“I don’t think he can carry a team.”
“He lacks the fire needed to be a leader.”
Eli Manning’s first few years in the NFL were rough, and not just for the usual reasons (playing in a new offense, for a new coach, against better defenses). Because of his last name, and the firestorm that was created during the draft when he stated he wouldn’t play for the San Diego Chargers, Manning invited all kinds of attention.
What’s interesting, however, is that the attention didn’t focus on the number of interceptions he threw as a rookie. Instead, the critics focused on his calm persona. The fact that he isn’t the fiery type really rubbed people the wrong way, and so rather than praise his ability to keep cool, commentators and reporters dwelled on what they perceived to be a lack of passion.
There were always comments like, “You think Peyton would just stand there and say nothing if his receiver ran the wrong route?!”
Probably not, but Eli is a different person. And until his third year in the league, most people failed to realize that this could be a good thing; that “calm” can translate to “not easily rattled.” That’s precisely what happened during one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history, when Manning averted several near-sacks before launching a pass to David Tyree (the infamous “helmet catch”) that sustained what turned out to be the game-winning drive. Every Giants — and Patriots — fan remembers Tyree’s heroic catch, but without Manning’s ability to stay composed, there are no heroics.
Despite being pursued by several defensive players — and almost being brought down — he never took his eyes off his receiver.
And so when I read the recent report that Manning, who is entering the final year of his contract, allegedly said he wanted to become the NFL’s highest-paid player, I thought nothing of it, for two reasons.
- I highly doubted its merit, since it seemed out of character for Manning, who is just as media-savvy as his brother.
- If he does want to make big bucks, fine by me. I realize his numbers have been inconsistent over the years, but nothing else about him has. He has been the team’s unequivocal leader for nearly a decade and has been a stalwart at the QB position — something other teams would give the moon and stars for. Every year, the Giants have a legitimate shot at going to the playoffs, and he’s the main reason why.
As it turned out, the “reports” that ESPN and other media outlets treated like fact were, in fact, fiction.
“The reports are all wrong,’’ Manning said. “I don’t know where they get their information from. I just kind of laughed at it.’’
Or even better, maybe he didn’t — maybe he got really upset. But when the media circled around like vultures, desperate for a reaction, he didn’t flinch. He was the same “Easy E” Giants fans have known for years.
The guy has had every opportunity to melt under the big lights of New York, and he has yet to break a sweat. I think the reason I appreciate it so much is because I lack Eli’s ability to stay calm — or at least give the illusion of staying calm — when things get rough. When I’m stressed out, it’s written all over my face. When my kids have tested my patience, they know it.
If Peter Fonda was “Easy Rider,” I’m Uneasy Rider. Not as cool as a tagline, I know.
But what I lack in coolness, I make up for in awareness. I know that the key to survival is to surround myself with people like Dan, whose patience with the kids never ceases to amaze me. And people like my mom and sisters, who make it all look so easy (when I know it isn’t).
I’ve accepted the fact that I’m never going to appear collected while being attacked by the opposition. But as long as I have the right team around me, maybe I’ll be able to pull out some heroics now and then.
Maybe it can be that easy.