This Sunday, Indianapolis Colts quarterback sensation Peyton Manning, passed for five touchdowns, which brings his season total after eight games to a staggering 26 touchdown passes, leading him well on his way to surpassing the 48 Marino threw in 1984. On the other side of the Manning family tree, Giants coach Tom Coughlin decided he’d had enough of watching a mediocre Kurt Warner take lousy snaps. His solution: start the guy who was the number one overall pick in the 2004 draft, the guy who Warner originally beat out for the starting quarterback position in summer training camp, the guy who, unlike his older brother, has thus far let his mouth (and his dad) do more work than his arm: Mini-Manning, otherwise known as Eli.
The 2004 draft featured three promising quarterbacks in the first round: NC State’s Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger from University of Miami (Ohio) and (drum roll pleeease) Eli Manning, YES, that Eli Manning! PEYTON MANNING’S LITTLE BROTHER, ELI MANNING, who kindly came all the way from Ole Miss to grace everyone at the 2004 draft with his presence. Okay, so I wasn’t exactly at the 2004 draft to actually hear anyone announce Mini-Manning’s presence in this manner, but you can imagine. Sure, Eli was the first pick, but a lot of that had to do with the fact that he is PEYTON MANNING’S LITTLE BROTHER; even his scouting report made note of that fact, although it did this with a somewhat cautionary tone.
“By himself, Eli is a top prospect worthy of the first pick in April’s draft and a quarterback that can lead a team at the next level. Yet with that he’ll constantly be compared to brother Peyton and does not possess the same detailed nature or overall quarterback intangibles. Should be graded on what he is; a terrific prospect that can quickly start at the next level and deliver early returns.”
The fact the scouting report explicitly pointed out that Eli in fact was not an actual clone of Peyton, but merely his brother (thanks for clarifying that, guys) didn’t mean much to Eli Manning and father Archie. In their minds, they were draft royalty and the league pretty much allowed them to be. The bottom-dwelling San Diego Chargers wanted to use their first pick to get Mini-Manning? Off with their heads! Or at least off with their whole plan to, you know, improve their team or whatever it is professional sports teams strive to do these days. One thing was for sure, PEYTON MANNING’S LITTLE BROTHER would not be playing for the Chargers. Instead, after the Chargers (in an attempt to not look like a 22-year-old had just bullied them) drafted Eli, they promptly traded him to the New York Giants for Philip Rivers.
It’s interesting to think about what would have happened had Eli not practically thrown a tantrum but rather accepted his original fate and ended up with the San Diego Chargers. In a season where San Diego starting quarterback Drew Brees, is already well on his way to erasing the memory of his 2003 season campaign and San Diego is already 6-3, it’s conceivable that Eli wouldn’t even have to worry about taking the fall for a supposedly sub-par team like San Diego; he could very well be where he’s been for most of the Giants season — on the sidelines. The Chargers are not the same team they were in 2003. They are currently tied for first with Denver in the AFC West and are coming off a three-game win streak. Compare that to the Giants’ 5-4 record and Mini-Manning’s behavior during the draft seems pretty ridiculous. Granted, hindsight is 20/20, but then again, that’s probably why you don’t hear about many first round draft picks complaining about where they’re going to end up before they’ve even been selected.
That’s where Ben Roethlisberger comes in. He’s the only quarterback out of the three college superstars who has been a consistent starter. Add that to the fact that while he may not have some of the numbers from college that Eli did, he is starting to show certain Tom Brady-esque intangibles when it comes to leading a team to victory (20-game win streak carried over from college ring any bells?). Roethlisberger’s draft experience wasn’t even comparable to Eli’s in that Roethlisberger has handled himself brilliantly so far. Roethlisberger has arguably been the catalyst that’s turned the Steelers season around; they haven’t lost a single game he’s started. He’s taken down Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb in consecutive weeks, something middle-Manning (Peyton) has not been able to do — at least not with Brady. Yet there has not been one Master Card commercial celebrating Roethlisberger as “priceless.” I don’t even think Roethlisberger was present for the lesson in Superstar 101 on referring to oneself in the third person. He’s humble despite being the big story on one of the hottest teams in the league right now. Eli’s going to need to have one hell of a rest of the season to make up for the ground Roethlisberger’s opened up on him. Even then, Roethlisberger is miles ahead of Eli in terms of class.
As for the bottom line: it was probably the right choice for Coughlin and the Giants to replace Warner with Mini-Manning. Even the most unimpassioned Giants fans have to love the idea of watching the draft’s number one pick become their starting quarterback. Does Mini-Manning have the potential to be as good as his brother? As good is a pretty tough standard to live up to, but I’m not going to be foolish enough to predict anything about Mini-Manning before he’s even started a game. I will say the snaps Eli has taken so far for the Giants haven’t been resoundingly impressive and the Giants’ offensive line may not always have Eli’s back, contrary to what the people at MasterCard say. Regardless of how Mini-Manning plays, will the unassuming Roethlisberger have the more memorable rookie year and go on to become the better quarterback, possibly competing with Peyton in the future for ALC MVP honors? Unfortunately for Tom Brady and the Patriots, the answer is yes, (gulp) definitely.