Whenever the day comes for Eli Manning to retire – and that day may not be all that far off – he will leave as one of the NFL’s all-time leading passers.
He’s currently sixth overall with 53,344 yards – more than Hall of Famers John Elway, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts and Joe Montana.
His 345 touchdown passes rank seventh – ahead of each of the aforementioned legends.
He’s sixth with 4,582 completions, trailing only Drew Brees, Brett Favre, older brother Peyton, Tom Brady and Dan Marino.
He already owns every significant Giants passing record.
And he authored two of the greatest Super Bowl upsets in NFL history, winning MVP honors in the game both times.
The numbers reflect greatness and will be surpassed by only a handful of passers in the decades to come. The production certainly is worthy enough to earn him consideration for a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The question is: Will he make it to Canton?
As far as I’m concerned, the answer should be a resounding yes.
But it’s not a lock.
With Manning’s career winding down amid questions about how much longer he’ll be the Giants’ starter, the discussion eventually will shift to his football afterlife and whether he will be honored along with the greats of the game.
But I will tell you this: As a Hall of Fame selector who has debated these issues in the past, I believe there likely will be some pushback against Manning. Perhaps even some strong pushback.
“With Eli Manning, I need to be convinced,” one Hall of Fame voter said. “I need to be convinced that he was ever a great quarterback. I do not put him on par with the great quarterbacks of his era.”
While we still are many years away from the actual discussion about Manning’s potential inclusion in the Hall of Fame – there is a five-year waiting period after a player’s retirement before he’s eligible – Manning’s worthiness already has been questioned. He often falls into the good but not great category, and many fans and media members point to his barely-above-.500 record of 112-108 and the fact that his Giants have reached the playoffs only once since he won his second of two Super Bowl MVPs.
“To me, he’s one of the more fascinating ‘Is he a Hall of Famer or is he not?’ cases,” said Mark Craig, a Hall of Fame voter from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “He had the two hot [playoff runs] and I think he needs to be discussed, because he’s the quarterback who took down the Patriots twice.”
Longtime Houston Chronicle columnist John McClain understands the reluctance to describe Manning as a surefire Hall of Famer.
“I can’t say that I would vote for him on the first ballot, but I will say this: You win two Super Bowls, and as durable as he’s been, with the pressure of playing in the New York area, you definitely deserve strong consideration,” McClain said. “By the time he’s eligible, hell, I might be dead. But if I’m still on this side of the grass, he will certainly get strong consideration.”
Hall of Fame selector Kent Somers, a columnist with the Arizona Republic, said Manning is not an open-and-shut case.
“I would fall into the indecisive category,” Somers said. “I know the two Super Bowls and playing great in crunch time and all that is impressive, but there have been some bad years and bad times and games in which he hasn’t been very good at all. So I’d have to sit down and think about it and listen to the case that’s presented.”
Somers would need some convincing.
“You’d hope with quarterbacks that they’d be no-brainers,” Somers said. “I just don’t think he is.”
Hall of Fame voter Charean Williams of Profootballtalk also might need to be persuaded.
“I probably was more sold on him a few years ago,” Williams said. “It will be a lengthy discussion, and whoever presents [Manning] will have do so some persuading. Having said all that, he did win two Super Bowls.”
Manning hasn’t helped himself in the Hall of Fame debate this year, and with six touchdown passes and four interceptions through six games, he is on pace for his weakest production ever. And who knows? If the 1-5 Giants continue losing, they could choose to bench Manning to get a look at rookie quarterback Kyle Lauletta to see if he might be a potential long-term starter.
But I would argue that Manning’s body of work is plenty good enough to deserve a place in Canton. He went on two of the most sensational playoff runs by any quarterback, capping each one by beating Tom Brady’s Patriots and winning Super Bowl MVP honors.
Yes, he had great defenses supporting him, and there’s no question he benefited from the play of Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Antrel Rolle, Antonio Pierce and others. But Manning was an indispensable part of both Super Bowl runs, and his late-game heroics in each title game produced iconic moments in NFL history. That includes perhaps the most spectacular passing play ever when he somehow spun out of the Patriots’ pass rush and completed a fourth-quarter pass to David Tyree, who pinned the ball to the side of his helmet in Super Bowl XLII.
He threw six touchdown passes and one interception in the first Super Bowl run and had nine touchdown passes and one interception in the second.
He has never missed a game because of injury since taking over as the starter midway through the 2004 season and had nine seasons with at least 24 touchdown passes. Perhaps there should have been more in a pass-driven league, but the collective numbers measure up with – or in many cases surpass – many of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
For that, he deserves a place in Canton.