There isn’t an ounce of uncertainty in Plaxico Burress’ mind that Eli Manning deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“No doubt about it,” said the former Giants receiver, who caught the winning touchdown pass from Manning in the upset win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII after the 2007 season. “He’ll walk in, first ballot.”
“If he doesn’t,” Burress said, “it’s a crime. It’s a shame. He should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, no doubt.”
Though there is no doubt in Burress’ mind, there is some skepticism for many others, including some who will cast their votes about Manning’s candidacy once he becomes eligible after the mandatory five-year waiting period.
They’re not alone. There is plenty of debate at the national level about whether Manning ought to join the likes of Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Dan Marino, John Elway and other quarterbacks whose busts rest in the hallowed space of the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith does not believe Manning’s accomplishments rise to the level of Hall of Fame greatness.
Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner — a highly respected analyst with NFL Network who was replaced by Manning as the Giants’ starting quarterback after nine games in the 2004 season — is iffy, citing Manning’s lack of consistent regular-season greatness.
Same with Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, who recently said, “Football immortality used to be reserved for players who redefined their position, made a big impact on the game or dominated their position for a period of time. The way the Hall is trending now, Eli will get in, most likely, because he won two Super Bowls. It won’t be because he embodied any of those three points while in the league.”
Even when Manning won his two Super Bowl championships, there was debate about whether he was a truly elite quarterback. He never wowed you with gaudy touchdown numbers like Tom Brady or the unique creativity and playmaking ability of Aaron Rodgers.
Now that his career is over and his body of work is complete, the questions will continue about his Hall of Fame candidacy — even if Burress and others, including many of Manning’s teammates and his opponents, too, believe he ought to be a shoo-in for Canton.
The feeling here is that Manning should — and will — get into the Hall of Fame. However, given the disagreements about his production, it will not surprise me in the least if it takes more than a year for him to get in. Perhaps much longer than that.
“I certainly know how that whole scene goes,” said former Giants linebacker Harry Carson, who waited 13 years after first becoming eligible before making it into the Hall of Fame in 2006. “It’s a very political process.”
In Carson’s mind, Manning should become his Hall of Fame teammate.
“I’m biased, and I freely admit that,” he said. “There are going to be people who are going to say yes and there are going to be people who would say no, he doesn’t belong.”
Carson knows the feeling.
“There are people who look at me now who say, ‘It’s the Hall of Fame, not the hall of the very good,’ ” he said. “You don’t worry about it. If it happens, it happens. There’s nothing he can do about it. Sleep well at night, spend time with your kids and your family, and if and when that time comes [for induction], you celebrate, then enjoy the ride.”
Manning himself is not worried about whether his legacy is good enough for Hall of Fame enshrinement.
“That is not a concern,” he said Friday at his retirement news conference. “My focus now is just reliving the great moments and the great memories with my teammates and my family and let everything else work out from there.”
Manning’s father, former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, is convinced that Eli doesn’t give a lick about whether he gets into Canton.
Asked if he believes Manning cares about Hall of Fame recognition, he responded: “I do not. I’ve known him for 39 years, and he doesn’t go there. That’s Eli. He’s done it his way. I don’t think he does [care].”
“I’m not going to get worked up about it,” he said.
Older brother Peyton is a lock to get into the Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible next year. Whoever presents him to the voters at the 2021 selection committee meeting can simply say, “Peyton Manning” and stop right there. No speech will be needed to convince fellow voters.
That won’t be the case with Eli, whose legacy is not nearly as accomplished in terms of his regular-season brilliance, although the brothers have the same number of Super Bowl rings.
Peyton set numerous NFL passing records during his run with the Colts and Broncos, and he retired as the all-time leader in touchdown passes with 539. That’s way more than Eli’s 366, but the former Giants quarterback still is seventh in touchdown passes.
Some other accomplishments that bolster his Hall of Fame case:
* He’s one of only five two-time Super Bowl MVP winners.
* He ranks seventh in NFL history with 57,023 passing yards.
* He owns the third-longest regular-season starting streak with 210.
* And in his two Super Bowl runs, he had a combined 15 touchdown passes and two interceptions.
But there are some flaws:
* He’s 117-117 as a starter. While a quarterback’s record isn’t always indicative of his individual performance, it’s certainly worth pointing out. Then again, two other Hall of Fame quarterbacks — Namath of the Jets and Sonny Jurgensen of the Redskins — had losing records.
* In years when the Giants reached the postseason but didn’t win the Super Bowl, Manning was 0-4 in the playoffs.
* His career passer rating of 84.1 is just 45th all-time.
* He was never named All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl four times.
So it’s certainly not the kind of clear-cut case that other Hall of Fame quarterbacks put forth.
In the end, I believe there is enough there to put him in the Hall of Fame. His two Super Bowl wins against the greatest dynasty in NFL history, which came at the end of brilliant playoff runs, simply can’t be ignored.
Just as his signature passes to David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII and Mario Manningham in Super Bowl XLVI will help convince skeptics that Manning deserves to join the greats of the game in Canton.