John Smallwood: Eli's chance to top big brother

Eli Manning can add a second Super Bowl victory to his resume with a win on February 4. (Julio Cortez/AP)

TO BE HONEST, this isn't a debate I contemplated having.

On one hand, I've always believed that the accomplishments of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning have been shortchanged because they have been judged in comparison to those of his older brother, Peyton, of the Indianapolis Colts.

I never agreed with those Eagles fans who had so much contempt for the Giants that they refused to ever give Eli his full due, even on those occasions when he clearly outplayed whoever was quarterbacking the Eagles.

Sure he has had some clunkers, but for most of the past 5 years, Eli Manning has been a top-tier quarterback.

Still, I never believed that he would rank in the same class as Peyton.

Eli can have a great, potentially Hall of Fame career, but Peyton will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game.

However, if Eli leads the New York Giants to an upset victory over the New England Patriots next Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI, it would give him two championship rings to one for Peyton.

And if in professional sports we give extra emphasis to those who win a championship, does Eli going 2-0 in the ultimate football game compared to Peyton being 1-1 make him the better Manning?

The answer for me is, no - even if the Giants win.

Given the choice of which Manning to start a franchise, I'm taking Peyton 100 out of 100 times.

But that is not to diminish Eli.

I praise Eli because rarely has an athlete been able to step out from under a shadow that has been cast so large.

As if being the son of Archie, who was a quarterback for 14 seasons in the NFL, wasn't enough pressure, Eli has had to play his entire career as the little brother of a player destined to go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

The critiquing hasn't always been fair.

If Eli's surname had been Smith, Jones, Matowski or anything but Manning, I doubt there would be as many questions when evaluating the first 8 years of his NFL career.

By passing for 27,579 yards with 185 touchdowns and being named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLII, Eli Manning already has had more success than the vast majority of quarterbacks who have ever played in the NFL.

But because Peyton, who has passed for 54,828 yards with 399 touchdowns and has also been a Super Bowl champion, is his brother, Eli's grading scale has always been skewed against him.

No matter what he did, Eli simply was not Peyton.

On Super Bowl Sunday, however, Eli has a chance to one up Peyton on the one kink in his Hall of Fame resume - championships won.

The knock against Peyton dating back to his days as an All-America quarterback at the University of Tennessee was that he could not win the big game.

That reputation continued to grow for the first 8 years of his NFL career until he led the Indianapolis Colts to a victory in Super Bowl XLI.

A Colts' loss to the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV brought those whispers back to the surface.

Eli, in comparison, engineered possibly the greatest upset in Super Bowl history when he led the Giants past the undefeated New England Patriots.

If Eli can duplicate the upset of New England, he'll have two Super Bowl championships. To a lot of people, championships are the bottom line in sports.

Obviously, I don't automatically subscribe to that.

Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and Mark Rypien won Super Bowls that Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly and Warren Moon did not.

I'm not taking any of them over those Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

Still, while I won't take Eli over Peyton, the argument does get a bit more interesting.

Generally in pro sports when you have siblings, the overall family success is typically one-sided with one pulling most of the weight.

Presently in United States professional football history, there are 335 documented sets of brothers who have played in the All-America Football Conference, American Football League or National Football League.

No brothers have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Mannings appear to be on that path, which is something few people would have said just two seasons ago.

By reaching a second Super Bowl, Eli's career has to now be viewed in a different perspective.

This season, he passed for 4,933 yards with 29 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His passer rating was 92.9. He set an NFL record with 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes.

If quarterback truly is a position of will and leadership, than Eli Manning has pulled off two of the biggest character runs in NFL playoff history.

The Giants' path to the Super Bowl this season was as improbable as the one they walked in 2007.

New York had to beat Dallas on the last day of the regular season to limp into the playoffs with a 9-7 record - the worst of any of NFC playoff teams. But Eli threw eight touchdowns in three games to lead the Giants to the Super Bowl.

Since the turn of the century, only five quarterbacks have led teams to multiple Super Bowl appearances - Tom Brady (five), Kurt Warner (three), Ben Roethlisberger (three), Peyton (two) and now Eli.

That doesn't make Eli the equal of Peyton, but it does make him an elite quarterback in his own light.


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