It’s Super Bowl weekend — good luck to Charvarius Ward and the Kansas City Chiefs! — so this is an appropriate time for a football editorial. Today’s topic is one that will be debated for several years: Does Eli Manning belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Manning, the son of Archie, the brother of Peyton, the graduate of Ole Miss, recently retired after spending his entire 16-year career with the New York Giants. His Hall of Fame-worthiness has been a hot topic for some time, especially in recent years when the Giants regularly missed the playoffs.
The criticism of his career ramped up during the 2019 season, when Manning got benched for his rookie successor. The detractors make some valid points. His career won-loss record as a starter is right at .500. He threw a lot of interceptions. And his quiet, low-key public personality made it look like he was not a team leader.
But the argument to include Manning among football’s greats is stronger.
The Giants definitely had some lean years with him as their quarterback. The question is what kind of talent Manning had to work with, and too many times in recent years the team had plenty of holes. His experience is a reminder that football is the ultimate team game. A quarterback can lead the way, but only if he has a good set of linemen to protect him and some good receivers.
As for Manning’s reserved demeanor, that should not be held against him when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame in five years. When he announced his retirement last week, the public praise from former teammates made it clear that they appreciated his efforts and respected the work he put in for the job. An average quarterback would never have received so many tributes.
In the end, the deciding factor to recommend Manning for the Hall of Fame is two seasons: 2007 and 2011, when he led his underdog team to Super Bowl victories, each time over the mighty New England Patriots.
Manning delivered in the two Super Bowls. In Super Bowl XLII, his fourth-quarter escape from an obvious sack and deep throw to wide receiver David Tyree for the “helmet catch” is one of the most famous plays in NFL history. It was a stunning upset that no one expected — especially the Patriots, who were gunning for a perfect season.
And four years later, Manning led an 88-yard drive in the closing minutes to once again knock off favored New England.
Everybody remembers those games. What they tend to forget is how the Giants got to each Super Bowl.
In 2007, they were a wild-card team. First they won at Tampa Bay, then they went to Dallas and beat the No. 1-seeded Cowboys. And in the NFC championship game at No. 2 Green Bay, the Giants won in overtime in below-zero weather in what was Brett Favre’s last game with the Packers.
In 2011, the Giants won their first playoff game at home. But then they hit the road again, knocking off No.1 Green Bay and, in the NFC championship game, No. 2 San Francisco.
During those two seasons, the Giants won eight playoff games, with only one of them at home. Few teams do that well in the playoffs in their own stadium; to beat so many good teams on the road is an amazing achievement.
That’s what most qualifies Manning for the Hall of Fame. He had a lengthy career that was inconsistent, but in 2007 and 2011 he took down some mighty teams, every single time as an underdog.
The NFL has plenty of Goliaths in the Hall of Fame. It needs a few Davids, and in his two championship seasons Eli Manning, the New York quarterback, truly was a Giant slayer.