Before I state my case, allow me to make a few preliminary concessions: You will not find anyone outside of the bowels of the Lincoln Tunnel that shares my opinion. Pure numbers work against me, and the slings of my argument aim for the heart, not the head. Yet, I hold with conviction that Eli Manning, the one who looks like he just awoke from a nap and is still regaining his bearings, is the greatest Manning of all time.
Eli “The Simple One” Manning is not the model of greatness. His depthless eyes, boyish expressions, and Opie-esque haircut conspire to make him look more like a grocery store bagger than a man who has reached the summit of the NFL. Twice. Against the greatest head coach of all time. Twice. But just ask Tom Brady: those looks are very deceiving.
Just as deceiving are his numbers. Especially compared to Peyton “Chicken Parm” Manning, Eli seems more the paragon of younger brother than victor. Manning the Elder was more dominant, prolific, and reliable. However, numbers don’t always make the most compelling argument. And even if they did, Eli is on pace (assuming he plays as long as Peyton did) to finish at least 6th for all-time TDs, if not possibly challenging Marino for fifth. Keeping that assumption, he would also claim fifth from Marino for passing yards. This is to say that outside of the top four Pantheon of Peyton, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and Brady, Eli Manning is one of the greatest offense-producing QBs in history. The obvious counterargument is to look at his mistakes, all 215 interceptions. Admittedly he is on pace to be second only to Favre for career INTs. Years of playing behind a poor offensive line certainly did not help his cause, while inconsistent running back play (particularly in recent seasons) made the Giants’ offense one-dimensional and more susceptible to picks.
However, a football team, just as any goal-oriented group, is a results-driven enterprise. Each year there are 31 also-rans and one immortal squad. To have just played is not enough. And Eli Manning captures that spirit. His interceptions, awful decisions, and even the odd choke never stopped him from completing the greatest upset in Super Bowl history, taking on the almost godly 2007 Pats and defeating the likes of the prime Tony Romo and Favre along the way. The mistakes he made limit his greatness rather than preclude it.
As for specifically matching up against Peyton: which of the Manning brothers would you want starting the Super Bowl for you? Both have won two, but only one has played well in both his victories. Eli Manning boasts two Super Bowl MVPs to Peyton’s one. Additionally, only one of the Manning brothers failed to seal the deal with the most powerful offense of the season, if not history. Eli’s two QB ratings were also higher (103.8, 87.3) than Peyton’s SB MVP QB rating (81.8). Additionally, Eli played an indispensable role in both victories and both magical seasons. Peyton relied heavily on his defense to get him over the line, particularly in his final Super Bowl win two seasons ago. Peyton is a great QB, an ace. But where it matters, not the padded stats and jacked up offenses, he is the little bro.
A respected friend of mine once said, “What is math? This is football. It’s all about visuals.”
Eli has all the visuals, just not in the way people imagine. He doesn’t have the dashing good looks of Rodgers. Nor the supermodel wife of Brady. He can’t claim the impressive numbers that his brother has. But he can claim one of the most accurate, clutch sideline throws in a Super Bowl and the single greatest play in not just the Super Bowl, but NFL history. Eli “Big Apples” Manning is a hero of the highest caliber. He is not a knight in shining armor, but a simple farm hand who answers the call to slay the dragon and save the princess. He is a lightning rod from the football gods, who graces the game with understated excellence. His rise from regular season mediocrity to postseason cold-bloodedness is exactly why he is the greatest Manning to play on the professional gridiron.