By Jason Keidel
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While it’s hard to master the mutating lexicon of pro sports, a few heads tilted in surprise when Phil Simms said that Eli Manning is not an elite quarterback.
With all due respect to the First Amendment, it’s time that we start a semantic boycott of any question that involves elite and quarterback.
Simms tossed in a few qualifiers during his dissertation, and even elaborated on Boomer & Carton’s radio show on Wednesday morning. But the whole debate is a non-starter. Fairly or not, we judge quarterbacks almost entirely by their ability to win a Super Bowl. Manning has done that twice, and has bagged the game’s MVP both times.
Does that make him better than Aaron Rodgers, who only has one Super Bowl victory? No. Rodgers is the best QB on Earth, and he has nearly lapped the field. But there is an unsavory asterisk even next to Hall of Famers with no rings, like Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. Manning isn’t better than any of them, but it doesn’t matter because he has the hardware.
In essence, Manning’s record needs no rebuke because he plays his best in the biggest games, which is the rarest of qualities even in the pressurized world of pro football. Some athletes can grind the pyrotechnic field of play down to a slow symphony of moves, while making the mightiest choices rather facile. There is no school for it. There is no name for it.
But you know it, and he who has it, when you see it.
But we need to parse and split hairs that have already been chopped into microscopic contours. It’s not enough that Manning has given you those two titles. What matters is he’s slumping now, while the neurotic Cowboys are galloping from behind. Sure. “America’s Team” hasn’t mattered since their last legendary quarterback retired.
We’ve had this conversation about Manning and Tom Coughlin too many times, most recently 11 months ago, when they were 7-7. And I led the conga line of calls for Coughlin’s head and Manning’s hide. I won’t make that mistake again. I refuse to bury both or either until the priest blesses both their vocational carcasses.
Frankly, we’re bored. Baseball is over, the Jets stink and the Giants are off this week. So rather than tackle real-world issues, we create a kaleidoscopic back page, where anonymous, cowardly Jets joust over Tim Tebow, and Eli’s “eliteness” is questioned.
When yours truly was truly unknown, writing for amNewYork, my editor commissioned me to write a feature about Simms. After hopping a few obstacles I found Simms, who called me on his way to NFL Films, where he was to tape an episode of “Inside the NFL.” I expected 15 minutes and he gave me an hour. He was candid, clever and quite funny. Much of what he said was so brutally honest that it remained off the record. Simms is a throwback in more ways than one, even if what he said yesterday was just slightly misguided.
While the term can morph from “franchise” to “upper echelon” to “elite,” only one designation really matters: Winner.
Eli has that covered. And Simms, more than any of us, knows the difference.
Are you tired of this “elite” talk already? Will it ever end? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…