Can’t spell Elite without ‘Eli’

Josh Dillon, IVLeader Sports Editor

In an interview with ESPN’s Michael Kay in August, Eli Manning was asked if he considers himself to be an elite quarterback.Manning responded with yes, prompting some to call him arrogant and undeserving.

In an eight-year career which began under scrutiny for refusing to play in San Diego, where he was drafted in 2004 as the first overall pick out of Ole Miss, Manning was subsequently traded to New York for Phillip Rivers, who the Giants drafted with the No. 4 pick. Manning had the pedigree, son of Hall of Fame quarterback Archie Manning, who was one of the best quarterbacks to be stuck on some bad teams, and the younger brother of Peyton Manning, who may retire as the most talented QB of all time.

After starting seven games in his rookie season, Manning was promoted to full-time starter and hasn’t missed a game since. His durability not in question, Manning’s averaged 25 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions in seven straight seasons of starting for the Giants in an offense that produced running backs like Tiki Barber, Brandon Jacobs, and Ahmad Bradshaw. The so-called “elite” quarterbacks right now, Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, Tom Brady of the Patriots, Peyton Manning of the Colts, and Drew Brees of the Saints play in predominately passing offenses designed for inflated quarterback numbers.

Eli Manning won Super Bowl 42 in 2008, beating the undefeated New England Patriots as heavy underdogs. He won MVP of the game, completing 19 of 34 passes for 255 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. Manning dominated the fourth quarter of the super Bowl, going 9-14 for 152 and 2 touchdowns, both of which gave his team the lead. But, the defining moment had to be Manning’s escape of three Patriot defenders, Adalius Thomas, Richard Seymour, and Jarvis Green, the latter two having Manning’s jersey in the grasp. After escaping, he heaved a pass towards the middle of the field, leading to a spectacular catch by David Tyree, who pinned the ball against his helmet with Rodney Harrison all over him trying to force the incomplete pass.

This past regular season, Manning had a phenomenal year, throwing for almost 5000 yards, 29 touchdowns and only 16 interceptions, as the Giants run game faltered and he had to carry the offense on his back. The team struggled throughout the season, but turned it around on Dec. 11, winning in come from behind fashion against division rival Dallas in a game that determined who would stand atop the East division. The Giants made the playoffs by winning three straight games, including the regular season finale at home against the aforementioned Cowboys to vault themselves into the postseason.

Manning’s post-season was phenomenal. He beat the 15-1 Green Bay Packers, who were the NFL’s best team from the start to the end of the year, on the road at Lambeau Field, and then defeated San Francisco and rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh, on the road at Candlestick Park, as the Giants earned the right to play in Super Bowl 46.

Manning again proved to be supreme on the biggest of stages, completing 75 percent of his passes for 296 yards and one touchdown. Manning’s throw to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter was exceptional, allowing Manningham to make a tip-toe grab along the sideline and setting up Ahmad Bradshaw’s go-ahead score with just over a minute left in the game.

With two Super Bowl crowns and MVP awards under his belt, including the trophies of taking down an undefeated team and one of the best teams ever seen in the 2011 Green Bay Packers, Manning has proven that with his confidence in his abilities and his clutch performances in the fourth quarter, he is more than deserving of elite status.