Maybe it’s too early to write the epitaph for Eli Manning’s football career. Maybe not.
Given a chance to redeem his flagging career on Monday Night Football, his flagging coach put Eli in as the starting QB for his flagging team against a flagging rival in the NFL’s flaggiest division.
That’s not a real word, but it’s still more flags than have been thrown against Saints opponents this season for pass interference.
But I stray.
Eli, with a shot at redemption after being ignominiously benched and replaced by a rookie early in the season, flourished in the first half. Two touchdowns. Big lead.
The second half…not so much. In an overtime game between two teams that suck, the one that sucked the least – the Eagles – won.
So was it Eli’s last stand, Eli’s last chance? It wasn’t a performance for posterity, that’s for sure. But here’s the thing about Eli:
He rarely ever looks happy, rarely ever has, at least on camera and on film. He’s kind of a grimace. Other than the two times he hoisted the Super Bowl trophy above his head, and the two times he hoisted the Super Bowl MVP trophy above his head.
That’s a lot of hoisting. He looked happy then.
But do you know how many other people have done exactly that in NFL history – won the Super Bowl and the Super Bowl MVP twice? Exactly four. Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady. Not Peyton Manning, not Brett Favre, not Drew Brees, not Aaron Rodgers, not John Elway, not Johnny Unitas, not…anybody else.
That’s a helluva thing. But weirder is this: Will he be a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Will he even get into the Hall of Fame? Eli is arguably the greatest mediocre quarterback in the history of the NFL. But he won the big ones. And they say that’s what counts.
Ask Dan Marino.
Eli’s got two rings. That’s one more than Brees, Favre, Rodgers, Unitas, Russell Wilson, Joe Namath and Steve Young. It’s two more than Fran Tarkenton, Sonny Jurgenson, Marino, Philip Rivers, Warren Moon, Andrew Luck, Carson Wentz, Tony Romo, Donovan McNabb, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford combined.
Sure, a lot of mediocre quarterbacks got one ring in their careers. Trent Dilfer, Mark Rypien, Brad Johnson and Joe Flacco come to mind. But two? That’s a big deal. So what is the line of demarcation? What makes an NFL quarterback great?
The pity of the Monday night game was that – if it was Eli’s last game – it seals his career with losing record. As a starting quarterback for the Giants – his only team – he went into the game with a record of 116 wins and 116 losses. Now it’s 117. Losses, that is.
But realize, that’s a lot of games played. A LOT. Which brings up another point: Eli has been an iron man, a Cal Ripken of the NFL. His 210 consecutive starts as a quarterback is topped only by Brett Favre in league history. And most of those games for a bad team.
But the tragedy of Eli’s career wasn’t on the playing field, but in decisions made in the offices of NFL general managers, his coaches, his team and his family. Do you know that story? The story of how Drew Brees ended up in New Orleans?
You can thank Eli for that.
In 2004, the San Diego Chargers had the first pick in the NFL draft. Eli was the obvious choice. But Eli’s dad, Archie, stepped in to make it clear: His son was not going to play for a flat franchise in a small market city.
So a pre-draft trade was arranged. The Chargers let the Giants get Eli in exchange for a young quarterback prospect named Philip Rivers, plus some draft picks. Left by the wayside in all of this wheeling and dealing was a promising but ailing young quarterback out of Purdue University named Drew Brees.
He got injured and had off-season surgery on his shoulder, his throwing shoulder. His future was in doubt. The Chargers banked their future on Rivers and cut Brees loose. And you know the rest of that story.
We have Eli to thank for that. Indirectly, of course.
Plus, Eli survived the New York City tabloid press for nearly two decades. That alone puts him on my first ballot vote for the Hall. (I don’t get a vote. But if I did…) And he made our city proud, like his dad, like his brother.
Oh, and like his other brother, too.
The lesser known, but funnier, savvier, most erudite and inscrutable member of the Manning tribe is named Cooper. (This being New Orleans, it’s pronounced “Cupper.”)
He, too, would have likely been an NFL star but for a degenerative bone disease that ended his career as a wide receiver at Ole Miss. But cry not for Cooper Manning. Nor the possible end of the Manning story.
In case you haven’t been following the news, Newman High School – the Uptown alma mater of Eli, Peyton and Cooper Manning (and Odell Beckham, Jr., for that matter) – introduced a breakout star unto the local prep sports scene this fall.
His name is Arch Manning. He is Cooper’s son, Archie’s grandson, Eli and Peyton’s nephew. This season, as starting quarterback for the Greenies, he passed for over 2,400 yards and 34 touchdowns.
As a freshman.
If you’re tired of Mannings. you’re tired of football.