Remember 2003? I do. The Giants were limping their way to a 4-12 record under coach Jim Fassel after starting the first half of the season 4-4, including a heartbreaking loss to the Eagles on a Michael Westbrook punt return for a TD. Fassel’s tenure was marked with potential never met. The unbelievable loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the 1997-98 Wild Card game, the even more ridiculous loss to the 49ers in the 2002-03 Wild Card game, the playoff guarantee in 2000. Jim seemed on edge under the intense spotlight of the Big Apple and the gruff frankness of the Garden State. After a number of embarrassing losses, Fassel requested a meeting with executives and learned he would be let go in mid-December 2003. Changes were coming, but I had no idea how many or how significant those changes would be.
Kerry Collins got hurt in Week 13 and would never play another down for Big Blue. I never saw that coming. I was an avid supporter of Kerry, despite his shortcomings. He was a great story, going from troubled bust to a redemptive champion. Collins had given fans their share of ups and downs. The 2000-01 NFC Championship Game in which he tossed 5 touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings, followed by one of the worst performances in Super Bowl history against the Baltimore Ravens. Though Fassel was gone, I didn’t think Collins would go with him.
Leading up to the 2004 NFL Draft, most “experts” had the G-Men picking the best offensive lineman available, Robert Gallery, the tackle from Iowa. There were some speculation the Giants might trade with San Diego to get Manning, but the prevailing thought was ‘get Gallery’.
Inside the Iggles
Then April 24th rolled around and we saw Peyton Manning’s younger brother, Elisha, drafted first overall by the San Diego Chargers and the “Manning Face” was born. Then, I watched as the drama unfolded. News that Eli didn’t want to go to the Chargers became public, he wanted to play for the Giants. Then, New York selects Philip Rivers and I thought, hmm, this kid kind of reminds me of Phil Simms, despite having a much worse throwing motion. Then, the trade came. Manning for Rives plus two picks.
I hadn’t seen enough of Eli in college to make a judgment. This was hailed as a big trade. At the time, no one knew it would be graded, ranked, and measured year after year after year. I remember seeing Eli holding up that Chargers jersey and thinking, “Is this the future?” I didn’t see what Giants GM Ernie Accorsi saw until a couple years ago when Giants.com published Ernie’s scouting report.
Take a look at the highlights from the report along with my notes below:
"…excellent arm strength under pressure and the ability to get velocity on the ball on most throws. Good deep ball range. Good touch. Good vision and poise…"
Eli’s physical abilities have never fully, truly been appreciated in the press or by most fans. Eli can chuck with the best of ’em. Think about most deep balls he throws, especially of late to Beckham. On the money. It’s rare you ever see a ball that’s not within reach, that’s not somewhat catchable. The times when he’s off the mark, it’s usually because his arm is hit, the ball is batted, or he’s simply just trying to get rid of the ball. What’s frustrating is that Eli can be rattled. Even after 12 seasons, Eli can get tunnel vision.
"offensive line is poor…no running game…no real top receivers…No tight end either…No flaring back…"
When Eli has an offensive line with a running game, a top receiver AND tight end, he almost gets too comfortable. It’s like he prefers to be the underdog, to be under pressure. But, it’s a very delicate balancing act. I’ve never seen anyone whose play is so greatly determined by his confidence or lack thereof.
"taking some big hits. Taking them well."
I’ve only seen or remember Eli taking one really big hit – that came in the preseason against the Jets in 2010 when he got “high-lowed”. I thought his head would fall off. He took a number of big hits in the 2011-12 NFC Championship game against the 49ers in San Fran. Other than those instances, Eli avoids the big hits. He goes down without much of a fight. He just knows how to fall in a way that lessens the likelihood of injury. And, though, it’s not the greatest look, it’s a major reason why he hasn’t missed a start. Could other quarterbacks escape and make a play? Yeah. Those same quarterbacks also miss games. One play vs. one (or more) games? I’ll take the play. Get ’em next time.
"He’s big, never gets rattled"
Visibly rattled? No. But his play can become erratic and error prone when facing a situation he doesn’t know how to handle OR when he decides to force the issue because he doesn’t trust anyone else to make a play.
"This is a guy you should just let play… When he’s inaccurate, he’s usually high, but rarely off target to either side… Plays smart and with complete confidence. Doesn’t scold his teammates, but lets them know when they line up wrong or run the wrong pattern…"
True. I’ve only seen him yell at maybe one player. Has he been upset with a player? Sure. But, as a former quarterback with little to no patience, I’m impressed with his ability to teach and coach rather than scold and chastise.
"Threw three interceptions. Two were his fault. Trying to force something both times. He could have run on one of them, a fourth down play. He has a lot to learn."
Eli hates running.
"Summary: I think he’s the complete package. He’s not going to be a fast runner, but a little like Joe Montana, he has enough athletic ability to get out of trouble. Remember how Archie ran? In that department, Eli doesn’t have the best genes, although I never timed mom Olivia in the 40. But he has a feel for the pocket."
“A little like Joe Montana”. Eli just passed Joe on the all-time passing touchdowns list. And, Eli hates running. There’s a severe lack of oxygen in the greater New York City metropolitan area every time he takes off with the ball.
"Feels the rush."
I would hesitantly agree to this assessment. Of late, I’ve seen him get strip-sacked way too often.
"Throws the ball, takes the hit, gets right back up… Has courage and poise. In my opinion, most of all, he has that quality you can’t define. Call it magic…Peyton had much better talent around him at Tennessee. But I honestly give this guy a chance to be better than his brother. Eli doesn’t get much help from the coaching staff. If he comes out early, we should move up to take him. These guys are rare, you know."
There aren’t two more truer statements than the ones Ernie Accorsi delivers in this final paragraph. How many times have seen analysts and experts try to field questions about Eli Manning and just smile and shake their heads incredulously? He just has “it”. The magic. The debate about who got the better trade – San Diego or New York, Rivers or Manning – is dying down. The debate about who’s the better Manning – Peyton or Eli – will rage on. Until Eli wins another Super Bowl and passes big bro on every statistical category.