As we wait for the Giants and Patriots to take the field in Indianapolis, we're going to be running down the 10 biggest reasons why the Giants are headed to Super Bowl 42. Coming in at No. 1 is Eli Manning.
Throughout the years, the biggest knock on Eli Manning was that he just didn't seem like a big-time franchise quarterback.
The skills were there and he had a Super Bowl ring, yet there was always something to make you think that Manning wasn't quite as good as he should be. Sometimes it was the spoiled brat body language and facial expressions. Other times it was the rush of everyone associated with the Giants to absolve him of every mistake by blaming it on teammates, and the running thread was the knack for coming up with a big turnover that sealed defeat for the Giants.
Put it all together and you had the overwhelming feeling that Eli didn't belong on the same level as guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. That was what led to the fateful moment before the season when Manning was asked if he was elite and, in his usual laconic matter, answered that he thought he was.
It was one thing to say it, but quite another to go out on the field and prove it. After a dismal opening performance in D.C., Manning did just that over the course of the season.
He did it by putting up eye-popping numbers in the passing game and by avoiding the turnovers that had haunted him in the past. Beyond that, though, Manning showed a flair for coming up with his best plays in the waning moments of games when the difference between winning and losing was all in his hands.
Making it all the more impressive was the fact that Manning was doing it behind an offensive line that struggled to give him time to step into throws the way they teach you in Pop Warner. Manning's ability to deliver accurate passes while throwing off his back foot and/or turning away from pressure was remarkable all year, but never more impressive than in the NFC Championship Game against the 49ers.
Years of rule changes have made the NFL a quarterback league and winning big is almost impossible without getting exceptional play from that position. Manning gave the Giants that kind of play all season, lifting them over the rough patches early and providing knockout blows down the stretch.
Eli still doesn't look like the central casting version of a quarterback we're conditioned to seeing over the years. He isn't fiery, he doesn't put himself at the head of the team and lead with the visible passion of the other guys at the highest level of the game.
But does that matter when the results are the same or better? Of course not.
There have been plenty of guys who fit the look or style over the years that couldn't play anywhere near the level Eli attained this season. That's why he's in position to win a second ring and it's why there won't be any questions about his ability to lead a team where it wants to go ever again.