This a very good start ... but Eli has a few more miles to go before Canton. (Getty Images)
When you take in Eli Manning's bravura performance in Super Bowl XLVI, his two Super Bowl wins, his two Super Bowl MVP awards (putting him in a very select class), and his ability to finally take his place as the face of a very successful New York Giants franchise, the talk has gone beyond whether Eli's "elite" or not. That argument was settled once and for all when he hit Mario Manningham for a 38-yard gain on the Giants' winning drive last Sunday -- it was one of the best throws the NFL has ever seen.
Now, the argument seems to be for Manning's Hall of Fame candidacy, and some are lining up on that side. Those opposed would argue that Jim Plunkett led the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins and isn't in that Hall of Fame discussion, but that's a different story -- you're talking about a guy with more career interceptions than touchdowns. Eli's on a higher arc. Not as high as the one brother Peyton has ridden from a purely statistical perspective, but does his postseason work mitigate his below-average stretches in the regular season?
According to Kurt Warner, who played with Manning for the Giants in 2004 and will have his own intriguing Hall of Fame argument in a few years, Eli isn't close just yet. Warner explained his reasoning on the "Burns and Gambo" show on Phoenix 620 Radio:
[Wetzel podcast: Super Bowl XLVI aftermath, with catfight]
"I know we put a lot of weight on championships, and rightfully so. But championships are won as a team, and I'm fully convinced of that. You never see one guy — a great player, great quarterback — carry a team through the playoffs and into a Super Bowl and win a Super Bowl that way. I've never seen it. You know even in that game [Super Bowl XLVI], it's 21-17. That's the game. There wasn't a quarterback just up and down the field carrying the team."
Warner had a very solid point, and he elaborated on that further.
"He's had two great playoff runs, or his team has had two great playoff runs. But I also look at the rest of his career. I mean, he has an 82 ... quarterback rating throughout his career. You know, he's had five of his eight seasons where he has thrown 16 interceptions or more. His completion percentage on his career is 58 percent. To me, those aren't Hall of Fame numbers and by that I mean every time you step on the field you're a game changer, you're a difference maker. And I don't believe Eli Manning has been that guy until this year. I think this year is the first time in his career when he's become that guy."
I'm on board with that. While he's improved dramatically in the last few seasons, Eli's career regular-season numbers don't really inspire any kind of "greatness" discussion. At this point in his career, I'd compare him more to one of the better New York Yankees players of the 1950s, 1970s or 1990s. You're a key cog in a team that has won multiple championships, you're in the limelight for good reasons, you come up clutch when it counts the most ... but are you truly great in a historical sense? Right now, Eli may be more Paul O'Neill (with a far more tolerable personality) than Derek Jeter.
However, if he's given a half-decade more with a great team and what has become the best receiver trio in the history of the Giants franchise, there's no question that Eli could be "that guy." He might even have a couple more Super Bowl victories, and MVP awards, down the road.
Nobody who has watched Eli play this season could doubt that all these things are possible. But in the same way that it's totally ridiculous to diminish Tom Brady's career legacy because he played as well as he could in a Super Bowl he "lost," it's beyond premature to punch Eli's Hall of Fame ticket years before he's earned it by any conventional standard.
Right now, Eli's finally one of the best in the game. It took him long enough to get there -- so let's take a deep breath on the rest of it.
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