Monday, February 6, 2012

Football Wrap: On Eli, Tom and Legacies

Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. I woke up today and I'm scratching my head at that fact *Cue Schooly D's "What Does It Mean?"*

Fact: Eli has more rings than Peyton. Raise your hand if you saw this coming.

Fact: Peyton's 2nd Super Bowl saw him commit only 1 turnover, a pick-6 that cost him the game. Eli's 2nd Super Bowl? 0 turnovers.

Fact: Eli has beaten the best QB of our era (Tom Brady) 3 times with 4th-quarter scores. He's beaten Brady in two Super Bowls, including this one in Peyton's house. In other words, imagine beating up your big brother's bully/rival at his school while everyone's watching. Awkward much?

Fact: Tom Brady led the Pats on a record-tying 96 yard scoring drive before halftime to take the lead. Eli topped it with an 88-yard scoring drive in the final three minutes. 88 isn't greater than 96 but in this case, it is.

Fact: Eli's WR's have much better hands than Tom Brady's. Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez should be ashamed of themselves. Mario Manningham's catch may not have been as flashy as David Tyree's (nor did Eli have to make that throw as he did 4 yrs ago), but it was just as pivotal in terms of momentum and setting up the drive.

So what does all of that mean? Eli can sing that he's got more rings than big bro and brag that he stared down Tom Brady twice.** In the playoffs, he beat the MVP on the road (Aaron Rodgers) and avenged his loss to the 49ers.

**(A big chunk of the credit goes to his ferocious defense, led by Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck, and that the Patriots' defense choked down the stretch. Remember, they were a missed FG from overtime vs. Baltimore after Joe Flacco drove on them.)

It means that Little Brother's legacy is a strange one. While he's feasted on two Super Bowls, he's also good for famine, as indicated by him losing one-and-done in the playoffs three previous times. I really have no idea how great Eli is because he's wildly inconsistent. For his great fourth-quarter heroics and desire to be seen as elite, he's had his shortcomings too.

Eli and Ben Roethlisberger have two rings since Brady won his last. Let's just leave it at that and praise them both as Top-5 quarterbacks (assuming Peyton doesn't returns back to his greatness and my man Philip Rivers keeps regressing, which I HIGHLY DOUBT). I'm not saying Eli is a better version of Tim Tebow (average QB with 4th Q heroics) but I am saying let's not go crazy and say he's better than Brady/Peyton.

That same logic means Terry Bradshaw is one of the five greatest quarterbacks of all time since he has four rings. And anybody who says Bradshaw is better than John Elway, Dan Marino, Brett Favre is a fool when Bradshaw is barely a Top-15 QB. Same with arguing Joe Namath is better than Marino or Jim Kelly.

What Eli's win means is we should kill the rings is better than argument because this is the classic case where fools will show themselves. Appreciate the moment and realize he has one of the most peculiar career trajectories we've seen in a while.

As for Tom Brady? What does yesterday's loss mean for him. Besides the fact his WR's have shaky hands and that Rob Gronkowski played decently on a bad ankle, he's exactly where Kobe Bryant was 4 years ago.

2008 saw Kobe lose in his 5th Finals appearance. Just like Brady, he tasted success early in his career and struggled to get back to the mountain top despite great individual success. At this point, his reputation was being re-evaluated as he was getting respect as a leader and a player. Yet people felt he wasn't as great because he hadn't won a ring minus Shaq.

Brady is somewhat there right now. 3 rings early in his career and now haunted by 2 Super Bowl losses that could easily be wins. Wes Welker catches that first down yesterday, his defensive line sacks Eli Manning 4 yrs ago instead of letting him get away to find David Tyree. He's also grown into a much better QB since 2004 just like Kobe became a much better player after those first 3 rings.

It's been 8 years since he's tasted the fresh Lombardi steel and while he'll go down as one of the 10 best QB's ever, you have to wonder if he knows that he doesn't have much time left to get back there. Will his legacy be defined by early success or late greatness without the rings. I say both because Brady has validated his early success wasn't luck but while he's gotten better, his teammates (and defense) haven't and he knows getting back won't be easier because of it.

He had a stretch going 16-for-16 at one point. A Super Bowl record for consecutive completions. And yet, just like his record-setting drive, it's all for naught.

If this brilliant Dan Wetzel column is any indication, Brady's demeanor afterwards says that he's fully aware of it. He lost a game, lost a chance to enhance his legacy and knows that even though his greatness doesn't change, it's a bit dimmed. He's bested one Manning brother but he knows the other beat him at his own game. Just like Kobe in 2008 - the feeling of wondering what more can you do?

Anybody who says Brady isn't the best QB of our era (respect to Peyton) is foolish. Just like people saying Kobe Bryant isn't the best player of this era (respect to Duncan). But had Kobe not won two more rings, people would look at him differently. Maybe the same way they're looking at Brady now - fast success but can't repeat it at the peak of his playing ability.

Yet I'm not going to be one of those people. Tom Brady's legacy doesn't dramatically change as much as Eli's did. You can't take away his rings, his career just like you can't add anymore to Eli's. It's a mark but a whole body of work must be evaluated when all's said and done.

I guess that's the story of Super Bowl 46. Not the Giants D playing well or Hakeem Nicks continuing his postseason resurgence or Mario Manningham's huge catches. It's two men whose legacies are being re-altered and I'm choosing how I fit to see it.

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