Eli Manning: Can He Be a Legend?

Jeffrey SantonAnalyst IJanuary 22, 2008

Eli Manning has silenced the critics...or has he?

He has quarterbacked his team to the largest stage in all of football. Shouldn't that count for something?

Perhaps, but it doesn't.

Many joke that NFL stands for "Not For Long" in a "What have you done for me lately" business. If Eli Manning doesn't win this game and play well is he right back where he was before? Will the New York media attack him again?

Eli faces almost-impossible odds, but that's nothing new. He is facing what is probably the greatest team in the history of football and he is going to have to play out of his mind to pull it off. New York quarterbacks have gotten them to the big game in the past, but finished unsuccessfully.

Kerry Collins got them to the big game in 2001 where they lost 34-7 to the Baltimore Ravens. Collins was not built a statue and fans weren't lined up around any block to pat him on the back for a job well done. As far as I know they have yet to name any holidays after Kerry Collins either.

In New York, if you don't win it all, you didn't win anything.

Once upon a time (last year) there was a quarterback who faced constant scrutiny from the press and fans in his own town similar to Manning's. He managed to get his team into the Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears, but lost. His name, as you know, was Rex Grossman and he didn't make it six weeks into this season following his Super Bowl appearance as a starter.

The stats of the two seasons are FREAKISHLY close. Grossman and Eli have an  identical passer rating of 73.9, 23 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions. The passing yards are fairly close as well with Eli having the slight edge (3,336 to Grossman's 3,193).

If the Giants get blown up and Eli performs poorly, the national stage may hurt him worse then if they didn't make the playoffs at all. Ask the Ohio State Buckeyes how their offseason is going.

All that being said, do you have to be a remarkable quarterback and have a remarkable performance to win in the big game? Not necessarily.

Plenty of average quarterbacks have gotten through the big game by not making mistakes and simply playing within themselves. Trent Dilfer managed to pull it off against the New York Giants in that 2001 Super Bowl that was won with freakishly good defense. I don't think that applies with the circumstances of this particular game.

First off, it's going to take great play from Eli to win. The Giants, nor anyone else for that matter, have a defense that will shut down the Patriots. Second, it's New York. Eli was a number one pick overall. Third, they are playing a team one game away from perfection.

Eli hasn't done enough to win over the people yet. He simply must perform well in this game and win it. If he can somehow manage to do this, Eli will finally be able to quiet the critics. If he could play a great game and get some help on the defensive side of the ball to at least humanize the Pats he will be a proven quarterback who got it done and ended this amazing run the Patriots have had.

To beat the Patriots this year would be a typical David and Goliath story. It would be a feat that would be talked about for years to come and rank as one of the all-time upsets. Eli would become a big-game quarterback overnight. He is in a position to, in one game, be known for greatness or failure. If he's anything less then remarkable, Eli will simply be this year's Rex, plain and simple.

So in essence absolutely nothing has changed. He's still a Manning, he still plays in New York, and he still faces unfairly high expectations. This will just be one more enormously tall task that takes on an all or nothing approach.

The good news: He should be used to it.