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The Greatness of Eli Manning

Eli Manning is a two time Super Bowl Champion and MVP, but what makes him so great?

Mike Stobe, Getty Images

“Are you elite?”  It’s such a small question, such an innocent query; but one whose answer set ablaze a hellish firestorm of controversy and criticism, and brought the ire of the football world down on the head of Eli Manning.  Why?  Because the right answer was easy, and the right answer wasn’t “yes.”  The right answer was “What are you, kidding me?  I threw over twenty interceptions last year.  I threw a ball into the end zone with my left hand.  You haven’t noticed that awkward hands in my pockets, look at my shoes while I rock back and forth demeanor with which I approach the game?  I’m not elite, I’m the brother of elite.”

That was the answer everyone wanted.  Because not long ago that’s what everyone believed.  It wasn’t so long ago that the collective masses of New York wanted Manning gone from their city.  It wasn’t so long ago that he didn’t care enough.  It wasn’t long ago that he wasn’t fiery enough.  He wasn’t a good leader.  He didn’t have a killer instinct. He wasn’t the kind of personality that could thrive in New York.  He wasn’t a New York Giant quarterback.  Maybe he could stick somewhere else, but not here.

…But all that has changed…

“I’m going to Disney World.”  It too is such a simple, elementary statement.  Thousands of eight year olds ecstatically shout it every day in America.  But only one quarterback a year gets to begrudgingly recite the line into a television camera.  And Eli Manning has done it twice now.  Twice a Super Bowl champion.  Twice an MVP, and now suddenly, New York’s most celebrated sports hero.

Now admittedly, pubic sentiment had been changing before Super Bowl XLVI.  And in truth, Manning has always been better than New York fans have given him credit for.  The quality in his game has always been shouted down by the passion with which Giant fans have hated his demeanor.  But he’s always been one of the smarter quarterbacks in the league in terms of understanding defenses and adjusting protections.  He’s always been clutch, he’s always been tough, he’s always been accurate.  He’s always been a quarterback that can flat out make every throw.  And this year Manning showed a new found ability to move around and find space in the pocket.  But these are parts to a bigger picture – a bigger picture that, with a second Super Bowl title, a second championship winning drive in the final minute, Giant fans had their eyes opened to this season.

That bigger picture?  That the greatness of Eli Manning is more than the sum of those parts, more than the mere confluence of quantitative skills.  Indeed, the greatness of Eli Manning is something more elemental, something more fundamental to his being.  The greatness of Eli Manning is that so passionately-hated demeanor.

He’s not indifferent.  He’s calm.  He’s focused.  He’s able to put aside the significance of the moment and just be the quarterback he can be.  It’s why he’s the only quarterback in the league who is at his absolute best when things look their absolute worst.  He’s not confused.  He’s un-rattled.  Never too high and never too low, the man remains the only quarterback in the league who can throw the worst pass in the history of the NFL – an end over end left handed flip straight to a line backer while driving for a touchdown – put it out of his mind, step back onto the field and lead the Giants to the game winning score.  It’s why he doesn’t try and be anything bigger than he is.  He doesn’t try to rack up stats, he just does what he needs to win.

Rob Carr, Getty Images

But these characteristics aren’t flashy.  These characteristics aren’t outwardly heroic.  These aren’t the characteristics of our heroes.  Our heroes are fiery.  They’re boisterous.  They’re stat machines.  And maybe that’s why so many thought it so laughable for this awe-shucks boy from the South to compare himself with Peyton and Brady. But he’s not Peyton and Brady.  He’s Eli.  And these are the characteristics of this hero.  He’s not going to blow up the fantasy stats.  He’s not going to get into his teammates’ faces.  He’s just going to be Eli; a quarterback who’s as smart as any, who can accurately make every throw needed, who’s the best late game quarterback in the league, and who is now a two time Super Bowl MVP.  He may not be that flashy signal caller that every team wants, but he is almost always the exact quarterback a team needs.  Make no mistake about it, folks, Manning needs but one answer to that question poised above.  ”Yes.”  Or if he’s feeling a little randy, “Kiss the rings.”

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