‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Justin Tuck had it right and the NFL Network had it all wrong.

The placement at No. 31 Giants quarterback Eli Manning received on the network’s Top 100 list of 2012 was a joke, no doubt. As his defensive teammate said this weekend, the way Manning won games this year warranted a much higher ranking.

Of course, we all know these lists are compiled for one reason and one reason alone, to spark conversation. Fan debate equals ratings and sales numbers. Want to write a book that sells a zillion copies? Compile a list of the top 100 athletes — pick your sport — and put it out there and dare the reader to challenge it.

They’ll eat it up.

But that’s beside the point. So is the fact that anybody who has even casually brushed up against Peyton Manning’s baby brother knows how little he craves the love of the pollsters. Unless he’s promoting one of his charities like the Guiding Eyes for the Blind, he’s more than content to have everybody focusing their attention on the Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow controversy-in-waiting in Florham Park. He’s more than happy to have the country wax eloquent over Tom Brady’s accomplishments in New England.

He joked that, even after winning two Super Bowls, he was the third most talked about quarterback in New York.

So being No. 31 on the NFL’s own television show won’t rankle Manning in the least.

His teammates? Yeah, it means something to them. They know what Manning did last year and how he did it, in the face of a scrambled defense and diluted ground game.

Sure, the Giants only won nine games and barely made the playoffs before he went on yet another magical run to the Lombardi Trophy. He probably lost points for that. But, unlike the 2007 campaign where Manning simply managed his team to 10 wins, he won them this year with a slew of fourth-quarter comebacks, through his own workmanship, will, and execution.

If Manning performed even a click below what he did, the Giants certainly would have finished below .500. Ask Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz where they’d be without him. Send a letter to Mario Manningham in San Francisco, or wire a coded message through Bill Belichick’s gulag up in New England to Jake Ballard and ask them where they would have been without Manning last year.

Not to take anything away from Brady, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers, but Manning was right up there with them in 2011. What he suffered from was not a lack of productivity, as his franchise record 4,933 passing yards fell 549 yards short of Brees’ league-leading total. Rather, he Brees and Rodgers have glitzy national commercial deals. Manning has those local Toyota ads that have him chest-bumping a dumpy salesman.

Brady has the glamorous wife. While Abby Manning certainly has all the red carpet deluxe prerequisites, she’s not pulling down millions strutting the catwalk or raising men’s heart rates like Giselle Bundchen.

Perhaps Manning could benefit from a couple of more Saturday Night Live hosting spots. How about his own gig on Comedy Central?

“Hi, I’m Eli Manning and I just won my second Super Bowl MVP trophy. We all played hard, never gave up, and cut down on mistakes.” (Rimshot).

No? OK.

Still, Manning deserves a lot more respect than he gets, outgoing personality or not. And Tuck, the Giants’ defensive captain, was right in deriding NFL Network’s rankings. While offering no argument to Brady’s, Brees’, and Rodgers’ inevitable positioning among the Top-10 when the network wraps up its honor roll Wednesday, Manning certainly belongs there, too.

Maybe not top five, as Tuck suggested. But certainly top 10, or a hair outside of that. But No. 31?

Tuck was right. That’s a joke.

Then again, it’s all just talk. Manning, a team-first guy if there ever was one, will gladly take the hardware instead.

Where would you rank Eli? Be heard in the comments below…


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