Super Bowl 2012: Eli Manning Puts Himself in Elite Company

Cody ElliottContributor IIJanuary 24, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants passes against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Eli Manning has been a target of criticism for the majority of his career.

The younger brother of NFL superstar Peyton Manning and son of former NFL quarterback Archie, Eli always had football in his blood.

Manning decided to go to the University of Mississippi under head coach David Cutcliffe. While there, the quarterback broke 45 Ole Miss passing records and racked up many awards, including the Maxwell Award, which is given to college football’s top overall player.

He also finished third in the 2003 Heisman Trophy voting. He finished his career with 81 touchdown passes and over 10,000 yards passing.

After graduating from Ole Miss with a degree in marketing, he focused on the NFL draft. This is where the controversy began for Manning.

The San Diego Chargers had the first pick in the 2004 NFL draft. However, Manning and his father came out before the draft, stating that the young quarterback would refuse to play for the Chargers if they took him with the first pick.

The family let it be known that their was a desire to play in a bigger market, preferably New York.

So with the first pick, the Chargers still took Manning, but traded him away shortly thereafter. They traded the pick to the Giants for the fourth pick, which was used on Philip Rivers.

Giants fans were excited about the prospects of their new signal-caller, but it would be an experiment to see how he could handle the extra pressure applied by the New York media.

In his rookie season, Manning did not open as the starter. He sat behind Kurt Warner to start the season before making his debut midway through the year.

He struggled greatly and was at one point benched again in favor of Warner. In his second season though, he entered as the starter and planned to take advantage.

Manning led the Giants to a postseason berth and put up some solid numbers statistically, but became known for big turnovers in key moments. His interception numbers were high, and the criticism began to creep in.

His third year was very similar as he continued to struggle with turnovers, and the team once again fell in the playoffs.

The 2007 season was a special one for Eli. Manning and the Giants struggled for much of the season, and the New York media was ripping him everywhere you looked.

However, they did reach the playoffs again, and this was where the magic began. 

The Giants ripped off wins against the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Packers in the NFC playoffs to earn a berth in the Super Bowl. However, it looked awful here, as they faced the 18-0 New England Patriots.

But Eli Manning did not care. With an improbable catch by David Tyree and a stout defensive effort, Manning and the Giants upset the Patriots and became world champions.

Manning was named MVP of the Super Bowl, and it appeared his career would only go up from there.

The next three seasons for Eli, however, were marked by inconsistency and the inability to win in the playoffs. His interception numbers remained high, and he continued to lack the magic that came during the 2007 Super Bowl run.

The heat on Manning from media and fans continued to increase, as many questioned if he could ever lead the team to another Super Bowl.

Before the 2011 season, Manning made a comment to the media that he was in the same class as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. This was a surprise to many, and raised some harsh criticism by those who said he wasn't even close.

However, he has done enough this year to prove that he could be in that level. The Giants opened up this season to a 6-2 record, due in large part to the play of Manning.

They then went on a midseason losing streak, and found themselves at 7-7 and on the outside looking in at the playoff picture.

Manning, though, played tremendous football, and has led the Giants to five straight games that were essentially single-game elimination matchups. Manning has always been the type to not let the criticism bother him, and at times has seemed like he doesn't really care.

However, that is just who he is. His calm-mannered approach to the game displays its effectiveness in all of his fourth-quarter comebacks.

He has a clutch gene that apparently runs in the Manning family. With his performance this season, he has officially put himself into the category of elite NFL quarterbacks.

Now, with a second Super Bowl on the horizon, the pressure is on.

Manning is now in the elite category.

Let’s see if he can stay there.