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Peyton Manning is Better Than Eli Manning, by a Wide Margin
On the heels of a dramatic, come-from-behind victory against the Patriots, Eli Manning has energized some New York Giants' fans and sportswriters into performing their renditions of the always-popular dance, The Knee-Jerk.
The dance, I'm sure, has been around for as long as sports, and like any good groove, it involves a combination of racing emotions and almost involuntary actions. After all, the dance floor is no place for baggage. It's a world of right here, right now.
Unfortunately, careful analysis is incompatible with most of what makes dance so exhilarating. The emotional becomes irrational; involuntary action becomes mindless behavior and only considering right here and right now, well, that's just myopic.
Essentially, those are the problems with the "Eli Manning is better than Peyton argument," if you can even call it that.
It started off with the practically unanimous ridicule of Eli early in the 2011 season, because he labeled himself an elite quarterback. Back then, Eli's confidence was met with a lot of finger-pointing laughter and a bit of that sanctimonious, finger-wagging criticism that weighs down sports like teary clouds on sunny day. After all, would we want the lead character in a Disney movie proclaiming himself to be a great, even if it were true? I think that's standard nowadays.
Fast forward a few months and the conversation has shifted, seismically. The Giants, charged by another spectacular Eli performance, won the Super Bowl and now people are wondering whether Eli is a Hall of Famer or better than his four-time MVP brother, Peyton.
In fact, Gary Myers of the New York Daily News took it a step further when he wrote, on the day following the Super Bowl: "Eli Manning is not only better than Peyton—he leads him two rings to one and is a far more accomplished big-game player—but he's the best quarterback in the NFL."
Give 'em the old razzle-dazzle, huh Gary?
How can they see with Super Bowl sequins in their eyes?
So, what's Myers' justification for this lunacy?
"He's better than Brady and is at a higher level than his brother was playing before he missed the season following neck surgery. He's beaten Brady in two Super Bowls when he's trailed going into the last minute of each game, he's beaten Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs at Lambeau when the Packers were defending Super Bowl champions and overcame a brutal pounding by the 49ers to the Super Bowl."
OK, so he's got the whole 2>1 argument, which is about as simple as an argument claiming Eli is better than Peyton is expected to be. And then, he has the reductive QB battle argument, which interprets the game of football as a chess match between quarterbacks.
You know what's really telling? That Eli beat Brady and Rodgers, but he overcame the 49ers. No mention of Alex Smith—just not as sexy sounding. The fact is, the Giants beat the Green Bay Packers, the San Francisco 49ers and the New England Patriots. Yes, believe or not, there are other players on the field, even mutually exclusive defensive and special teams.
This is not meant to take anything from Eli's prominent role in the victories. Eli had a phenomenal year and played an integral role in the Giants' success, especially under pressure. But you want to know exactly how thin these Eli arguments are? If Wes Welker or Deion Branch make one of those catches in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, we're not having any of these conversations!
Think about that.
To me, that really highlights the absurdity of this reaction. If something—among a million possible variables—completely out of Tom Brady's or Eli Manning's hands had happened at the end of that game and Patriots had won, would anyone be saying Eli is better than Brady or Peyton? And yet, "Eli beat Brady" and now he's better than his big brother.
That's how powerful the knee-jerk is and how blinding the rings argument is, and I have a theory about the latter.
Why we use rings to measure individual greatness, misguidedly
1) It's easy.
Forget the game's nuances. Forget the metrics that front offices use to make their personnel decisions. Forget most analysts' criteria when voting for Most Valuable Player. No homework necessary. In this case, you just say 2>1 and all of the sudden, you have a position. It's fan-friendly and intellectually lazy—perfect for some keg-induced, couch-side philosophizing.
2) It resonates.
In world where selfishness abounds, the personal achievement or perceived personal achievement is an essential currency. Part of sports' success is that they allow you to live vicariously through your teams. For instance, you're a lifelong New Yorker, and the Giants win the Super Bowl-We did it! I believe this plays a critical role in the popularity of the rings argument. We're just not as invested in players' individual achievements, the numbers and the awards, so we call what's important to us, simply, what's important.
That said, it's reckless to neglect descriptive metrics that have been maintained over entire careers in assessing individual greatness; to undervalue someone like Dan Marino and his personal accomplishments, because his teams didn't achieve something we expected.
Same goes for Peyton and Eli.
By any measure, Peyton has been a more accurate, prolific and less-error-prone passer than Eli. And so far, he has an appreciably higher career and peak value. His arm has been stronger and his ability to read defenses is practically unrivaled in NFL history. To disregard all of that, because his teams have not won as many Super Bowls as Eli's lacks perspective.
So, if people actually believe that Eli Manning is better than Peyton Manning, either their moonstruck eyes have failed them, they're forgetting over a decade of NFL history or they have a warped definition of greatness based on only a handful of playoff games and a complete misunderstanding of the game of football.
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