We may not have seen the best of Eli Manning
"The game becomes so much easier," Simms once said in an interview. "You've been through the tough years, the growing years, you've seen so much, but you're still physically good enough and then the mental part really starts to become so much easier."
Count Eli Manning among the believers that life after 30 as an NFL quarterback is when it all starts to come together. Manning, coming off the second Super Bowl victory of his career, is 31, and he believes he still has plenty of upside left.
Whether that results in the first Super Bowl repeat of his career remains to be seen. What he does know is that his mastery of the position has never been better and that he can play at an even higher level in the years to come.
Remember the debate last year about whether he was an elite quarterback, on a par with Tom Brady? Well, after Manning answered that in definitive terms by beating Brady in the Super Bowl for the second time, it now is a matter of just how much better he can get and whether there are more Super Bowls in the offing.
Manning agrees that things are coming easier to him and that yes, there still are many more big throws in his $100-million arm.
"I think it's just the reps, how many games you've played, how many times have you run the same play over and over again versus different defenses," he said. "It's seeing different looks and having a great confidence in where you're going to go with the ball as the ball's being snapped, as you're getting back in your drop and you're seeing, 'Hey, this guy is in this spot and I'm not going to be able to throw this.' "
Belying Manning's boyish looks and aw-shucks demeanor is a man whose intellectual grasp of the game has matured to a point where few quarterbacks go. Only the great ones, in fact.
There are only six of them in the NFL right now, as far as I'm concerned: Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. The six own 10 Super Bowl victories and are the only championship quarterbacks among active players.
"Your feet move faster, your eyes are looking different places," Manning said of how much more easily the game comes to him now. "You just have a better understanding of what's going on, so you can hopefully be more successful."
Manning's place in NFL history has yet to be fully determined, but his current track puts him in future Hall of Fame territory. His brilliance is a major reason why Tom Coughlin has no desire to retire, even though he's only a month away from turning 66. Coughlin wants to ride the wave of success, however long it lasts; chances are it will last as long as Manning's effectiveness does.
"You hope that's the case that Eli continues to play as well as he has been," the Giants coach said after practice Sunday. "That's the expectation. I think he said it at the end of last year that he hoped to have eight years of stellar play. That's what we're all counting on."