EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Brett Favre isn’t the only one with a streak of note heading into Sunday’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning has one of his own.
While many wonder whether a shoulder injury will prevent the Vikings’ quarterback from extending his streak of 297 consecutive starts, Manning will make his 100th consecutive start with much less fanfare as New York (8-4) tries to keep pace with Philadelphia in the NFC East.
Besides Favre and Manning, the only other NFL quarterbacks to start 100 straight games are Eli’s big brother, Peyton Manning of the Colts, Tom Brady of the Patriots, Ron Jaworski of the Eagles and Joe Ferguson of the Bills.
Miami’s Dan Marino would have qualified, but missed the lockout games.
“That’s good stuff,” Manning said. “In this league, you get hit. There have been a couple games where it’s been kind of iffy and come down to game-time decisions. It’s easy to get hurt in this game and I think part of it is a little luck and how you take care of your body on some things and trying to avoid the big hits.”
Eli Manning twice came close to having his streak end. He hurt his shoulder against the Dallas Cowboys in the season opener in 2007, but played the following week against Green Bay. Just last year, he nearly missed a game against Oakland with a foot injury, but started and played a half in a romp.
Manning, who is winless in four starts against the Vikings (5-7), said it’s impossible to compare his streak with Favre.
“For me, it’s one-third of my career, so I have another 14 years to go. That’s a long time,” he said. “That’s really the amazing part, how long he’s played and stayed healthy in consecutive starts and played at a high level. It’s very impressive.”
Long-running streaks require toughness, a good workout regime, intelligence and little luck, too, Manning said.
“I think you try to be smart and not take an unnecessary hits,” the 29-year-old said. “You’re going to take some hits and that has to happen. It’s about your preparation and knowing what’s going on with the defense.”
Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Manning has come light years since being taken as the No. 1 overall pick in 2004. He got his first NFL start against Atlanta on Nov. 21, 2004. Gilbride, who also joined the Giants in 2004, says it seems like yesterday, and he can’t help but laugh.
There was a check in one of those first starts called “toss crack” that Manning had trouble remembering. So in the middle of the game, he turned to the running back and called out “toss here,” pointing to the spot where the play was to go.
“We picked up a first down,” a laughing Gilbride said. “Sometimes, we give the defense too much credit.”
Playing the Ravens later that season in Baltimore was a different story. Manning completed 4 of 18 passes for 27 yards, two interceptions and a zero quarterback rating.
The Ravens toyed with Manning. Defenders turned sideways to hide their numbers when the quarterback said things like ’52 is the Mike’ to identify the middle linebacker.
“It was not a good day,” Gilbride said.
Better days would follow. New York won the NFC East the following season and a Super Bowl in February, 2008, a game in which Manning was named the MVP after throwing a last-minute, game-winning touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress.
Manning insisted he was unaware that his streak would hit the century mark this week.
“I’m worried about Minnesota and trying to get through this one and figuring out a way to get a win,” said Manning, who has two touchdowns and nine interceptions against Minnesota. “I like being out there, and I work hard trying to stay healthy and taking care of my body.”
Defensive captain Justin Tuck quipped that Manning is just lucky to have a streak that long. Then, he got serious.
“He is one of those guys that prepares to the Nth hour,” Tuck said. “He is a tough guy. A lot of people don’t look at Eli as being a tough guy, but when you think about playing when his shoulder was hurting and his foot was hurting. He has played through injuries. He constantly goes to work.”
Center Shaun O’Hara said Manning just loves to come to work.
“He’s proved — for a quarterback — he’s semi-tough,” O’Hara said. “He played through the bloody gash (this preseason) on his head. He’s had some strange injuries, but Eli is a competitor. He doesn’t like missing time. He likes being out there for everything. I think it’s a pretty remarkable streak.”
Rich Seubert, the guard who has taken over at center because of an injury to Shaun O’Hara, said Manning has the personality of a lineman, adding “he’s a little chubby, too.”
“He is,” Seubert said, “one of us.”
Seubert also noted Manning might be the biggest prankster on the Giants, saying for 100 starts, there have been 100 pranks. Maybe that’s what keeps him so focused. He knows how to take the edge off.
In 2007, Manning allegedly stole ties from Seubert and fellow guard Chris Snee on the trip to Green Bay for the NFC title game. He left them with ties that were green, one of the Packers’ main colors. At the Super Bowl, Seubert said Manning stole the linemen’s dress shoes, bought them new ones and painted them purple.
Placekicker Lawrence Tynes, whose locker is next to Manning, accused the quarterback of taking cell phones and IPads. He switched the language to Chinese.
“The silent assassin is a very good name for him,” Tynes said. “He is very witty and creative in how he gets after people.”
“Those are just accusations,” Manning said with an impish smile.
O’Hara begged to differ: “Eli likes pulling pranks.”
He likes starting games, too.