The New York Giants haven't made the playoffs since their 2011 Super Bowl-winning season, and New Orleanians Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. want to change that drought pronto.
Beckham Jr. caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards with 12 touchdowns from his fellow Newman School graduate as a rookie in 2014, despite missing the first four weeks with a hamstring injury. His most dazzling moment came Nov. 23 against Dallas on national TV -- a one-handed 43-yard touchdown pass from Manning with a defender draped all over him that some labeled the greatest catch in NFL history. "Sunday Night Football" commentator Cris Collinsworth called the catch "ridiculous" and "absolutely impossible."
But that's in the past, and Manning, 34, said he hopes for similar production in 2015 from a healthy Beckham Jr., along with receivers Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle, an ex-LSU standout like Beckham. Beckham Jr. missed a chunk of the Giants' offseason program, battling the nagging hamstring, but he returned to action at training camp.
"Odell was a big part of the offense last year. He's a playmaker," Manning said at the Manning Passing Academy in July. "Obviously early on it was frustrating (with him) not being healthy and not being out there, but he worked hard at picking up the offense very quickly and making plays for us."
Manning, a 12-year veteran, recalled his excitement when the Giants picked Beckham Jr. 12th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. They already had the New Orleans connection and developed a relationship when Beckham Jr. attended the Manning Passing Academy while in college.
"When Odell was at LSU, he'd definitely come and throw a couple of days with us," Manning said. "A lot of times twice on Thursdays and again on Saturdays he'd come run routes. I'd always try to team up with him and throw routes with him a lot just because I knew him a little bit and knew he was a great talent.
"I didn't know he'd have the season he did last year, and I'm excited about the opportunity to work with him these next few years."
Eli's father, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning, said he was thrilled to see the chemistry develop last season between the Giants' native New Orleanians.
"I saw Odell play in high school and LSU, so we were so proud that Odell finally got on the field," Archie Manning said. "After missing all that time, I never anticipated he'd do what he did. He was really fun to watch, and I just hope he can stay healthy. I know Eli wants him to stay healthy."
Manning is in the final year of his contract, and he vehemently denied reports that he wants to be the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is the highest paid signal-caller at $22 million annually. Manning said he won't be actively involved in contract talks between the Giants and his agent, Tom Condon, instead choosing to focus on football and adding a third Super Bowl ring to his résumé.
That journey starts Sept. 13 at Dallas on "Sunday Night Football," the stage of Beckham Jr.'s unforgettable touchdown grab from Manning. The Giants' quarterback said he doesn't have a nickname for a scoring play between him and Beckham Jr.
"I'm not that clever; I'll leave that job to the papers or columnists," Manning said with a laugh. "Just 'touchdown,' will work for me ...
"Throwing the ball and getting him in the end zone, I'll be happy."
Rachel Whittaker | nola.com | September 1, 2015