Passing Judgment – The Book of Eli

How do you truly measure the value or success of an NFL quarterback?  It is arguably the most important position in any of the four major sports in terms of his performance in correlation to the success of his team.  Yes, a starting pitcher can dictate success or failure on the particular day he pitches, but a quarterback’s impact affects every game for the entire season.  The debate over which quarterback is better than another has been going on for years and likely will never end because there is no consensus on how to effectively rank or value them.

On one hand, you can measure success by how successful his team is with respect to total victories and championships.  On the contrary, you can measure success based on statistics and personal accomplishments.  Quite frankly, they are both compelling.  But when you look at Eli Manning, he is a great example of a combination of both criterion. 

I will be the first to admit that Eli Manning has not and will not ever put up the sexy numbers that we are used to seeing from Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady.  But there is so much more that goes into determining the greatness of a quarterback.  Eli Manning has proven to be the best in the game at the 4th quarter comeback.  He set the NFL all-time record with 15 touchdown passes in the 4th quarter in 2011.  That is no small feat.  He also threw for just under 5,000 yards which is right up there with those other elite quarterbacks.

Besides putting up statistics that are nothing to be ashamed of, Eli Manning led the New York Giants to their second Super Bowl championship in the last four years.  In doing so, he earned his second Super Bowl MVP as well.  Manning is now just one of five players in the history of the NFL with multiple Super Bowl MVP’s.  That is truly historic.  Granted, being the quarterback of a Super Bowl championship team doesn’t guarantee a place in NFL history.  There have been plenty of fortunate quarterbacks to be at the helm of a championship team when their performance has little to do with the success.  This is called the Trent Dilfer Factor.  However, Eli Manning had everything to do with the Giants two championships. 

When the Giants made the huge trade at the 2004 NFL draft to acquire Manning, there were many people who questioned and criticized the move.  The Giants gave up several drafts picks as well as Philip Rivers.  But the Giants saw Eli’s championship caliber talent and it has materialized into two titles.  Eli may not have the flash and marketing appeal that his brother Peyton possesses.  But he has supreme confidence in his own abilities and has become a great leader amongst his teammates.  He is unflappable at all times, best evidenced by the pounding he took at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.  He is extremely cerebral and creative in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage.  He has helped develop unknown commodities such as Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard into offensive weapons.  He has turned the Giants’ franchise forte of ground and pound running into an impressive and effective aerial attack.  He has cemented himself as the best quarterback in Giants’ history, as well as New York football history.  And he has also created an everlasting legacy that will one day enshrine him in Canton, Ohio as a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.

There is no doubting or questioning it anymore.  Before the season, Manning was asked whether he felt he was in the same class and category as Tom Brady.  Without hesitation, he responded “yes.”  He has proven that statement to be true as Manning is certainly an elite quarterback.  You cannot spell “elite: without spelling “Eli.”  The moral of the story is not to judge a book by its cover.  If you passed Eli Manning on the street, you may not recognize him as a championship NFL quarterback.  But deep inside, he has the heart and mind of a winner.  Because that is all he does – win.

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