Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Eli Manning Emerges from Peyton's Shadow, and Makes His Way Into the Spotlight

Eli, Peyton, and father Archie
You all know Peyton Manning. Engineering the Colts offense better than any offensive coordinator possibly could, putting up passing numbers that seemed only possible in video games, leading his team to the playoffs year after year, featured in countless advertising campaigns and promoting some of the most popular products in their respective industries.  After a spectacular college career at the University of Tennessee, in which he set the SEC record for passing yards and wins for a starting quarterback, he was taken with the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft and has taken the league by storm since than.  He has led the Colts to 12 playoff appearances, has earned 11 Pro Bowl appearances, has won three MVP awards, has already won one Super Bowl, and taken his team to another, and in the process has broken virtually every Colts franchise passing record.

Eli in the Cotton Bowl at Ole Miss
In the meantime, as his older and far more celebrated brother, made his way to top, little Eli was steadily putting together an impressive career for traditional SEC cellar dweller Ole Miss.  Despite the fact that Ole Miss was not an SEC powerhouse, Eli decided to follow in Daddy Archie's footsteps.  After finishing a senior season in which he led Ole Miss to a Cotton Bowl victory, won both the Maxwell, and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Awards, and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, his stock steadily began to rise.

Just like Peyton he was selected first overall, albeit, amid some controversy.  People tend to forget that Eli was originally a San Diego Charger.  However with the support of Archie, who suffered through some miserable seasons, on some very bad teams, as the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, it was rumored that Eli would refuse to play unless dealt to another team.  So on draft day the Chargers and Giants made a deal that would define both franchises for the years to come.  They swapped draft picks and when all was said and done the Chargers had Phillip Rivers out of N.C. State, and the Giants had their man in Eli Manning.  And we all know how that one is working out.

Things weren't easy for Eli though.  He had an immense amount of pressure placed on him already, coming from the most popular family of athletes in sports, and there was surely no way he could ever escape the shadow cast by his immensely successful brother Peyton. But the expectations were on him to not only produce, but to do it right away, and anything short of returning the New York Giants to glory would undoubtedly be considered a failure.

If you watched Eli Manning from the start, it was not a pretty sight.  He struggled early, and often. His numbers were mediocre at best, teammates questioned his ability to lead, and the media absolutely killed him for it.  And the fans were the worst of all. New York is a great place, it is my home, and I absolutely love it, but as great as the fans can be when things are going well, they can be downright awful when you are not.  New York City is a place where the common theme "is what have you done for me lately?"

Eli Manning escaped the Patriots grasp to deliver the
throw to David Tyree that would change history

But than in his fourth season Eli finally delivered what all those New Yorkers had been waiting for. He won that first ring. In dramatic fashion, he led a game winning drive, in which he completed one of the most phenomenal plays in Super Bowl history to David Tyree, and delivered again, hitting Plaxico Burress for the winning touchdown.  He defeated Tom Brady and the almighty, seemingly unbeatable, New England Patriots.  The Giants made an improbable run, knocking off Buccaneers, Cowboys, and the Packers at Lambeau, on the way to achieving their Super Bowl victory. New York was in love with Eli Manning, and the New York Giants, for the time being at least...

The following season the Giants went on to win the NFC East and earned the number one seed in the NFC.  However they were defeated by the Philadelphia Eagles at home, and fans were angry as Eli under performed badly in the loss. Over the next two seasons things only got worse.  The Giants struggled mightily down the stretch and missed the playoffs in both years. Eli personally struggled as well. Despite throwing for over 4,000 yards in both seasons, he finished last season with an embarrassing 25 interceptions.  New York was again ready to throw him out of town.

Than in 2011 things changed.  In the preseason Eli was highly criticized for saying that he believed he "is an elite quarterback" and "in the class of Tom Brady."  Now athletes are criticized for things they say in the media all the time, and more often than not they are taken out of context.  But either way those words came out of his mouth, and he went out this season and proved that he in fact was elite.  He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, finishing with 4,933, and thew 29 touchdowns to 16 interceptions.  The Giants did have their struggles at times, losing four straight at one point this season, as well as an ugly loss to the Seahawks, and losses to the Redskins both times.  But Eli was rarely at fault.

This season was defined not only by his impressive numbers, but by his late season heroics in victories over the Cowboys twice, and the outspoken, but unimpressive New York Jets, that has set up the second improbable playoff run they are now on.  The Giants are healthy, confident, and look like they could take down anybody right now. They outright dominated the Falcons, at home, shut down the vaunted Packers offense at Lambeau, and won an intense battle with the 49ers at Candlestick.  Although his numbers were solid in that victory over the 49ers, the most impressive thing in that game to me was that he kept on fighting. He got beat up badly in that game. The 49ers sacked him 6 times, and knocked him down or hit him on seemingly every play, yet he just kept getting back up, and eventually found a way to help his team get the victory and back to the Super Bowl, earning a rematch Brady and the Patriots.

I admittedly have not always been the biggest Eli fan.  But he has earned my respect, and than some.  When it comes down to it, he might not be made for the spotlight, he's just a laid back southern kid out here doing what he loves. But he has no doubt put himself in the elite class of quarterbacks in the NFL.  If he can win on Sunday, and beat Tom Brady and the Patriots again, in Peyton's house, than he will have won his second ring, and that's one more than Peyton has for those of you counting at home. For the first time in his life, he will have one upped his big bro, and in the process he just may be emerging from that shadow.

No comments:

Post a Comment