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Eli Manning calls it a career

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Eli Manning calls it a career (AP file photo)

Manning down.

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has announced his retirement from the NFL. This past season – his 16th – will be his last.

He leaves behind a complicated legacy. While he sits surprisingly high on a number of the NFL’s all-time lists, he was never viewed as a particularly productive quarterback. His overall career record is the very epitome of mediocre, yet he pulled off not one, but two of the most audacious and memorable Super Bowl victories ever. He played over 280 NFL games (regular and postseason) and compiled huge stat totals, yet he’s only the second-best quarterback in his own family. Heck, he caused a stir before he even arrived, making it clear that he would not play for the San Diego Chargers – holders of the first pick in the 2004 draft – and forcing a trade to the Giants before he even played a down of professional football.

Complicated.

Eli’s career regular season record as a starter for the Giants was an astonishingly apt 117-117. Over the course of 234 starts (over 200 of them consecutive), he managed to land on the .500 mark exactly. Many of his career numbers are superficially impressive – he cleared 57,000 passing yards for his career (57,023) and threw 366 TD passes; both numbers are good for seventh on the all-time list. On the flip side, he also threw 244 interceptions (twelfth all-time) – INTs being the only category in which he ever led the league (three times) – and fumbled 125 times (sixth). His 22 pick-sixes are ninth all-time.

And then, there’s the postseason.

As a New England Patriots fan, there will always be antipathy in my heart toward Eli Manning. While the pedestrian nature of his regular season work is undeniable, so too is the brilliance with which he played in the 2007 and 2011 playoffs. Eli put those Giants teams on his back and carried them through four straight victories in each of those postseason runs – both of which ended with him preventing Tom Brady and the Patriots from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

In those eight games, Manning passed for just shy of 2,100 yards and 15 TDs against just two interceptions. He did everything he needed to do to win, and in the process he became one of only 12 QBs to win multiple Super Bowls – again, both at the expense of the Patriots, including the 2007 team that sought to go undefeated.

Of course, Manning’s Giants only made the playoffs four other times; they were one-and-done each time, with the QB performing much more like his regular season self.

Like I said – complicated.

From here, the conversation is going to shift to Eli’s legacy. He is the last of the Manning quarterback dynasty to say goodbye to the NFL (for now, anyway – rumor has it that older brother Cooper’s kid can really sling it). His two Super Bowl titles put him in rarified air and his career totals are top-shelf. He was a paragon of durability and played his entire career for one of the NFL’s most storied franchises.

However, those career totals are going to rapidly drop down the all-time list as today’s pass-happy offensive philosophies put up video game numbers. He was a turnover machine, as good at giving the ball away as any player of his generation. He only made the playoffs in six of his 16 seasons, and in four of those, he failed win a game. He lost precisely as many games as he won.

And so – what is Eli Manning’s legacy? How will we remember him? Will we remember him as an underrated player who produced when it counted, a big-game performer? Or as a mediocre player whose lightning-strikes-twice postseason luck and famous last name combined to keep him around far longer than his talents warranted?

(Obviously, either way he’s the Frank Stallone to Peyton’s Sly. Even the most generous interpretation of Eli’s statistical case is found wanting tremendously in the face of big brother’s career work.)

Is my bias showing here? Yeah, probably a little. The numbers say that Eli Manning wasn’t all that good at playing quarterback. They’re right. But I watched him completely own the greatest quarterback of all time on the game’s largest stage not once, but twice – those rings certainly imply greatness. They’re right as well.

I don’t know if Eli Manning is a Hall of Famer, but I’m guessing he gets in. And that’s OK – there are worse QBs than he in the Hall. And ultimately, the job of any sport’s hall of fame is to help tell the story of that sport – and I don’t think you can tell the story of football’s last two decades without Eli Manning.

Vaya con dios, Eli. Here’s to a successful second chapter.

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 January 2020 08:57

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