I have absolutely no idea what to think of Eli Manning. Is he good? He just posted a 103.8 QB Rating in the Super Bowl so yes, he’s good. Is he great? He’s won two Super Bowls and two Super Bowl MVP awards, so he’s probably great too, I guess. Yet every Super Bowl recap I’ve read since the second the Super Bowl ended grapples with the same question: where does Eli stand now, historically?
A sampling of lines from columns I’ve read today:
“In the meantime, we’ll have to change our view of what clutchness looks like.”
“Eli Manning is all grown up.”
” … nobody will question anything he says again.” (in response to Eli’s comment that he’s “an elite quarterback” at the beginning of the season)
“He’s The Man now – in New York, in Indy and in the annals of Super Bowl lore. And, simply put, he’s big-time. There’s nothing else you can say.”
“But I ask you: What quarterback alive do you want with the ball in his hands in the last two minutes of a big game? Thought so. Eli Manning.”
“Eli Manning, at this point in his career, has evolved into the best clutch quarterback in football.”
So the national consensus would seem to be that people aren’t sure how exactly, but Eli has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He’s also apparently one of the best “clutch quarterbacks” of all-time. In 2007 when he won the Super Bowl his QB Rating was 73.9, 25th in the league (right between Kyle Boller and Vince Young). This year it was 92.9, seventh best in the league. His QB Rating in those two Super Bowls: 95.7 and 103.8, respectively.
I honestly don’t care about the whole “we need to figure out the top 40 quarterbacks of all-time” debate (although I would point out that Eli is 41st on the list based on QB Rating). If there’s anything ESPN’s idiotic “Any Era Team” taught us, it’s that attempts to put historical context behind current performance does little but open the door for disagreement. What I’m more worried about is this: in 35 years when my grandkids scan the record books Eli Manning will look like one of the best quarterbacks ever. Only four people have won multiple Super Bowl MVP awards: Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady and Eli Manning.
Yet if my grandkids ask “Wow, what was it like to watch Eli Manning play?” I’ll say he was mostly boring and bafflingly effective at the most opportune times. On Sunday, for example, he burned two second-half timeouts because of play clock mismanagement, led his receivers into huge hits on about half his throws and still found a way to engineer a long, masterful game-clinching drive. I’ll say he had an older brother who also won a Super Bowl MVP award and was much better.
And beyond anything else, I’ll say the thing I remember most about Eli was his complete lack of personality and visible leadership ability. One of my most vivid NFL Draft memories is from the year his brother and Ryan Leaf were the toss-up first and second picks. They showed a short bio video where Peyton was playing video games with Eli at their house in New Orleans and I remember legitimately thinking that Peyton Manning had a retarded younger brother, just based on how he looked in that one clip. I was even more confused when they said that his younger brother Eli was one of the top college quarterback recruits and planned to go to Ole Miss. “Wait, that guy is one of the top quarterback recruits in the country? He looks like he had a nail driven through his skull when he was 10.”
That’s Eli’s legacy (at least for me): Peyton Manning’s mongoloid-looking younger brother who stumbled into the “Most clutch QB of all-time” discussion. He’s certainly good, but watch him mouth-breathing on the sideline or spouting absurdly clichéd post-game soundbites and you quickly realize he doesn’t have the leadership and charisma of an NFL quarterback. Or a desk lamp for that matter.
But maybe that’s the point, maybe that aspect of the quarterback position is completely overrated. The Giants have an incredible history under Tom Coughlin of galvanizing themselves against him, not with him. The players don’t like him, so they’re all playing to prove him wrong. Maybe it’s a similar thing with Eli: he’s not clutch, it’s just that everyone around him is raising their level of play in big games and big situations and the net result is him looking like a cold-blooded winner. The Giants are a team of self-interested biological freaks who don’t do particularly well during the grind of the regular season but manage to flip the switch in big situations, and giving Eli credit for that would be like giving a surfer credit for creating a wave.
Whatever the reason, this is the new face of clutch. It’s absurd and it’s inexplicable, but it is. And while it’s mildly annoying to try to understand now it will be even more annoying in 2047 when my grandkids look at me like a monster when I tell them I originally thought one of the best quarterbacks of all-time was retarded.
- by Evan Bretzman