He is the single worst quarterback ever to reach a Super Bowl. He is also, coincidentally, one of the most brilliant game managers in the National Football League and a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. If you stand under the delicious-looking Cup Noodles sign in Times Square long enough this week, you will hear a chorus of opinions on New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning that echo these extreme views and cover every inch of space between them.
All season — no, his whole career — Eli has been maligned in New York. He shows no emotion. Tiki Barber says he can’t lead. He doesn’t step into his throws. He has lost all confidence. He is inconsistent. When I went to the Redskins-Giants game in Week 15, I found it unfathomable that Giants fans would boo the quarterback of their then 9-4 and seemingly playoff-bound team. Then again, New York sports fans would boo Mother Tereesa, given the chance.
Many New Yorkers have since pulled a John Kerry on their opinions about Eli, praising his “smart” decision-making throughout the Giants’ Laurence Maroney-like dash through the playoffs (have to maintain some semblance of journalistic neutrality by mentioning the Patriots’ running back). Giants fans now proclaim that Eli is the second coming of Phil Simms, the Rudy Giuliani of sports. He can do no wrong. Pundits point to the fact that he reached the Super Bowl at a younger age than his brother and last year’s Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, Peyton, and question whether Eli might in fact be the better quarterback.
I don’t care.
I just want Giants fans to make up their minds. I love ESPN radio personalities Mike Golic & Mike Greenberg, but if I have to listen to them debate Eli Manning again, I might pull a Brandon Jacobs and throw my radio at the play clock.
In fact, I hope that the Giants win the Super Bowl and Eli throws for a record 500 yards and six touchdowns (although he could probably throw for 25 yards and set a stadium record in Arizona’s offense-barren stadium). I hope he makes Asante Samuel and the rest of the Patriots’ defense cry. Because if he throws for 150 with two interceptions, those Giants fans who now place Eli below only Jesus and Jeter in their rankings of most supernatural human beings will be booing him as soon as he steps on the field for training camp next year. And Mike & Mike will begin debating whether the Giants should draft a quarterback.
The coaching staff of the Giants deserves credit. They stuck with Eli through the boos, and the usually strict Tom Coughlin showed a soft spot for the youngster when he struggled, resisting the temptation to pull him during poor performances. Steve Spagnuolo’s defense has made Eli’s job easier by forcing turnovers and keeping opponents’ scoring down. But what they have done best is train Eli to handle being a New York celebrity. It’s a little different from being big man on campus at Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss. He doesn’t get in trouble off the field and doesn’t yell at cameramen as Randy Johnson did; he quietly does his best game in and game out, yet because he is not perfect and plays in New York, his critics abound.
Eli’s detractors maintain that they retain the right to criticize and boo Eli mercilessly because he chose to play in New York City when he had the option of playing in far less skeptical San Diego. He put himself in this situation and should have expected the kind of treatment he has received. But he chose to play in New York the same way I chose to take macroeconomics: I had heard about the difficulties but had no idea how intense the heat was until I stepped into the fire. Eli has, according to New York, emerged from that fire a battle-tested Spartan warrior … until he throws an interception in the Super Bowl and begins to show his “bad Eli” side. In just four quarters, Eli’s fans may turn on him … as New York fans did on Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez … and Jets quarterback Chad Pennington … and Knicks guard Stephon Marbury. You get the point. New York loves to hate.
Teams in the NFL, with the exception of the Bears, find a franchise quarterback and attempt to build around him without allowing any debate as to whether he is “the man” until they find a new “the man.” New York needs to decide whether it loves or hates Eli. Or else this love-hate relationship will end up the same way my love-hate relationship with gambling ended: Someone’s going to lose badly. And it will be the Giants fans who lose when Eli decides to leave the stage of the Big Apple for a team with a stellar defense that needs a quarterback. He will want to play in a city where fans get behind their quarterback even when he stinks worse than the industrial parks that encircle the Meadowlands.
Somewhere like Chicago.
Collin Gutman is a sophomore in Pierson College.