Is there a better day to commemorate the greatest quarterbacking family the NFL has ever seen? The Manning’s conquest of the NFL started in 1971, the year in which the Saints drafted a quick quarterback with a great arm with their first round pick. However, he played for the laughing stock of the league for the majority of his career, and never compiled a winning season with his ten years in New Orleans. Still, he was one of the most beloved players in the league by fans and NFL stars alike. Jack Youngblood infamously has admitted that he took it easy on Archie out of respect for him.
In 1998, Archie passed the proverbial quarterback torch in the family to Peyton. And did the second-eldest son in the family ever take it! He hasn’t missed one start in his career, and is on pace to challenge Brett Favre for all of his passing records he just took control of… regardless of when Favre retires. He revived a franchise that was developing a trend of losing since its move from Baltimore in 1984. Simultaneously, he has become the league’s most exposed player.
Some say they are sick of seeing Peyton on commercials, but that’s like saying you are sick of your favorite song. Even if you don’t rush to find what time it’s playing on the radio, or when it comes up on your ipod shuffle, you still enjoy it and sing the lyrics. His appearances have been less frequent since his Super Bowl win, which is surprising, but his quality is still solid. He is entertaining in the commercial where he has to hold back Mr. Chicken because the Seinfeld look-alike said he didn’t like sports.
Now this brings us to Eli, who I have a more personal connection with, for obvious reasons. As a big Giants fan, I can remember so vividly the sickening feelings the 2003 Giants provided me. 4-12, ending the season with eight straight losses with seemingly no direction. I was hoping they would draft Roethlisberger, a gutsy player who could compensate for the Giants flaws on their offensive line with his strength or mobility. I never lent a thought to the Giants drafting Eli.
Then word started creeping out that Eli wouldn’t play for the Chargers. Whether it was an empty threat or not, it still gave credence to the notion that Ernie Accorsi will get his wish and have Eli as his franchise quarterback. I was at the Giants draft day party on April 24th, 2004, and I sat down chewing my nails to the bone as the draft commenced. The whole room was nervy, as we all knew a quarterback would be taken in the top five. The question was, who was it going to be? With teams taking the likes of Tim Couch over Donovan McNabb, we all knew what rested on this draft.
The Chargers took Manning first overall, to everyone’s chagrin. No one really reacted much, there was still a feeling that with Eli’s reluctant smile came a lot of telephone calls in the Giants and Chargers draft rooms. A rumor crept up around the time Robert Gallery was drafted that the Giants would draft Rivers, and package him in a trade for Eli Manning. A wave of excitement came over everyone at that point; the conversations between all of the fans grew louder. Then the Giants were on the clock.
After they took Rivers, I knew a trade was inevitable. That was when I got really excited. The Giants had no interest in Rivers, and that was confirmed in the book Ernie Accorsi wrote last year, where Accorsi said, “I never considered Rivers for three seconds.”
Everyone seemingly shared the same thoughts as me because the atmosphere got looser, more people got up for drinks and food and whatnot. They still had their eyes glued to the multiple televisions, but the tension that was in the room for that long hour had vanished. Then we saw Paul Tagliabue abruptly come to the stand, and announced a trade had been made between the Giants and Chargers. Eli was a Giant.
The whole place erupted into cheers and we made our way to the field and had a catch there. As if the day wasn’t enough of a whirlwind, there was another draft rumor. Manning was making his way over the river to come visit Giants Stadium. Shortly after I heard that the band repeatedly began playing “Eli’s Coming.” I sprinted over to the fence where he presumably would make his appearance and I was in front of the line. He came forty-five minutes later with Archie and a man I assume was his agent, and the place went nuts for him. The band continuously played “Eli’s Coming” louder and louder and Eli grinned as broadly as he ever had until he hoisted the Lombardi. He stood himself on top of stage and did a one-on-one interview with a Giants employee. After five minutes, he was asked, “Do you hate the Eagles?” “Yeah!!” “Do you hate the Cowboys?” Yeah!!” I forgot if he was even asked if he hated the Redskins, as the whole field of fans exploded into chants of "Eli Manning!" I remember thinking to myself, "Holy crap, we have a Manning."
Since then, I’ve grown up with Eli. I was timid and shy 12-year-old kid when Eli went through his struggles. But as he progressed mentally and physically, and as it slowly became Manning’s team, I grew to be more confident and likeable. When Manning’s performance peaked by way of him winning the Super Bowl MVP, I feel like I’ve peaked when I walked into my English class and I was given an ovation. For being a fan. He is still progressing as a quarterback and I’m still progressing as a person. This connection means a lot to me, and that’s why I’m thrilled to have him as my quarterback.
Here's to hoping the Mannings continue to reproduce and provide similar feelings to other fans. Happy Manning Day.