The Week in WTF: The Many Faces of Eli Manning, and of the Many People Who Talk About Him

Besides posting the sixth-highest passing total in league history a year ago, Eli Manning is the NFL’s all-time record holder for most fourth quarter comebacks in a single season.

The steady, solid, better-than-Peyton quarterback (at least right now) of the New York Giants also has two Super Bowl rings on his mantle, and two Super Bowl MVP awards to go along with them.

At this point, there is no doubting Eli’s credentials.

But we do it anyway.

There is no questioning Eli Manning’s ability to overcome adversity. Matching – maybe even besting – his mammoth expectations in the country’s most malicious market should have squashed that bug, exterminated it forever.

But still, we doubt.

Still, we don’t believe.

Still, we pounce at the very first chance.

In fact, in this constantly-evolvinginstantly-analyzed world of opinions expounded and tweets tweeted, doubt may have become our reaction of choice.

Speaking of doubt – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so when considering this unsettling possibility. And the Giants quarterback’s journey from maligned to marveled – and however briefly this Sunday, back again – is a microcosm of it all.

Seven months ago, the Giants won their second Super Bowl in five years, and it seemed that the debate around Eli’s ‘Eliteness’ had finally, mercifully wrapped.

Then, in the ensuing season’s second game, the reality of that debate – and of the increasingly instantaneous and irrational reaction machine that powers it – reared its ugly head once more.

“It’s starting to look like we’re going to see the 2010 Eli Manning this year.”

“HA! Eli is Elite?…three INTs in the first half! Never will be Peyton, Never will be the Man!!”

The Manning face, forever and ever. Don’t let anyone ever convince you this schlub is a top-notch quarterback.

I’m paraphrasing, but the above is a pretty accurate representation of the hyper-reactive BS popping up all over on my Twitter timeline at halftime of the Giants v. Buccaneers game on Sunday, minutes after Eli had thrown (what at the time seemed like) a backbreaking third interception, returned for sixty yards and a touchdown by Bucs DB Eric Wright.

But guess what? It wasn’t backbreaking. Eli Manning isn’t, in fact, a ‘schlub.’

And 30 minutes of performance, poor or prolific, should never, ever – no matter the playing field – overrule long-term consensus.

But that’s what happened on Sunday. Right up until Eli and his crop of receivers want H.A.M. on the Tampa secondary. Right up until Eli posted the eighth highest single-game passing total in the history of the National Football League. Right up until the Giants’ back was un-broken – despite Greg Schiano’s best “sneak attack” efforts to the contrary – and Eli reminded everyone, fans and critics, exactly who he is.

That is, exactly who he will always be: a guy who can throw a football damn well, and whose ability to do so doesn’t change because someone else thinks it has.

As a species, we don’t agree on much. Most of all, we have a particularly difficult time coming to a consensus on what is what and whom is whom. But one thing we can agree on is that identity doesn’t shift particularly often, and that it certainly doesn’t change on a minute-by-minute basis. Matter is matter. Five minutes from now, matter will still be matter.

Van Gogh might have brushed a few strokes astray, but he was no less a painter for it.

Surely, even Einstein garbled a few calculations. But these shortcomings make his theory of relativity no less revolutionary.

So, why must we hold our athletes to such an impossible standard?

That’s a tough question, and one that would take many more words than I am willing to give.

(The CliffNotes version, in my opinion, would involve plenty of meditation on the nature of live events as well as the mythology surrounding sports. But again, this is a discussion for a different, longer day.)

Regardless of the motives, the consequences are clear.

There is no crying for Eli Manning, with his abundance of talent and millions accrued.

Certainly, there is no crying for the myriad athletes just like him. LeBron, A-Rod and Tiger come to mind as just a few of the other unfortunate, misperceivedinhabitants of The Spotlight.

But tears can be shed for a culture in which small samples are valued higher than manicured resumes, in which “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” has become the de facto law of the land.

Tears can be shed for a society that may have lost its ability to reason, or its ability to remember what it witnessed a week – let alone months – ago.

If this all sounds apocalyptic – well, apologies, and here’s a pillow to scream into. But with no ability to assess assets, to analyze, to come to a concrete understanding about the world around us, then what are we left with?

Cacophony. Cruelty. Chaos.

A world populated with hydra: dozens of heads and faces attached to each body.

Think you killed one of the heads? That you can turn your back on one of those many faces?

Fool. Check again.

It grew back.

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