On Sunday evening, a quarterback with many detractors and doubters rallied his team for a big win. His name was not Tim Tebow; it was Eli Manning.
In his eight seasons in the NFL, the youngest Manning child has been pegged as all sorts of things, from overrated to not very good to pretty awesome to outstanding. He's basically been spending the past few years trying to make sure he doesn't end up lumped with Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson as the most mediocre quarterbacks to ever win a Super Bowl.
Yet, ever since Manning declared himself to be in the same class as Tom Brady this past summer, there's been a strange phenomenon around the league this season every time Eli leads the Giants to a win.
He gets the kindergarten treatment.
Eli threw a touchdown pass late in a game?! Gold star for you, buddy! Eli led a comeback?! We're sending home a certificate of achievement that Mom can post on the fridge! Good job, Eli! Keep up the good work!
Don't believe me? Buckle your seatbelt.
"Honestly think I'd rank Eli as the fifth best quarterback in football right now. Yes, he's elite," wrote Albert Breer of the NFL Network.
"Just remember, you can't spell elite with Eli," wrote Pete Prisco, who's usually more original than that, of CBS.
"He said he was elite, and he's backed [it] up," Giants tackle Kareem McKenzie told Priso in that same story.
"Eli Manning is proving he was right after all. He is an elite quarterback like Tom Brady. Good for him.," wrote sportscaster Len Berman. (The "good for him" line is the best.)
"Give credit where it's due: Eli Manning is an elite quarterback," wrote Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.
"Eli Manning is quickly becoming one of the elite players at his position," wrote former quarterback and current CBS analyst Rich Gannon.
"He's in that elite group for sure," Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said.
There you have six examples that came up from about 20 seconds of research. It's incredible. Find me another professional athlete who has thousands of people rush to tell you how good he is every single time he accomplishes something positive. I can form my own opinion, thank you very much, and the fact that so many people just have to come out and tell me how great Manning is only makes him seem much worse than he actually is.
Eli Manning is 6-foot-4, 218 pounds. He possesses some of the best quarterback genes on the planet. Combine those elements, and he should probably win a few football games, and every time he does win a football game, it shouldn't inspire people to try to throw him a parade. When Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger or Drew Brees or any other accomplished quarterback wins a game, nobody feels obliged to try to convince you that they're good at their jobs; you can discern that information on your own, because you have eyes and ears and brains.
The position of quarterback can't be gauged solely by statistics, so you have to look at a lot of them to get a real understanding of where a player fits in among his peers. Let's ride that train with Eli, who is totally, definitely and unquestionably Elite!
|Statistic||Eli's Stat||Eli's NFL Rank||"Elite" QBs Ranking Better Than Eli|
|Passer Rating||95.5||7th||Tony Romo, Matt Schaub|
|Completion %||62.0||8th||Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Romo|
|Yards||4,105||4th||Good company here: Brees, Brady, Aaron Rodgers|
|Interceptions||12||8th-most||Andy Dalton (tied), Matt Ryan (tied), Mark Sanchez, Colt McCoy, Matt Hasselbeck, Romo, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Sam Bradford|
All of those quarterbacks with fewer picks have fewer attempts than Eli (489), but they all have at least 300 and most have more than 400. You get the point.
Now, none of this is to say that Manning is a bad quarterback by any means. He unquestionably throws one of the best balls in football, and he's done it throughout his career in the windy Meadowlands. Put him indoors 10 or so times a year like big bro Peyton, and Eli would definitely get a big boost to the stats. Take away Giants' receivers tendency for dropping passes and tipping the ball into defenders' chests, too, and you've got an improvement.
The bottom line is that Eli is pretty freaking good. He's won more than he's lost, he's thrown more touchdowns than picks and he's been better than the majority of the league for the past few years. None of that explains the groundswell of support the NFL world has gone out of its way to give him over the past few months. And where were all those people for four weeks, when Eli completed 61.7 percent of his passes (slightly above league average) and threw eight touchdowns and five interceptions?
To help get a better understanding, I went to the source, my college friend Eugene who had the worst Eli Manning poster in history hanging on his dorm room wall.
"I think it has a lot to do with how vehemently he was criticized from his rookie year until mid-2007, the Super Bowl season," Euge told me. "Maybe a bit of the Giant fan base having the little brother syndrome of what he as a Manning has to live up to. That criticism left such a bad taste that 'the Giant fan' will probably never feel like he's been vindicated. … Also, the Giant fan always has to reaffirm to himself that Ernie Accorsi made the right choice between Rivers, Manning and Rothslisberger."
That's a pretty fair take, but it only helps explain the fan's perspective. Why do paid, objective media members feel the need to go out of their way to pat Eli on the back?
I asked my frenemy Neil Keefe, who writes for WFAN in New York, wears Giants pajamas to bed every night (unconfirmed) and is the least objective person on the planet, why everyone feels the need to tell me just how awesome Eli is every time he does something good. His response was not fit for print, but it was something to this effect:
"Swear word, swear word, something mean about me … Eli throws a lot of picks because his receivers drop passes. … Eli probably could have had 550 yards on Sunday night. … QB rating is a useless stat … Swear word, swear word, insult to me … People with high QB ratings are good players who aren't clutch and have never won [swear word] in their lives. … Bitter comment about a past Yankee who was a bust … swear word, swear word, insult to me."
So, basically, my suspicions were confirmed. Eli Manning may be turning 31 years old next month, and his career will go down in history as more similar to Carson Palmer than Aaron Rodgers, but whenever he accomplishes anything from here on out, he's going to be treated like he's in kindergarten.
So consider this a plea to all players, coaches, analysts, fans and anyone else with a voice in football: Please stop telling me how to spell elite, and please, please, please stop trying to convince me that an above-average player is better than he actually is. We can think for ourselves, and I'm sure Eli never asked for this treatment.
Remember, you can't spell "belittle" without Eli.