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Warner Playing Teaching Role

June 13, 2004|From Associated Press

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Kurt Warner has been the NFL MVP twice, the Super Bowl MVP once. His rise inspires any athlete who hopes to advance from obscurity to stardom.

If Eli Manning reaches the stardom expected of him, it won't be from obscurity -- a quarterback with his surname is born to excel.

So call the New York Giants' quarterback competition a tale of two stars without portfolios -- one probably past his prime, the other not yet close to it.

But it's not really a competition. Manning is the future of the Giants, Warner is the present. For despite the party line -- "We'll start the one who plays the best" -- it was clear when the Giants signed Warner the day after he was released by St. Louis that he would open the 2004 season as their starting quarterback.

"This organization is always serious about winning," running back Tiki Barber says. "We'll never be a team that settles for the doldrums."

The arrival of Manning and Warner give the Giants quarterbacks a stature they haven't had since Hall of Famers Y.A. Tittle and Fran Tarkenton in the 1960s and '70s. Yes, the team has been to three Super Bowls in the past two decades under Phil Simms and Kerry Collins, but the standard MO has been running and defense.

That has produced a media frenzy unusual even for New York.

After the Giants traded for Manning -- the first overall pick in April's draft -- there were more than 100 media members at his first workout, unheard of for a minicamp.

The reviews from Day One were almost all negative: Manning stumbled around, threw wobblers and wasn't even as good as rookie free agent Jared Lorenzen. But he shone during later workouts, and even those who panned him acknowledged they probably got carried away in the hype.

Still, when the Giants open in Philadelphia on Sept. 12, Warner almost surely will start in place of Collins, who declined to restructure his contract after Manning was acquired and now is with Oakland.

Look at history: No quarterback has ever played well enough in his first season to be voted offensive rookie of the year.

Even the most touted quarterbacks struggle. Eli's brother Peyton in Indianapolis and Dan Marino in Miami came closest to immediate success -- they were stars by their second seasons.

But John Elway was pulled from his first start, and Troy Aikman didn't win a game after being the No. 1 overall pick in 1989. He started most of the season for Dallas, but Steve Walsh was the starter in the Cowboys' only victory that year.

"If I'd had a veteran with any kind of ability, I would have started him over Troy," says Jimmy Johnson, who was in his first year as head coach and went on to win two Super Bowls with Aikman. "I didn't have anyone, so Troy took the beating. He survived, but I've seen other guys just lose their confidence and everything else by losing all the time as rookies."

Tom Coughlin, the Giants' new head coach, said as much this week -- even as he was promising that the starting job is wide open.

"One thing you can't switch from one player to the other is the experience factor and obviously Kurt has that," he said. "He has been there. It is going to take time for Eli. No question about that."

Last year, the Giants went into the season with what seemed like a reasonable shot at advancing far into the playoffs. Instead, they finished 4-12 -- done in by injuries and a dismal offensive line.

So Jim Fassel was fired, Coughlin hired and 19 veteran free agents were signed, including a bunch of relatively low-priced but experienced linemen.

Then Collins left and the team's best player, 32-year-old All-Pro defensive end Michael Strahan, wondered aloud if the Giants were in a rebuilding mode that would deny him any shot at a title in his final NFL seasons.

Warner changed that, although he is 0-7 as a starter since 2001 -- bothered by a thumb injury. Last season, he started the opener against the Giants, fumbled six times and suffered a concussion, then lost his job to Marc Bulger.

At nearly 33, he insists he's healthy, holding up his hand and bending the thumb back and forth to demonstrate it. He says he's enthused about New York's offense; about never having had a tight end the caliber of Jeremy Shockey; and about using Barber as a receiver out of the backfield as he used Marshall Faulk.

He didn't look as if he'd lost much in his first workouts, zipping the ball with the same ease he did in St. Louis. He even said he developed a rapport with the acerbic Coughlin, a taskmaster with a reputation as anything but a player's coach.

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