Super Bowl 2012: Eli Manning Will Cement Legacy with Another Ring

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22:  Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants celebrates after he threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Bear Pascoe #86 against the San Francisco 49ers in the second quarter during the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Eli Manning needs another Super Bowl ring to cement his legacy as a truly great quarterback. He's getting closer to joining that elite group, but won't reach it unless he triumphs on the sport's biggest stage at least one more time.

He has a magnificent opportunity to do just that next Sunday. While the Giants are underdogs heading into this year's big game, it's a virtual toss-up. He needs to take full advantage of this opportunity because another one may never come along.

Appreciation of Manning has been slow to develop. He spent a lot of time in the shadow of his brother, but with Peyton Manning sidelined for the entire season, the younger Manning brother has stepped into the spotlight and exceeded expectations. That has led to a debate about whether he's elite or not.

His second Super Bowl appearance matches his brother's total, and a victory would put him in select company. Only 10 other quarterbacks in league history have won two rings.

It's not just postseason success, either. Manning has taken on more responsibility for the Giants offense in recent years and done a great job with it. He fell just short of 5,000 yards this season, but still had 30 total touchdowns.

He's also improved his decision-making skills. Manning was always known for making some bone-headed plays, which more often than not cost his team the game, but those mistakes have become far less frequent this season.

All told, Manning has taken his game to the next level. Instead of just being one of 11 guys on the Giants offense, he has become the leader and most effective player. That's what it takes to leave a lasting legacy in the NFL.

His work is not yet done, though. Reaching the Super Bowl is one thing. Winning it is another. The Patriots are going to throw everything they can at Manning to see if he can handle the pressure.

And that's where the game will be won or lost for the Giants. If Manning is able to stand tall in the pocket and deliver strikes to his talented receivers, New York will be on the road to victory. If he gets rattled, there's no doubt Tom Brady will take advantage.

Manning knows how much is at stake. He'll feed company line material about focusing on the team and not himself, but deep down he knows another ring will solidify his status as a top-tier quarterback.

That's a lot of motivation, but a lot of pressure as well. How Manning reacts will tell us whether or not he truly belongs alongside the all-time greats.