21 January 2008

I've Never Believed in Eli Manning

I've never been a fan of Eli Manning. Having grown up in Southwest Mississippi, I was raised worshiping Archie Manning during his time with the Saints. Archie's career will always be a testament to quarterbacks that follow about the dangers of heading to a horrible franchise who never builds any line to protect him (imagine Dan Marino or John Elway playing for those Saints).

Cooper Manning was the first great son to follow in Archie's footsteps. Cooper was the gifted athlete of the three, a top wide receiver in New Orleans catching pass after pass from a young Peyton. A congenital spinal problem caused him to shelve his pursuit of football before heading to college, a blow that helped further shape Peyton's drive.

Peyton has been the surrogate for my affection for Archie from the Manning clan (btw, surrogate looks like this year's best candidate for most overused word). You don't need me to discuss his work ethic and preparation. I've always gravitated towards players in the NFL rather than teams (growing up as a Saints fan, can you blame me?). Gale Sayers, Paul Warfield, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning. I'd pull for each along with their teams when they suit it up.

Then comes Eli. My father and I always disagreed about Eli in college. He felt the Ole Miss QB was a leader of men. I thought he was a privileged frat boy out of his league. When his father organized the coup to get him moved from San Diego to New York, I thought it was a bone-headed move. Here was an undertalented player going to the crucible of New York?

I listen to Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN, truly the standard in sports talk radio in all of the land. Francesca was hardly an Eli apologist, but both would continually struggle with the question of exactly which QB would you want after the first five or six rather than Eli. I wasn't quite sure in a head-to-head comparison, but I figured there had to be someone better.

However, Eli has had a transformation over the last four or five weeks. He has somehow decided to simply be who he is and forget becoming a QB in the mold of his brother or his father or Phil Simms or Carson Palmer or Tom Brady or anyone else. He has morphed/evolved into a man, a leader, and the captain of the Giants ship who simply has come to understand what it takes for his team to be successful offensively. It was hardly ironic that he showed this awakening again and again in the 2nd half and OT yesterday while arguably the greatest QB from Mississippi (Brett Favre) showed once again how his momentary lapses in judgment always limit his teams more than they help them.

I'm fine if you argue that Al Harris and the Packers defense was moronic for picking a schoolyard brawl with Eli and Plaxico Burress. Just remember that Burress is hardly Jerry Rice. He was successful because the combined beast of Eli and Plaxico was no match for one defender, whatever his name might have been. Eli looked like he was throwing a Nerf football in the backyard where his crew of undersized neighborhood tykes were battering the older jocks simply through impeccable timing.

I do hope that the Giants can play as good in Arizona as they did at the end of the season against the Pats. And Brady's team is definitely beatable, which makes their accomplishment that much more stunning. Let Vegas set the lines, but here's hoping that these Giants can be led by their frat boy. Eli's finally has figured out he doesn't have to be a giant to become one of the greatest Giants to ever play in New York.
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