Why the Pro Football Hall is anything but a sure thing for Giants' Eli Manning
Eli Manning is going to retire. But is he going to Canton? The answer is more complicated than you might think.
He will, of course, be in the conversation. He won two Super Bowls. He was twice a Super Bowl MVP. And he was a Giant killer, toppling the New England Patriots when they were one victory from completing an unbeaten season.
Some Hall-of-Fame voters believe that makes him worthy of induction, with at least two selectors telling me that Manning is a first-ballot choice. Maybe. But I don’t think it happens. And Canton may not, either … for a variety of reasons.
First, while Manning had Hall-of-Fame moments, you can argue that he didn't have a Hall-of-Fame career. He lost as many games as he won (117), was never an All-Pro, wasn’t an all-decade choice and never led the league in touchdown passes, yards or passer rating.
He did, however, lead the it in one category: Interceptions. Three times.
His career passer rating is 84.1, which ties him for 45th among the league’s all-time passers, and I know what you’re thinking: Yeah, but look where Hall of Famers like John Unitas, Bart Starr and Roger Staubach are. And they’re considered three of the game’s greatest.
Unitas is tied for 89th; Starr at 70th and Staubach at 48th. But they operated in an era where the sport was played in stark contrast to today’s NFL. It was a vertical passing game; not a horizontal one. Quarterbacks weren’t protected by a litany of rules that handcuff defenders and neither were their receivers. In fact, physical play was demanded of defensive backs until it wasn’t – with the league in 1978 implementing the Mel Blount Rule, preventing contact after five yards downfield.
So let’s get back to Manning’s passer rating. It’s more a barometer if we compare it to his contemporaries – quarterbacks whose careers spanned the past 20 years. And when you do that you find that 30 quarterbacks rank ahead of him.
OK, but 30 quarterbacks didn’t win two Super Bowls, and I get that. Moreover, Manning was 8-4 in the playoffs, and 30 passers didn’t do that, either.
But Joe Flacco is 10-5 in the playoffs. He also had one of the greatest Super Bowl runs in modern NFL history, throwing for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the Ravens’ improbable path to Super Bowl XLVIII – a game where he was the MVP.
So what? So it’s Flacco who’s tied with Manning at 45th in all-time passer rating.
Manning’s supporters punch back, pointing to career numbers where he ranks more favorably. He’s seventh in passing yards, seventh in completions and seventh in touchdowns. He’s also third in consecutive starts by a quarterback, with 222 (including the playoffs).
"There's no question in my mind that Eli Manning is a Hall-of-Fame quarterback," former teammate Chris Canty said on FOX Sports' First Things First.
Well, there is in mine, and here's why: Forget the numbers and let’s just concentrate on one question: Do you consider Eli Manning one of the three or four best quarterbacks of his generation? OK, how about the best four or five? Six or seven?
I think you know the answer. I think you also know the Pro Football Hall of Fame is not reserved for someone never named an All-Pro. Because if you haven’t been an All-Pro once, how can you be considered elite?
That’s not to denigrate Manning’s accomplishments. He was an accomplished quarterback for a marquee franchise that made Super Bowl history. But be honest: Do you consider him as Hall-of-Fame worthy as peers like Tom Brady or Eli’s brother, Peyton Manning? How about Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger? Aaron Rodgers? Russell Wilson? Maybe even Phillip Rivers, who doesn’t have the rings but does top Manning in every statistical category, including consecutive starts?
Manning and the Giants left us with indelible memories of the 2007 and 2011 seasons, and that’s how we want to remember them. In fact, had Manning retired following Super Bowl XLVI, he would’ve been a cinch for Canton. Probably first ballot, too.
But when candidates are brought before the Hall-of-Fame’s board of selectors, it’s not one or two years that are examined; it’s entire careers. And the second half of Eli Manning’s career – or the last eight seasons -- reveals this: A 48-67 record, two winning seasons (2012, 2016), one playoff appearance (he lost), four years where he didn’t win more than six of his 16 starts and a pair of benchings.
I know how passionately New Yorkers feel about Eli Manning. I lived there for both Super Bowl victories and watched him fend off his critics with character, poise, leadership and marvelous play.
As a matter of fact, it’s not so much Super Bowls XLII or XLVI that I think of when I summon my favorite memories of him. It’s the 2011 NFC conference championship game vs. San Francisco when he absorbed such a brutal pounding that the wife of then-Giants’ offensive line coach Pat Flaherty reportedly called her husband, asking why he allowed Manning to get clobbered.
Yet somehow Manning persevered, picking himself up time after time to throw for 316 yards and two touchdowns to lead the 49ers to a 20-17 overtime upset.
“Tremendous, exceptional, unbelievable,” was how center David Baas described Manning then.
He was right.
But that was then. This is now. And now I doubt that’s how you would describe his career.
"Eli Manning is going to the Hall of Fame," read a Sports Illustrated headline. "And that's OK."
Maybe not. And that's OK, too.
Eli Manning had moments of greatness, especially the first half of his career, but as that career wore on there was little consistency to his play. In fact, the only consistency was the inconsistency, and that’s not what defines a Hall-of-Fame quarterback.
Granted, he won two Super Bowls, and that counts for a lot. But Jim Plunkett did, too, and he’s not in Canton. I’m not trying to equate the two, but I am saying it doesn’t punch your ticket to the Hall. Eli Manning gave us Hall-of-Fame games. But did he give us a Hall-of-Fame career?
Let the debate begin.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF