game Light played: Tom Brady went back to pass 43 times. Light gave up two pressures (actually, one hit on Brady and one pressure) and zero sacks. Thirty-four times, the man across from him was either Osi Umenyiora or Jason Pierre-Paul. And he never gave up a sack. That was a great game Light played.

d. Speaking of offensive linemen who did good work, rewind the Manning throw to Manningham, and watch how left guard Kevin Boothe stones Vince Wilfork. Absolutely stones him.

e. Chad Ochocinco's first season in New England is over. He played in 17 games, including the playoffs, and caught 16 passes. And those who waved goodbye to him in Cincinnati and said he would be a poor route-runner and wouldn't fit in with Tom Brady are now saying, "Told you so.''

f. Are you telling me we have to wait until the fall of 2015 for another Giants-Patriots game, at least one that doesn't happen in the Super Bowl. Booooooo!

g. Last four Giants-Pats games: New York 97, New England 89.

h. Last five Giants-Pats game: New England 106, New York 103.

2. I think these are my Hall of Fame thoughts, as one of 44 voters who has been taking kill shots on various parts of my body in the last eight days:

a. This was my 20th year as a voter. If the Hall wants to institute term limits for the voters, to try to break some of the logjams that seem to be happening, it's fine with me. I won't argue. We didn't sign contracts-til-death when the Hall asked us to be on the Selection Committee. Anytime they want me to leave, all they have to do is show me the door.

b. Now, if you want term limits, you have to understand what you'll be getting. You'll be throwing out veteran NFL media folk and importing some less-experienced ones, in many cases. I understand the sentiment to throw the bums out, as in Congress. But I would ask this question: Do you want a new panel of bums if most of the replacements haven't covered the NFL long enough to have worked a game that Andre Reed played in?

c. I work with and like Mike Florio. But as I told him the other day, it's personally insulting to read him say the 44 committee members are in this, in part, as some sort of power trip to hold some sway over the people we cover. I can speak for one person on the committee -- me. And I don't do this for the power.

d. I want all Hall votes to be public. I have told Hall officials that several times. I think it's important for the public to know who we do and don't support. If you want to write to someone to try to effect change -- either in the transparency issue or in the issue of putting players and club officials on the election panel -- write to Steve Perry, president, Pro Football Hall of Fame, 2121 George Halas Drive NW, Canton, Ohio 44708.

e. Regarding players, coaches and club officials being on the committee instead of media people: Fine with me. If it happens, though, I believe it has to be 32 additional voters -- one former player, coach or club officials per team. I actually think this would be good. To have Bill Polian, Ron Wolf, Sonny Jurgensen, Dan Dierdorf, Bill Cowher, Nat Moore and Mike Haynes would be refreshing and smart. Now, the meeting would likely have to be two days long; the meeting this year was 7 hours and 34 minutes with 44 people.

f. Please stop asking questions like, "Is Eli Manning a Hall of Famer now?'' The answer is simple: Hall of Fame credentials are determined once a player has retired. Eli Manning has six or eight years left, easy, unless he gets hurt. Now is not the time to make a rational decision on whether the 51st-leading passer of all time (in passing yards) is a Hall of Famer.

g. When you tell me, "You're an idiot for leaving Bill Parcells and Cris Carter out of the Hall of Fame,'' understand that I am one of 44 voters. I am one-44th to blame, though I supported both with my vote and my mouth.

h. When you tell me, "You're an idiot for leaving Parcells and Carter out of the Hall of Fame,'' tell me which two enshrinees you'd have left out.

i. As for the rumor-mongering about Carter or whoever being "one vote short'' or some number of votes shy of election: Absolutely absurd. Deloitte, the accounting firm, is the only entity that knows the vote totals. All votes in the room are secret. We don't know who votes for anyone. We can guess, certainly, based on what is said in the room. But to know with certainty? Impossible.

j. Never have I heard a voter say anything like, "Cris Carter's an idiot, so I'm not voting for him.'' Not even close.

k. I'm still waiting for the Andre Reed fans from La Jolla and Albuquerque and Lubbock to harangue me about why he hasn't been elected. It's funny that all the critics so far seem to be from Western New York.

l. We don't have to be biased against a candidate to not vote for him. We could simply think he's not a Hall of Famer. Is that so hard to believe?

3. I think Ricky Williams will go down as one of the most memorable players I've covered. Remember his days of being interviewed while wearing his helmet? He did that in his rookie year in New Orleans and later was found to have social anxiety disorder. I remember talking to him after a game one day at the Superdome, and he sat in full uniform, helmet buckled, shield over his eyes. Very strange.

The one thing I always liked about him -- and this sounds odd to say -- is he was very kind. Polite, smart and sort of a locker-room misfit in those early years. But as he grew and went back to Miami after his year suspension for marijuana use, and then later in his last year in Baltimore, you saw what a good and unselfish football player he was. He blocked willingly and ran hard all the time. He finished as one of 26 players ever to rush for 10,000 yards.

I asked John Harbaugh over the weekend about what he thought of having Williams for the 2011 season. "Very integrated,'' Harbaugh said, meaning he was a good teammate and team player. "Liked talking philosophy, religion, diet and politics. It'll be fascinating to see what he does.''

4. I think the Rams were smart to hire a hardworking scout like Les Snead as general manager. All he wants to do is find players. I know Snead, and I know his work ethic, and he's going to mesh with new coach Jeff Fisher just fine.

5. I think the Colts were smart to promote Tom Telesco to vice president of football operations, so as not to lose him to the Rams, or anyone else. Telesco could be the next great GM in football.

6. I think all teams needing a wide receiver in free agency should line up for Mario Manningham. I don't see the Giants making anything but a cursory effort to sign Manningham, who likely will get at least $7 million a year somewhere. He believes he can play to a star level in the league and that he hasn't had the chance.

7. I think Hines Ward would play for a fraction of his current $4 million 2012 salary to stay in Pittsburgh. I talked to him last week, and he wants to play one more year, and he wants to play for the Steelers.

But the way he was buried in the last half of the season (he played an average of 14.4 snaps per game in the last nine of the season, according to ProFootballFocus.com), it's hard to imagine the Steelers want him back, especially with the speedier bench player Jerricho Cotchery available.

8. I think the phrase "plays well with others,'' will be important for former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley to remember if he hopes to have success as the offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh. He left behind some poor relationships in Kansas City -- and not just with GM Scott Pioli. Haley has to bond with Roethlisberger and help the QB produce at a consistent playoff level, while keeping three talented receivers content. It'll be an interesting chemistry experiment.

9. I think the most important point to realize about Peyton Manning, and who might be in play for him if the Colts cut him, is this: It's hard to place a value on him until you know exactly what kind of physical condition he's in.

Say you're the Redskins. Say you've investigated Matt Flynn and like him a lot. If you think you can get Flynn (assuming the Packers don't franchise him, and they certainly may) for, say, $9 million a year in a multiyear deal and you're not sure about Manning's health, you have to get Flynn.

I have a feeling, though, that Manning is going to be throwing the ball pretty well by March 10, and he'll tempt a quarterback-needy team like Washington or Miami.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Started my first offseason book: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. It's not Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but I'm attacking it and enjoying it. Great stories about the early days of cancer detection.

b. My gym in New York always has those Housewives of ... shows on. I have peeked. Is this what we have come to as a society?

c. That's how old I am.

d. Excellent job by Anderson Cooper on "60 Minutes," getting the singer Adele to dish on stage fright. Revealing. Then ...

e. Cool to then see Adele do Rolling in the Deep on the Grammys. What a voice. What a presence.

f. You know you put life on hold when you clean out your desk after a long season and find a Boston Globe sports section from early September -- printed two months before I moved from Boston to Manhattan -- in a pile in the corner.

g. I guess we came at the right time, Indianapolis.

h. I haven't shaved since Super Bowl Sunday. How do I look?

i. Coffeenerdness: You're too inconsistent with the lattes, Manhattan Starbucks. I haven't owned an espresso machine for a few years, but I'll be getting one this week.

j. Beernerdness: Back to Peroni for a while. The heavier beers are fun, and I'll be back, but I've got to drop a few pounds. More than a few, actually. Looking a little like the Michelin Man.

k. Good luck in your new home, Donnie Brasco!

l. Don't get used to 7,000-word columns in the offseason. Just got a little wordy over the weekend. Next week: Free-agent lists and opinions.

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