Eli Manning Had A Bad Year, And It's Okay To Say That
A lot is written these days about the culture of playing professional sports in New York and what it's like to do your job in the spotlight in the middle of the biggest media market in the country. With millions of eyes focused on your every move week in and week out, it's easy to see how our sports superstars are dissected, analyzed and put under the microscope more than any other city's superstars. There's a certain kind of unique pressure that comes with playing in New York, but at the other end of that spectrum, there's an even greater respect that comes with winning in New York. Our heroes become legend, held up to a higher standard — a standard that can only be attained by weathering the harsh criticism that one must endure in order to reach that pinnacle.
Since Eli Manning arrived in New York on draft day in 2004, he has been placed under that microscope — the same kind of intense scrutiny that has crushed many promising young stars before him and after him. But for every Danny Kanell, Chad Pennington and Mark Sanchez who has failed to live up to the standard that New York fans and the New York sports media held for them, there is a rare player that comes along who proves to be the exception to the rule. The kind of player who can stand tall amidst the storm swirling around him, the kind of player who is, for the most part, fearless. Manning is, and has been, exactly that kind of player.
However, nobody is perfect. Tom Brady is not perfect — Eli Manning has shown us that himself more than once in the past decade. Peyton Manning is certainly not perfect, as we all witnessed this past Sunday. Eli Manning is not perfect either — in fact, he's far from it. We often have the tendency — sports writers and analysts are especially guilty of this trait — of leaning towards extremes when evaluating our superstars. You're either elite or you're a disappointment. In New York, more than any other major sports market, players can go from being the savior to being the goat in a week's time.
But not everything is black and white.
After the most disappointing season of his nine-year career, the conversation about Eli Manning has vacillated between two extremes since the Giants' season ended a little over a month ago. There seem to be two prevailing perspectives on Manning's legacy in New York at this point in his career: there's the two-time Super Bowl MVP who has brought two new shiny pieces of hardware to the trophy case in East Rutherford, and there's the wildly inconsistent, mistake-prone quarterback who lucked into two improbable Super Bowl victories with the help of some uncanny timing and whose larger-than-life postseason triumphs have perhaps overshadowed his underwhelming regular season play.
The thing about both of these perspectives is that they're both true. They're both true because there's a middle ground there that nobody likes to talk about. In New York, our superstars are either unimpeachable heroes or they're disappointments, but they're rarely both at the same time.
According to who you talk to, Manning is both an unimpeachable hero and a disappointment. But in reality, he is neither. Manning is simply a very good quarterback playing in the biggest sports market in the world, and is often subject to unfair criticism simply because of his name and the expectations it carries.
Manning has had some phenomenal seasons in his tenure as quarterback for the Giants. He's reached the highest of highs and climbed the mountain not once but twice. But he's experienced his fair share of disappointment — the 2013 season was one of those disappointments. Manning had a bad season last year, not just by his and New York's impossible standards, but by just about anyone's standards — and it's okay to admit that.