Eli Manning is good.
He’s won a Super Bowl. He’s put up some very gaudy statistics. He’s also thrown a boatload of interceptions. His most recent triumph was leading the Giants to two late touchdown drives against the New England Patriots for a big victory in Foxboro. Earlier this season, ever since Michael Kay asked Manning if he considered himself “elite” – among Tom Brady and his older brother Peyton as current NFL quarterbacks – and he answered some version of “yes”, the media and fans have been so obsessed with asking the question to themselves.
Is Eli Manning “elite”?
The Giants themselves played into this ridiculous vernacular, when Justin Tuck said after the win over the Patriots that you can’t spell “elite” without “Eli. Thanks, Justin.
While the rest of the world asks this silly question, (and most are answering yes at this point), I’ll ask another:
Do we even have a frame of reference as to what “elite” means? We don’t. It is a completely dramatized phrase that seems to be the go-to word for sports fans these days when discussing their team against another. If you say your team or a player is elite, you’re dressing them in some sort of teflon coating. For some reason, the word “elite” holds more meaning than simply saying a player is “great”. But what the hell makes someone elite? What’s the cutoff? If you’re a top-5 QB, are you elite? Don’t dare be ranked number six! You sir, not elite.
What exactly did Manning do against the Patriots that made him elite as compared to past weeks? He actually had a terrible quarterback rating in the game, one of the lowest this season against New England’s horrible defense. He threw what could have been a back-breaking interception in the end zone, and took advantage of a few pass interference calls to complete the comeback. The Giants’ win was as much about how bad the Pats’ passing defense is, and how well the Giants defense played against Brady than it was about Manning.
This is in no way to disparage Manning, in any way whatsoever. I happen to think he is playing at a very high level this season. He’s probably the main reason the Giants sit atop the NFC East at 6-2. Why can’t it just be about exactly this? It’s actually possible that we can talk about Manning’s play, his statistics, the good things, the bad things, wins and losses without needing to attach a specific term to it.
What happens if Manning does something like this next week at San Francisco: 25/37, 310 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 1 fumble in a 24-16 49ers win? What will we do then? Will Eli have fallen off the elite pedestal?
No, because there is no such thing as the elite pedestal. We live in a football world where everything needs to be ranked and compared. Last night on television (I can’t remember who or what show exactly, although I believe it was Dan Patrick on Football Night in America), this was uttered in the transition from the Packers-Chargers highlight to the Saints-Bucs highlight: “Drew Brees is no Aaron Rodgers, but…” Why do we even have to make a comparison like that? Last time I checked its Super Bowl rings: Brees – 1, Rodgers – 1. They’re both star QBs for their teams and will be for years to come – just like Eli Manning.
Can’t we just let that be?