The hurdle that could keep Eli Manning from reaching Hall of Fame

Seven years ago, Eli Manning was on a Hall of Fame arc. Now, not so much. Here's the reason why.

Eli Manning turned back the clock this week, offering a welcome glimpse into Good Eli. Not only was he accurate; he led the New York Giants to a desperate, come-from-behind victory reminiscent of the best of his 15-year pro career.

But there hasn't been enough of that this season … or in recent years … prompting the obvious question: Is Eli Manning a Hall of Famer?

And I'd say no.

Granted, he pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history when he led the Giants to a last-minute 17-14 defeat of unbeaten New England in Super Bowl XLII. And, ooops, he did it again … four years later with more late heroics in a 21-17 victory over the heavily-favored Patriots.

But since then … what? More Bad Eli than Good, that's what.

In the seven years that followed his second Super Bowl victory, Manning is 44-60, with 165 touchdown passes, 105 interceptions, a passer rating of 85.9, two winning seasons and no playoff wins. In fact, he's only been in one playoff game since 2011, a lopsided loss in Green Bay where neither he nor his teammates distinguished themselves.

So he hasn't been successful, hasn't been particularly accurate and hasn't won a postseason game.

Yet, supporters argue, the Hall of Fame measures its quarterbacks and head coaches by rings, and Manning has two more than, say, Hall-of-Famers Warren Moon, Dan Marino, Dan Fouts and Jim Kelly -- which is true. But two Super Bowl rings don't guarantee quarterbacks admission to Canton.

Just ask Jim Plunkett.

Nope, excellence, consistency and achievement are all parts of the equation, and the only thing consistent about Manning the past seven years is his inconsistency. While he's been a two-time Pro Bowler during that time, he's never been named an All-Pro and failed to lead the league in any category other than interceptions, which he did in 2013 (27).

In fact, he's led the league in that category three times in his career.

Granted, his record of durability is remarkable. The guy hadn't missed a start until he was benched last year in favor of Geno Smith, ending a streak of 222 straight games (including the playoffs). Plus, he was a two-time Super Bowl MVP in two of the most memorable Super Bowl upsets ever, with Manning pushing the Giants to victory with unforgettable last-minute drives.

But that's not the rule lately. It's the exception.

The rule the past seven seasons has been losing and poor play, with the Giants experiencing five losing seasons since 2011, including last year's 3-13 belly flop and two 6-10 finishes. I know, not all that is on Manning's shoulders, but as the leader of the team and as someone who averages an interception a game since 2011 he bears some … if not much … of the responsibility.

When Kurt Warner first became a Hall-of-Fame candidate in 2015, the knock was that his career was like a doughnut -- you know, with a gaping hole in the middle. And the criticism was fair. A two-time league MVP who twice led the NFL in touchdown passes his first three seasons, Warner disappeared after injuries sent him, first, to the Rams' bench and, later, to the Giants and Arizona Cardinals.

For six seasons, he did next to nothing -- going 13-29, with 54 touchdown passes, 47 interceptions and no playoff appearances. But then something remarkable happened: Like Manning this week, Kurt Warner turned back the clock. Only he didn't do it for one game. He did it for two seasons.

Moreover, he carried the Arizona Cardinals to their first Super Bowl … and came this close to winning it. And he put them in the playoffs the following season, too, before announcing his retirement in 2010. So Warner finished with a flourish, elevating moribund franchises at both ends of his career to make him Hall-of-Fame worthy.

Manning, on the other hand, is going out with a whimper.

Before Monday's victory, he was under orders to win or else … or else he would be benched a second successive season. At 37, that's not good. It either means the end of the season or the end of the line is near … and with Manning it could be both.

Look, I know he's been the face of the Giants' franchise for the past decade and a half, never enduring a losing season in his first seven years as a starter and twice winning Super Bowls. But the last seven years have been as disappointing as the first seven were exhilarating, and that's going to damage … maybe irreparably … his chances for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"Eli is Eli," Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor recently told Hall-of-Fame voter Gary Myers of the Athletic. "He's been a very good quarterback throughout the league."

And that's the problem. This isn't the Hall of Very Good we're talking about. It's the Hall of Fame, where fewer than one percent of all players end their careers. There's been a litany of "very good quarterbacks" in pro football history, but few have had their candidacies dissected by Hall-of-Fame voters.

So will Eli be in the conversation after he retires? Absolutely. The first half of his career and those Super Bowl wins guarantee it. But tell me he's one of the best four or five quarterbacks of his era ... and you can't.

And that sabotages his Hall-of-Fame candidacy.

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