Even with two Super Bowl rings and accomplishments that put him near the top of the NFL record books for quarterbacks, the debate raged for years: Is Eli Manning an elite quarterback?
Playing much of his 15-year career in the shadow of big brother Peyton Manning — whose eliteness among NFL quarterbacks was rarely questioned — Eli Manning set out to prove to the Giants, the fans and himself that he belonged in the same category.
He took the field one more time Sunday, and led an otherwise miserable Giants team to a rousing victory over the Miami Dolphins, 36-20. But long before game time, Eli Manning had proved himself an elite quarterback not just in Giants history, but in the entire NFL — his recent past failures be damned.
The first eight seasons with Eli under center, and Tom Coughlin serving as head coach, could be considered one of the best periods in Giants history. The Manning-Coughlin combination won 77 regular season games, three division championships and, most importantly, two Super Bowl victories over the franchise of the century, the New England Patriots.
The Giants’ final drive in Super Bowl XLII included perhaps the most memorable play in franchise history, and a testament to Manning’s mettle. Facing a third-and-long with 75 seconds left in the game, down four to the Patriots, Eli dropped back to pass and was met a swarm of Patriot defenders who appeared destined to sack him.
But somehow, Eli escaped their clutches and hurled a 32-yard pass to wide receiver David Tyree, who miraculously held onto the ball with his hands and helmet. Less than a minute later, Manning floated a 14-yard touchdown pass to receiver Plaxico Burress, putting Big Blue ahead for good — and delivering the then-undefeated Patriots their “one Giant loss” that season.
The second Super Bowl victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI should have removed all doubt of Eli’s eliteness. But in the years since that triumph, age started to take its toll on Manning — and the Giants franchise itself wound up in the wilderness from mismanagement.
Since 2012, Big Blue has had just two winning seasons to its name. The 2019 season is one of the most horrendous in Giants history; they entered Sunday just 2-11 on the year, losers of their last nine games, and in contention only for the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Manning, who missed just one start between 2005 and 2018, was relegated to the bench after Week 3, giving way to young, first-round pick, Daniel Jones.
But as sunset appears on the horizon for Manning’s career, he’s unquestionably proven to be one of the best quarterbacks in league history, and the numbers (as of Dec. 14) prove it: 364 touchdown passes (7th highest overall in NFL history), 4,875 pass completions (6th highest overall) and 56,740 passing yards (7th highest overall).
Eli’s name is up there not only with big brother Peyton, but other great NFL quarterbacks who are either inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, or destined for enshrinement: Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger.
Giants fans everywhere should toast Eli Manning for his wonderful career, and appreciate that they had one of the league’s elite quarterbacks for a generation.