One of the great unanswerable questions of our time is whether or not Eli Manning would be viewed differently if he wasn't the younger brother of a certain large foreheaded commercial spokesman/quarterback from Indianapolis.
Okay, so it isn't really all that great a question, but it is still curious that brother Eli hasn't been able to reap more of the rewards of his status. There are only five other quarterbacks in the league that have both won a Super Bowl and thrown for 4,000 yards in a season and those five quarterbacks fill the first five spots on John Clayton's ranking of the league's starting quarterbacks. According to the ESPN pundit, however, Eli is only good enough to rank 11th on the list despite having better credentials than most of the guys in front of him.
Guys like Tony Romo, a quarterback who failed in every big spot he ever met until finally breaking through last year with a strong December and a playoff win. You'd think you'd need to pull the trick off more than once to move ahead of a guy who was just about the only thing standing between the Giants and a 5-11 season in 2009.
Or Carson Palmer, whose inability to generate any kind of aerial attack sunk the Bengals in the playoffs last season. It was Palmer's second trip to the postseason in five full seasons as a starting quarterback, which pales in comparison to Eli's four trips in his first five years and that aforementioned Super Bowl ring.
Donovan McNabb? Perhaps if we were ranking these things on a career basis you'd give McNabb the edge over Eli simply because of how many times he brought the Eagles to the brinks. But in his twilight while playing for a new team against a player still in his prime who has shown improvement every year? That dog just ain't gonna hunt.
The kicker of the whole thing is that Clayton's blurb on Eli mentions that "he doesn't get the respect that he's due." Gotta love a guy who points out the flaw in his own ranking system.
It would be crazy to argue that Eli is at the same level as his brother, Tom Brady or Drew Brees, but among the players who are clearly a cut below it is hard to see where any of them have clear advantages. Is it simply a personality thing? Eli doesn't date celebrities like Romo, play the bad boy card like Ben Roethlisberger or suck all the light of the world into his attention vacuum like Brett Favre.
More likely, it is the fact that Eli isn't a rah-rah screamer who the camera finds over and over again over the course of the game. He's a laconic sort and lets Tom Coughlin chew the scenery on the sidelines. His results make it clear that this isn't a particularly big problem, although it does give us a chance to celebrate a historic moment.
Eli Manning is the first underrated athlete in New York history. Buy that man a plaque!