Scoff if you want at the NFL’s extra preseason game, but it’s a big deal. It often sells out in Canton, Ohio. And it does huge ratings. Last year’s Hall of Fame game between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers drew about 11 million viewers. Game 3 of the NBA Finals this year drew an average of about 16.5 million viewers, to put that into perspective. Starters rarely play in the game. Most of the players in the contest won’t make the final roster of either team. Yet, people tune in because we’re so desperate for football.
It’s not just the television crowd. Last season’s Hall of Fame game officially drew 22,364 fans. Capacity for Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium is listed at 22,354, according to the Canton Repository, so the game does very well in town. The Hall of Fame said it would refund all tickets, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter said that would cost the non-profit Pro Football Hall of Fame about $4 million.
When Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker got on a microphone at midfield to explain to those in attendance what happened, the fans booed him. Players from both teams clapped for him to show some support, but it didn’t help. The fans continued to boo throughout Baker’s announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we know a lot of you came a long way,” Baker told them. “Here at the Hall of Fame, we have the greatest respect for players. We have the greatest respect for player safety … as a result of some painting on the field today, some questions arose about player safety. We met with both teams, we talked to both sets of players. I can tell you, I had a son that played in this league [former Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Sam Baker], and if [this] had happened with him on the field, I would have wanted somebody to make the same decision.”
ESPN said on its broadcast that Baker made the call to not play, after talking to coaches, executives and the athletic training staff of both teams. They couldn’t ensure the safety of the players.
”We are very disappointed for our fans, but player safety is our primary concern, and as a result, we could not play an NFL game on this field tonight,” the NFL and NFLPA said in a joint statement.
“Someone had to make a very tough decision, and I respect that,” Colts quarterback Andrew Luck told ESPN.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams said the field wasn’t good last year for the Hall of Fame game, and criticized the NFL for it.
Hey @NFL it was that terrible last year but u didn’t cancel the game we had our kicker tear his acl and a few mcl strains so thanks????
— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) August 8, 2016
In the stadium, the Hall of Famers were introduced to the crowd, singer Lee Greenwood went on with a show that was meant for halftime, and players milled around for a while, seemingly unsure what to do without a game to play.
ESPN did its best to entertain fans that tuned in expecting to see football. It wasn’t easy, especially considering Charles Woodson, Matt Hasselbeck and Randy Moss were on the “Monday Night Countdown” set with Berman for the first time. ESPN signed off from Canton at 9 p.m. and went to “SportsCenter.”
It wasn’t that long ago when Eli Manning could just roll out of bed and show up at practice, feeling good and full of energy. He was younger then, of course. These days, at age 35, he says “it takes me about an hour to get loosened up.”
But that’s about the only concession to his age that the New York Giants quarterback is willing to make, and there aren’t any obvious signs of other age related issues at all. His arm looks as strong as ever. His numbers have only gotten better over the last two years. And he doesn’t look like a player fighting off an inevitable decline.
“He’s getting better,” Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said.
He better be, because Manning is the key to the Giants’ immediate future or, as GM Jerry Reese put it, the Giants “are on his back.” They spent $200 million on rebuilding the defense and left the offense largely as is because they are confident it can succeed in the hands of their franchise quarterback.
But if he begins to show any signs of age or of a late career decline, it would mean big trouble for the start of the McAdoo Era. And it could mean a long wait before the Giants are contenders again.
For now, though, the Giants don’t have to worry about a long search for their next franchise quarterback because the one they have has thrived in his two seasons under McAdoo’s offense. In 2014, he set a career high in completion percentage (63.1), and he threw a career high 35 touchdown passes last season while topping 4,400 yards in back to back seasons for the first time in his career. He even threw a total of just 28 interceptions in those two seasons nearly the same total he threw (27) in 2013 alone.
He’s made it clear he loves McAdoo’s offense, which was a huge reason Giants management promoted the offensive coordinator to head coach, and the numbers show it obviously works. The only question has been how long Manning can physically keep going and improving as he nears the end of his long career.