This post is for all the bashers, all the non-believers, all the doubters and yes, all the haters. This is also a post for loyal NY Giants fans who need to celebrate the career of a Giants legend while he is still suiting up.
One of the biggest errors that football fans make in evaluating Eli Manning is that they see him through the shadow cast by his older brother, Peyton Manning. They see interceptions and bouts of inaccuracy. This review will shine a bright light on Eli’s numerous accomplishments and put to rest the doubts.
(Keep in mind this post is written in September 2016. Eli is 35 years old and still going strong. The list below is likely to get padded.)
- Stat 1. Eli is about to pass John Elway for #7 on the All-Time list of Quarterbacks for TD passes. Yes, the only people ahead of Eli are his brother Peyton Manning, Favre, Brees, Brady, Marino and Tarkenton. Those guys went/are going to Canton in a limousine on the first ballot, and by the time Eli’s career is over he will likely too be a first ballot guy. Yes, because if he stopped this moment, he’d get in. And if he throws another ~100 TD passes he’ll finish #5, with the great Marino in sight. Sure, it was a different era for Marino, who is clearly a better QB than Eli Manning. But Eli is keeping some pretty elite company.
- Stat 2. Eli Manning is 10th in career passing yards and he is about to pass 4 of them in the next season or two. So he will be 6th in career passing yards in not too much time. 10th will be enough for the Hall of Fame. 6th will probably get him in on the first ballot.
- Longevity. In the NFL, it is not just about ability, it is about availability. The Hall of Fame is as much about longevity as it is about accomplishments. Look no further than the career of QBs like Tony Romo and Greg Cook. We see first hand in this decade the deleterious effect of injuries on the Dallas Cowboys and their QB Tony Romo. But not many people know who Greg Cook is. Bill Walsh called Cook “the greatest talent to play the (QB) position. He could play today or any time in the history of the NFL.” Like it or not, football is a cruel sport, and injuries rob players of the gift of time to play the game. The NFL Hall of Fame is about the players who played through injury, who played the game year after year. Sure, there will be some who will bring up the careers of players like Gale Sayers and Joe Namath, examples of a few great ones whose careers were cut short by injury. For most, it is about longevity. Eli Manning is in his 13th year and he is going strong. Obviously this canvass is incomplete because we do not know exactly how long it will last for Manning, but he shows up year after year…
- …. and game after game. Eli has started 183 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the entire NFL. I hope this post does not give him the hex. He has not played behind a lot of great Offensive Lines. But somehow he stays upright. If he keeps going, he will pass many more players on this list and ascend into rare air among the greats of all time. Every game that Eli starts is a gift to Giants fans. Savor it. Do not take it for granted. You will miss him when he’s gone.
- Toughness. Not a description you would expect to hear about Eli Manning. How many of you remember the NFC Championship game vs San Francisco in January 2012? Eli got pummeled. He got back up. He got pummeled again. He got back up. He was sacked 6 times. He was hit 20 times. Guys like Justin Smith and Aldon Smith turned him into a human pinata. He came back after each hit and led his team to victory.
- Super Bowl XLII MVP. What more do you need to say. He is big on the biggest stage.
- Super Bowl XLVI MVP. Eli’s pass to Mario Manningham was as good as any in Super Bowl history. Money. Once again, big on the biggest stage. Eli was the MVP of the team that year. He put everyone on his shoulders.
- Eli beats the best. Tom Brady is 4-2 in the Super Bowl. He’s 0-2 versus Eli Manning. Yes, we know that great QBs don’t play versus great QBs. They match up and play vs the defense. Still, Manning has gone toe to toe with the great ones and he got the best of them. His team beat Favre in the 2007 NFC Championship. His team beat Rodgers in the 2011 NFC Divisional playoff.
- Character. On and off the field, Eli Manning has conducted himself in the most professional capacity for his entire career. He never said a bad word about any other player or any other team. He certainly had more than enough justified provocation to do so, but he took the high road every time. Class act. Every play, every game, every year. My goodness, he barely ever shows up his receiver when they run the incorrect route, and Giants fans know that Eli’s had many a WR embarrass him with some ugly INTs that were not his fault. But all we see from Eli is class. He trots off to the sideline and you will never see him rip his teammate publicly. I know I could never be that good. For the NY Giants, this character means a franchise QB for a generation. It is the kind of stability that other franchises like the Browns and Texans could only dream of.
- More with less. This NY Giants blog has been a consistent critic of former Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride. We bring out evidence from games like October 2008 vs the Steelers, where the Giants won despite the mangled butchering of the playcalling by Gilbride. We ask aloud how much better Eli Manning might have been with a better OC. Outsiders will rebut this with the fact that Gilbride owns 2 rings with Manning. True. But this blog has argued many times how the Giants have won despite Gilbride. We cite the lack of adjustment of Gilbride after Burress went down in 2008. 2008 was probably the best team Eli played on as a Giant. The OL was stellar, the best in the NFL. Yet Gilbride had no scheme adjustment to losing his X WR. Gilbride was also awful in his restricted use of the TE in the red zone throughout his time in NY. If the TE was used properly, Eli would probably have had many more TDs and much more red zone success. The great QBs have had liberal use of their TE on touchdown connections. The best evidence I have to support the overall claim is that: during Gilbride’s tenure (arguably during Eli’s prime), Eli’s QBR was 84 and during McAdoo’s tenure it is averaging 94. McAdoo is no genius, but he seems to be making Eli’s job a little easier. Maybe it is just getting Eli up to the line of scrimmage with 10+ seconds so that we do not have all those damn delay of games we used to have. I just know there was plenty left on the table, and that needs to be understood within the context of Eli’s career.
- Stat 3. Game winning drives and comebacks. Once again, Eli Manning lives in a high rent district. He is keeping incredible company with many of the all time greats here. Currently at 9th all time on both lists, these two are likely to see Eli keep ascending up the ladder of legends. If there is any irony, it is that Eli probably owes some of this to Gilbride here, because the OC’s playcalling created deficits and necessitated Eli’s rescues. Eli is arguably one of the calmest QBs to have played the game, so much so that Michael Strahan would poke fun at his QB’s lack of game face emotion. That disconnect worked heavily to Eli’s advantage in Q4, enabling so many money drives. The 2011 season was littered with them.
- Stat 4. Career sack percentage. Eli is 12th all time in lowest sack percentage. That is not an accident. Just last week vs Dallas, Eli showed subtle and (yes, unremarkable) deftness in stepping away from defenders. Once again Eli is in great company. Granted his era skews the stats, but it is impressive nonetheless given a weak OL for the past ~4 years.
- The resume keeps building. He’s got young talent in OBJ and Shepard. Comeback in Cruz. If he can get help at OL protection, there is no limit to what he can do in coming years.
At this point, would it surprise you to see Eli Manning go to the Hall of Fame? Of course not. And if he continues, another title is not out of his reach either. What Eli lacks in elegance he more than makes up for in persistence. He will never have the accuracy of Aaron Rodgers, who leads all NFL passers with a 1.6% INT rate. But even there, at a statistic most would rip him on, Eli ranks a very respectable mid 50’s all time. Eli gets it done. Game after game. Season after season. Two titles. A tremendous career still in progress. Hall of Famer. Get used to it. It is going to happen.