Ian O’Connor wrote a great piece today on ESPNNewYork.com entitled “Who Thought Eli would be this good?” My first thought when I saw that headline was “Me, I thought he would be this good.” I’ve been saying it for years. When the Giants drafted Philip Rivers fourth in the 2004 draft and then traded him for 1st overall pick Eli Manning, I felt confident it was a move that would pay dividends. Eli would be the guy who was going to bring championships (that’s right plural) to New York. I had a hard time making believers out of anyone that I expressed my opinion to before 2007. A few people were more receptive to the idea of Eli as an elite QB after his first Super Bowl, but there was still many doubters. After 2011, my feelings on Eli were finally the majority opinion and now we get these articles about how he isn’t just the best clutch QB in the league, but he is the best QB in the league period.
When no one believed in Eli, it didn’t bother me one bit – even when he was throwing off his back foot with that exasperated look on his face and his hands in the air. It was part of the learning curve and it didn’t help that he had to deal with selfish receivers. Getting receivers who were more concerned with the team than their individual touches coincided with Eli’s rise in ability and confidence. Shockey got hurt and Eli asserted himself as the leader of the offense and the leader of the team. That led to the 2007 playoff run and once he had the first little bit of success, it snowballed. He became the leader that led the 2011 team to another Super Bowl and the guy that has conditioned his fans to expect 4th quarter dominance, no matter the situation.
It takes takes time for a quarterback to mature and come into his own and that is exactly what Eli has done to this point. It wasn’t that crazy to list him as a good quarterback even before 2007. He made the playoffs in his first two full seasons as a starter (an accomplishment on its own) but failed to win either of those postseason games. After 2 Super Bowl MVPs and countless 4th quarter comebacks over the past year, he not only has his locker room behind him but everyone agrees that he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He has turned undrafted wide receivers into superstars and he’s just at the beginning of his prime. Even my high expectations from back in ’04 can be exceeded. He doesn’t win every game because that is impossible, especially in a league with such great parity. But he wins the big ones and I would want no one else under center. He’s going to have a better career than Peyton, something that was laughed at when I said it back in ’06. I always believed we had a superstar and now that the rest of the world has figured out what I knew along, I couldn’t be happier.