Eli Manning's foot speaks out
Surrounded by a small group of bodyguards, handlers and, I think, one of the Kardashian sisters, he entered our agreed upon location -- a Foot Locker store in New Jersey, naturally -- wearing designer sunglasses, a single Teva flip-flop and an aroma that was a mixture of athletic tape, warm fungus and despair. The minute I saw the telltale swelling and discoloration on the arch, I knew exactly what was in front of me: Eli Manning's battered, reclusive, controversial right foot and the scoop of a lifetime. Here, now, for the first time -- ever -- Eli's foot goes on the record about the most painful, aggravating, emotionally draining season of his life.
Flem: Thanks for your time. I wanted to get things off on the right foot ...
Eli's Foot: Keep laughing. Ha. Ha. Tell me something, do you remember what Eli's extension was worth?
Flem: $106 million, no, $107 million.
Foot: Yeah, and besides my 33 joints and 100 muscles, I am home to one-fourth of the bones in Eli's body, which means, if you can do the math, I'm worth a cool $27 million.
Flem: Sorry. Sorry. Trying to ease the tension with humor. I meant no disrespect. I mean, you're getting more play in Manhattan than the Knicks these days.
Foot: Yeah, that's not too hard.
Flem: Look, the reason I wanted to talk to you is, while the Giants season goes in the tank, Eli keeps telling everyone nothing's wrong with you and you're fine and you're not bothering him at all. First you're OK for the Dallas game. Then you're not. Now you're fine again. I just want to hear it from you, is all. What's the deal?
Flem: It's OK. You're hurting, aren't you?
Foot: Yes. I mean, athlete's foot, corns, bunions ... Big Foot jokes ... coffee table legs ... and THOSE TINACTIN COMMERCIALS? Don't we as feet have enough to deal with already? Do you have any Red Bull, by chance, can I get a Red Bull?
Flem: Sure, sure, no problem.
Foot: Normally ... (opens can and sips) ... normally the public understands that when an athlete, or a team, says an injury is no big deal, you know, right away, it's a really big deal.
Flem: Like when a golfer gets in an accident backing out of his driveway at 2:30 in the morning and tries to claim it's not a big deal and that, despite the fact that he's made gazillions by being everywhere selling everything from shoes to cars to razors -- he now wants, no, demands, his privacy.
Foot: Exactly. I'm just saying, I've been through hell this season.
Flem: Really? Because I think it was 2005 when Eli said his elbow was no big deal.
Foot: And he missed two games.
Flem: Yeah, and then it was his shoulder, right? He said it was nothing.
Foot: I'm close with his scapula, we were in the same frat, and that one messed him up for a month.
Flem: So on this one, there was the original plantar fascia problem suffered against the Chiefs in Week 4. I've had giant, tough, nasty defensive linemen tell me this is the worst injury you can get because it's painful enough to reduce you to tears but not serious enough to keep you out of action.
Foot: (Nods his toes.) Ever snagged a fingernail on one of those strips of curly carpet tacks? Feels like that.
Flem: And they say if you don't numb it enough with cortisone the pain is excruciating. But if you over-numb it, it's like playing with a stub instead of a foot.
Foot: Originally, for the record, I wasn't that bad ... at first.
Flem: Well, right, around the bye week you guys threw for 599 yards and five TDs against the Charges and the Falcons.
Foot: But then I suffered a "stress reaction," which could eventually lead to a stress fracture, as a result of Eli's overcompensating for my plantar fascia.
Flem: WAIT A SEC. How can Eli claim the foot doesn't bother him while simultaneously suffering an injury caused by OVERCOMPENSATING for the injury that supposedly hasn't bothered him?
Foot: Dude. What? Seriously, you're circular logic is giving me, like, a Lisfranc fracture or something. Look, our game against Denver says it all. I mean, I just couldn't step into anything. You saw it.
Flem: Right, everything was coming out off target and wide, the telltale sign of foot problems. So why does Eli keep saying you're okay?
Foot: I don't KNOW. Does he (sniff-sniff) hate me or something?
Flem: Naw. Remember the Giants' great former GM George Young?
Flem: Well, he used to say the quarterback has to be the toughest player on your team both mentally and physically -- and everyone on the team has to know it. I think Eli is just trying to honor that code.
Foot: That would really mean something to me -- if I was his elbow.
Flem: Yeah and it doesn't really help explain the drunk fowls Eli was throwing or the happy feet against Denver.
Foot: Ga-head, make stupid jokes. I don't care. I'm used to it. The foot never gets the credit it deserves. The arm, geez. The head. The hands. That's all anyone talks about, but most people don't realize passing the football all comes down to ...
Flem: Footwork. Actually Michael Vick just reminded me of that last week. No matter how many reps he gets as a backup he says as long as he works on his footwork everyday in practice he can maintain his arm strength and accuracy.
Flem: Which is why I don't buy that your being hurt isn't affecting Eli's passing. I mean, the right foot of a right-handed quarterback? Everything starts and finishes with you. All the power and zip comes from the back hip. You are like the Sergeant Hulka of the Giants offense.
Foot: Look, I'm 28, I don't really get "Stripes" references.
Flem: What I'm saying is, you're the back foot. At the end of his drop, you have to carry all his body weight. You absorb all that momentum, stabilize all 225 pounds of his frame and then you have to act like a slingshot as you propel him forward into the throw. I'd think it would almost be easier to throw with a hurt arm than a bunch of mangled metatarsals or screwed-up sesamoids.
Foot: Maybe Phil Simms was on to something when he said a month ago that I had to be affecting Eli?
Flem: If you're numb or injured you can't give Eli the same kind of push he normally gets and so his passes tend to sail a bit.
Foot: I see where you're going with this, and yes, that has been an issue. I take full responsibility for that.
Flem: OK, so is it also true that Eli's brother Cooper heard from dozens of people who had homemade remedies to heal a bum heel -- like rolling a tennis ball under you?
Foot: (Checks with handler.) I can confirm that.
Flem: Did any of them work?
Foot: To my ultimate dismay, Eli heard the heel of cowboy boots helps, so he's been wearing cowboy boots.
Foot: Tell me about it.
Flem: What hurts more, the stretching or being seen in cowboy boots?
Foot: No question about it. I've always found cowboy boots to be ironically effeminate.
Flem: Me too.
Foot: I'd rather go on IR. But ... you know ... no one ever asks me what I want.
Flem: Do you interact with Peyton's feet much?
Foot: Seriously? I don't know, the occasional hot tub or golf trip or ...
Flem: His feet are awesome, they have never given him any trouble.
Flem: He's got first-ballot Hall of Fame feet. He's got MVP feet. He could be a foot model. Have you ever worn his shoes or socks by accident? What was that like? He wears only Gold Toe socks, I bet, right? Am I right?
Foot: OK. OK. I get it.
Flem: Do Peyton's feet smell like, like, a mixture of Downy and ... and ... excellence?
Foot: YES. YES. Peyton has PERFECT FEET. Geez. CAN WE MOVE ON?
Flem: Tube sock, crew or footie?
Flem: Any other feet contact you for support this week?
Foot: I heard from Ronnie Brown's injured foot. That helped give me some perspective. And I texted Hines Ward a bunch but his feet have been in his mouth since Saturday.
Flem: What about running back Ahmad Bradshaw? He's had a protective boot on both feet this season, right? Can you commiserate with him?
Foot: Actually, uh, he hurt his ankles. It's not the same thing. In fact, it's kind of offensive.
Flem: Foot. Ankle. Ankle. Foot. Whatever.
Foot: Yeah, good point. Let's just call it the National Ankleball League and see how people react.
Flem: So, for the last time, are you OK and will you support Eli this weekend in a make-or-break game against the Cowboys?
Foot: Look, I don't know how many more needles and tape I can take. I'll do what I can to get the Giants back, you know, on their feet, but what about me? We all have our breaking points and, the team doc will tell you, I'm getting really close to mine.
Flem: Well, then, how do you feel about Eli's saying that "it's time to make a jump, a jump back to playing good football."
Foot: A JUMP back to good football? Did he really say that? That makes me hurt just thinking about it. Don't get me wrong, I love the guy. I thank my lucky stars every day that I didn't end up as Texans kicker Kris Brown's right foot. But sometimes Eli can be so insensitive, like last summer when he tried to make it from the beach to his car without flip-flops.
Flem: Plus, in your condition, and with the lackluster performance of the Giants lately, wouldn't a "jump back to playing good football" be ...
Foot: Don't say it.
Flem: An impossible feat?
Foot: That's it, I'm outta here.
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and the author of the memoir "Noah's Rainbow" and "Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship." And his work will be featured in The Best American Sports Writing 2009 anthology. The Flem File appears every Wednesday during the NFL season with updates on Mondays and Fridays.