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May 4, 2004 -- The veteran quarterback asked by the Giants to tutor Eli Manning through his inevitable rookie growing pains will not be Neil O'Donnell. He was the Giants' first choice to fill that delicate role, but yesterday he informed GM Ernie Accorsi that he has no plans to return to the field.

"It was a tough decision," O'Donnell said, "because it was home."

O'Donnell, a native of Madison, N.J., who turns 38 on July 3, made a decision based on his family life (wife and three children) and the fact that he has turned his attention to other matters. He will work this season for News Channel 5 in Nashville as a reporter covering the Titans and has other media-related prospects.

"It just came down to the fact what was best for my family; it's not just about Neil O'Donnell right now after 14 years," he said. "My family sacrificed enough with daddy taking naps Saturday afternoon every weekend."

O'Donnell thought he was retired last summer after the Titans released him. He was brought back late in the season, however, after injuries depleted Tennessee's quarterback situation. O'Donnell went out a winner when he started, threw for 232 yards and tossed two touchdown passes in a season-ending 33-13 victory over the Buccaneers.

"I had another chance to come back and play; I cherished it," said O'Donnell, who left the door open for a return if it meant getting a shot at a Super Bowl ring. "I just felt that was a great way to end it all."

And then, last Saturday, two hours after the Giants traded for Manning, O'Donnell got a call from his hometown team. He was intrigued and, after a conversation with Tom Coughlin, decided to take this past weekend to make up his mind.

"He's a great guy," Accorsi said. "He said, 'I want to go out on my own terms.' I admire him for it; you don't see much of that now. He would have been ideal, but I respect his decision."

O'Donnell could have accepted the backup role.

"I understand the franchise is going to be built around Eli, I'm not that naive," O'Donnell said. "It was go into training camp, Eli would get most of the snaps - 60, 70 percent of the snaps in preseason - and if he was ready to play opening day, he would play. If he wasn't ready to play, I would play."

It's likely the Giants will now wait a bit to sign their veteran quarterback. If Rich Gannon is released by the Raiders - Kerry Collins could replace him in Oakland - the Giants would be interested, if Gannon will accept a backup role. Kurt Warner is also an option, but a more remote one. Vinny Testaverde will be cut by the Jets on June 1, but the speculation is he'll sign with Bill Parcells in Dallas.

Damon Huard, who turns 31 on July 9 and has spent most of his career on the bench for the Dolphins and Patriots, is a younger option.

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Eli is going to get tudored by the blitz, not by another quarterback. He will face the same fate as Patrick Ramsey did last year with five times the expectations. The spotlight was on Spurrier last year not Ramsey. Manning won't have that luxury. Boo birds are waiting Eli. We want you to be a bust so don't disappoint us.

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You'd think they'd have enough sense to have signed a backup before drafting Manning and cutting Collins sooner. Either way, I figure, they were going to draft a QB, Eli, Ben, or even Rivers. That Gallery stuff was smoke, I never bought into it, not with how the Giants and Collins had cut off talks about an extension WAY beore the draft.

I think they just assumed O'Donnell would jump at the chance to hold a clipboard for Eli.

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Vinny may be an option. Some of the local papers were suggesting (a LONG time ago, I might add) that he was interested in remaining in the NY area. The Gints would be a good fit for him. He may be a better mentor than he is an actual QB (see: Pennington).

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