Eli Manning and Steve Smith had a great connection in 2009.
It’s February, which means love is in the air. It’s that time of year when people strive to build a connection with one another, including quarterbacks and their budding receivers.
Every quarterback has a favorite target, and that is usually the result of unique chemistry between the passer and pass-catcher. When fully developed, the timing is so rhythmic that the two players always know where their counterpart is on the field—almost as if they are sharing a mind.
These connections can yield record-setting yardage, reception and touchdown totals, but the most coveted byproducts of these on-field love affairs are wins.
Even if you failed to make a connection this Valentines Day, you can still find consolation in this all-time list of the New York Giants’ greatest single season passing connections.
The Giants were one of the league’s most dominant forces in the late 1950s. They competed in the ’58 and ’59 NFL Championships but ultimately fell short both times to Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts.
In 1960, New York started to slip, as the squad only mustered one win in its final five contests, finishing the season with a 6-4-2 record.
Sensing the downward shift, the Giants made a couple cross-country trades, obtaining San Francisco 49ers quarterback Y.A. Tittle and Los Angeles Rams player Del Schofner (in hopes of reaching another championship). The two former Californians made a splash in New York, as the Giants passing game flourished in 1961.
Tittle, a 35-year-old veteran at the time, and Schofner found an immediate connection, leading the Giants to the first of what would eventually be three consecutive NFL Championship appearances. Both players were selected to the Pro Bowl in ’61.
Schofner finished the season with 68 catches for 1,125 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns, which were all franchise records at the time.
The only factor keeping these two off the list is that aging quarterback Charlie Conerly also saw time in 13 of the 14 games in 1961, as it was more typical to rotate quarterbacks during that time period.
The Giants were not spectacular in 1967, but the connection between quarterback Fran Tarkenton and split end Homer Jones was. The team only won seven of the 14 games it played that season, but Tarkenton and Jones were able to set a record that still stands today.
Tarkenton, a long-time Minnesota Viking, was in the first season of a five-year stint with New York in ’67. Jones, a 26-year-old speedster, was one of the few standouts on a “ragamuffin” squad, as Tarkenton described it.
The scrambling quarterback and dangerous deep-threat receiver created an on-field bond that helped the ’67 Giants remain competitive.
Jones finished the season with only 49 receptions, but he made the most of each catch, amassing 1,209 receiving yards. He took 13 grabs in for a touchdown, which is still a franchise record for receiving touchdowns in a season.
Quarterback Kerry Collins wasn’t exactly a model of consistency during his time with the Giants, but in 2002, he and wide receiver Amani Toomer really found their groove. The duo was pivotal for the Giants to reach the playoffs that season.
Collins, who played on six different teams during his career, was in his prime at 30 years of age. Toomer, a former second-round draft pick way back in 1996, was coming off his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
With Toomer’s help, Collins threw for his first and only 4,000-yard season in 2002.
On the receiving end, Toomer set career-highs across the board, catching 82 passes for 1,342 yards and eight touchdowns. He even had the longest catch of his career that season, an 82-yarder against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16.
The Giants had a forgettable season in 2009, as the team floundered late, eventually finishing with an average 8-8 record. However, during that season, young quarterback Eli Manning, with the help of wide receiver Steve Smith, became one of the league’s finest.
Manning, who had been wildly inaccurate in seasons past, was starting to play with a better sense of timing, hitting receivers flawlessly as they came out of their breaks.
Smith, an unsung hero of the 2007 Super Bowl run, was playing with extreme precision and had hands that Manning could always rely upon—especially on third down.
There was almost no stopping this connection.
Smith hauled in a franchise record 107 passes that season, adding 1,220 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Manning threw for his first ever 4,000-yard season in ’09, and Smith was selected to his first and only Pro Bowl.
The Giants were not a flashy team in 1986. They won with tough defense and a strong running game. But when quarterback Phil Simms did drop back to pass, you could bet he was looking for No. 89, tight end Mark Bavaro.
It was very rare for Simms, a highly criticized quarterback at the time, to be asked to win the game with his arm in ’86. So, he often stuck to his reliable receivers. Bavaro, a hard-nosed tight end with great hands, was always his go-to target.
Bavaro caught 66 of Simms’ 259 completed passes that season, breaking 1,000 yards receiving while also adding four touchdowns. He was a first-team All-Pro in ’86, and the Giants rode his connection with Simms all the way to their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history.
The very best passing connection in Giants history was on display during the 2011 season.
Quarterback Eli Manning built an unprecedented chemistry with former undrafted free agent Victor Cruz, taking teams by surprise on a weekly basis en route to the franchise’s fourth and most recent Super Bowl championship.
Manning, a much more established passer in 2011, was fighting for his credibility as an elite quarterback and he needed some help. Cruz, who seemed to appear out of thin air, was just the man he needed. The two players created a connection that was nearly unstoppable for the entire ’11 season.
With Cruz running routes, Manning enjoyed his most prolific season statistically, throwing for nearly 5,000 yards. Cruz accounted for a franchise-record 1,536 of them, and his 82 catches and nine touchdowns that season are among the highest in team history.