Phil Jackson wasn't the only former champion to return to New York on Tuesday.
Two years after making one of the most important catches in franchise history, Mario Manningham re-signed with the Giants. The free-agent wide receiver who spent two years with the 49ers that were marred by an ACL injury in 2012 signed a one-year contract, the team announced.
"Once a Giant, always a Giant," Manningham said. "That's how I feel. This is a very special place. I wanted to come back."
Ideally, Manningham will give the Giants experience as a receiver and, if his knee is healed, speed as an outside threat.
That's not to say he'll be back as Super Mario, the player who thrived as part of a three-man receiver group in 2011 with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Even in that year when he was the third piece to the puzzle, he caught only 39 passes for 523 yards. And he's never caught more than 60 passes in a season. In 2012 and 2013 combined, he played in just 19 games and caught a combined 51 passes and finished each season on injured reserve.
But at 28, he'd be the oldest wide receiver currently on the Giants' roster. He has a familiarity with Eli Manning (although not the new system that offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is installing) and adds depth to a position that is almost sure to be headlined by Cruz, Rueben Randle and, perhaps, a high-round draft choice.
"If you're an athlete, you have a chip on your shoulder already, so you're like, 'I'm coming back strong this year,' " Manningham said. "I do believe it. I had a couple people who tore their ACL a couple times who said, 'Man, you're not going to get it back that following year, you're going to get it back the year after that.' I'm just trying to do what I can do to make a strong impact and win games."
Manningham passed his physical with the Giants but admitted that his knee is still not 100 percent.
"It's coming along and I just have to work on getting stronger and getting my strength back and trusting it more," he said. "I'm doing good. It's getting stronger."
The Giants let Manningham sign with the 49ers after Super Bowl XLVI - a win that was helped by Manningham's iconic over-the-shoulder catch along the sideline on the game-winning drive - because they had both Cruz and Nicks under contract. They extended Cruz last season, but Nicks left for the Colts as a free agent last week. That created room for Manningham to return.
He is one of several players who have returned to the Giants (at a steeply discounted price) after brief (and usually ineffective) tenures elsewhere in recent history. Last year, the Giants brought Aaron Ross and Brandon Jacobs back after they had signed with other teams and it didn't work out. Jacobs retired after the 2013 season and Ross is a free agent who is not expected to re-sign with the team again.
"I wanted to come back," Manningham said. "I'm comfortable around the staff members. There are some different staff members and different players. I just want to get to know them. We're all in here for one reason and that's to win. That's all that matters. I just want come in and do what I've got to do to help us win."