By Jason Keidel
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Forgive all typos, as it’s hard to write with pen or pencil, or pound the keyboard, while laughing. And I’ve been giggling spastically, as though a puppy’s tongue tickled my toes for hours, since I heard Eli Manning compare himself favorably to Tom Brady.
“Yeah, I consider myself in that [Brady’s] class,” was Eli’s precise quote on Tuesday. He moonwalked from the quote Wednesday. “It was like, what am I supposed to say? ‘No, I don’t think so?’” Manning told Mike Francesa.
When you’re not the best quarterback in your family – and Eli might be third behind Papa Archie – you’re not in Tom Brady’s class.
“Well, what do you expect him to say?” is your response, echoing Eli’s sentiment.
Well, frankly, nothing. I expect a media darling from a media-friendly family to drum up an answer in his charming, disarming drawl. “I tell ya, that’s for y’all to decide,” he should have said, thumbing his overalls. “My job is just to play the best football I can for the New York Giants.” That’s not just the proper answer; it’s the perfect answer. He pretty much said that during damage control yesterday.
Sure, you want confidence in your quarterback, and perhaps his toughest job on or off the field is to walk the whisker-thin line between hunger and hubris. But Eli Manning, more than any QB in NFL history, has been trained for such matters, from eighth grade to his eighth NFL season, with his dad and deified brother as quintessential mentors.
The statistical comparisons are laughable. Brady has 12,000 more yards, 100 more touchdowns and, despite playing three more years, has ten fewer career interceptions. Six Pro Bowls to one; three Super Bowl wins to one; 14 playoff wins to 4. In fact, Eli is 4-3 in his postseason career, and all four came during one run. So he’s never won a playoff game before or beyond the 2007 season. Yes, Eli’s one Super Bowl was at Brady’s expense, which is the only reason his comments warrant 30 seconds of consideration.
This becomes incidental if Manning and his Big Blue brethren are winning. Nothing quiets the critics like 12 wins and a deep playoff run. But if he falters, you know pinheads like myself will pounce on every ounce of the faltering quarterback, digging deep into our tape recorders and hard drives, reviving notes, quotes, and creating all kinds of chaos for a team that seems to need some kind of tangential motivation to play its hardest. Think back to the magical run in 2007, which started 0-2, with Antonio Pierce piercing halls, walls, and eardrums with an air horn in the middle of a media session.
(Side note: don’t you find it rather ironic when iconic players – who were most terse to the media – wind-up joining them? From Eric Dickerson to Michael Strahan to the aforementioned Pierce, they went from being jerks to suddenly jocular former jocks who, “always had an eye on job behind the booth after my career.”)
Peyton Manning, however, is indeed in Brady’s class and, depending on the year and the yardage, one inches ahead of the other each fall. If you had to draw straws between the two to start your fledgling franchise, getting seconds is hardly sloppy. Indeed, I consider myself lucky to have seen both men in full each fall for their entire careers, which will land each man in Canton the minute they’re eligible. They will NOT be joined by Eli Manning, whose bust may be bronzed outside the new stadium with no sponsor. Maybe even Ole Miss will make two Mannings immortalized, But the reverence ends there
Ernie Accorsi took a big risk seven years ago by trading basically his whole draft board for Eli. And since it got the team a Lombardi Trophy, you can reasonably assert that the deal was worth it. But let’s not turn the trade into hysterical hyperbole. Eli Manning has hardly made NFL secondaries his personal playground, nor has he breached the top-five active quarterbacks. And there’s the matter of his 25 interceptions last year. Brady? 4 picks.
“Eli’s a Super Bowl MVP!” you shriek. Well, so was Mark Rypien – as were Doug Williams, Desmond Howard, Dexter Jackson, Deion Branch, and Larry Brown. Manning’s stat line from Super Bowl 42 reads: 19-34, 255 YDS, 7.5 YPA, 2 TD, 1 INT, 87.3 passer rating. Even in losing Brady was just as good as Manning (29-48, 266 YDS, 1TD, 0 INT, 82.5 QB rating). But the Giants were three points better, and that’s all that matters. It was the first (and only time) I rooted for the Giants, and, I say from the deepest part of my heart, thank you. I mean that. Don Shula is not the only one who popped the bubbly after that game. Kisses and smooches forever for harpooning the perfect season.
Oddly, Sports Illustrated rates Manning’s performance in Super Bowl XLII as the tenth-best for a quarterback in the game’s history, with the caveat that it was primarily because he beat an unbeatable team, which “adds another layer of extraordinary to what was otherwise a very ordinary game.”
It’s the rare time I take odds with the greatest sports magazine in America (yes, I’m a shill because I freelance for them). That Patriots team – which indeed pancaked opponents on their way to Super Bowl XLII – was far more renowned for offense than defense, which was especially rare considering the coach, Belichick, who is considered perhaps the best defensive mind in the sport’s history. It was also a credit to him because rather than mold the team in his thematic mode – four teams surrendered fewer points than his Patriots – he fired the proper cannons in Brady and Randy Moss while asking his above-average defense to keep the enemy to about 17 points.
You can’t disregard a résumé that includes a Super Bowl MVP. But Eli’s performance was hardly hallowed. You’ll recall on that famous, final drive he heaved the ball like a pigskin prayer, and David Tyree turned Spider Man for an immortal moment, somehow wrenching the pass from several defenders, landing with the ball pinched between his hand and helmet. Eli gets much credit for extending that play, peeling off the behemoths chasing him, lurching to and fro as each paw grabbed a piece of his jersey. But without Tyree’s indomitable dexterity, there is no pass to Plaxico to win the game. And, more than any one player, it was the Giants’ defensive line that was the true vein to victory, chasing, battering, and bashing Brady all game until even the coolest QB on Earth got a little antsy in the collapsing pocket. By the fourth quarter, Brady had clear, jumpy, Jim Everett feet.
The Mannings have morphed into America’s Family. Not only was Old Man Archie a great QB in his own right, he raised two boys through the thorny portal of celebrity. And there’s no doubt that the Manning boys were blessed by rarest form of DNA serendipity, winning the richest genetic lottery in American history. But there are varied stages of evolution, and Peyton got the best gene, by far.
Trust me, it hurts to give props to Patriots, particularly Bill Belichick, the brusque, bully of a coach whose mean mien and homeless-chic wardrobe are tolerated only because he wins. But win he indeed does. And I’d rather root for Fidel Castro at quarterback than Tom Brady. But if you can whack through the histrionics, though his long locks, gaudy house and bulimic spouse (perhaps the only woman who makes more than he does), you’re looking at a legend. Brady is that good.
I wear my football heart on my sleeve, and I bleed Black & Gold, who have a damn good QB of their own, my beloved Ben Roethlisberger: the pervert nonpareil who dances just outside the long arm of Johnny Law. He’s got two rings, should have had a third last year, and still isn’t in Brady’s class. It’s Brady and Peyton Manning and everyone else takes a number.
Big Ben is better than Eli. Aaron Rodgers is better than Eli. Philip Rivers is better than Eli. Drew Brees is better than Eli.
You could make a case for Matt Ryan and, as grotesque a human as he is, Michael Vick gives more defensive coordinators ulcers than Eli, who is a true pocket passer, no more a threat to run than Wade Boggs. But for the purposes of this argument – and the fact that Eli has a ring and they don’t – I nudge Eli in front of them. Vick and Ryan need more playoff success (Vick is 2-3; Ryan is 0-2) to be seriously regarded as top-five quarterbacks. Because a football team is disproportionately dependent upon its quarterback, he is defined by dominance in the playoffs.
So…yours truly honestly and earnestly places Peyton’s little brother, Eli, at No. 7 in the list of top-ten active NFL quarterbacks. Not bad. Just not what you thought.
Eli Manning can shut us all up by winning another Super Bowl, which would put him in a rather renowned cadre of quarterbacks. Out of all retired quarterbacks, only Jim Plunkett has two rings and no bust in Canton. Then you call me out on this column. And I will apologize.
I hate, I mean HATE the New England Patriots, and my disdain for all things New England – from the Pats to the Red Sox to the Celtics to the accents to Ben Affleck – is well documented. But great is great. And Tom Brady is great.
And Eli Manning is not.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com