Joe Namath’s pedestrian stats were offset by an indelible place in NFL history. Thus, New York Giants legend Eli Manning shouldn’t be far behind.
In true New Jersey fashion, the potential series finale of Eli Manning’s career was a lot like the swan song of The Sopranos: it was exciting, emotional… and might’ve asked more questions than it answered.
Manning’s New York Giants career perhaps ended on Sunday, not to the tune of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” but rather punctuated with a 36-20 defeat of the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium. Questions continue to exist and will likely carry on long after Manning officially removes the helmet with the lower-case NY on it for the last time.
Burning brightest among the burning questions is a quandary involving not New York, but rather Canton, Ohio.
Appropriately, Manning’s last box score (20 of 28, 283 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions) wasn’t winning anyone their fantasy matchup. But the right numbers were earned at the perfect times. The two passes that earned points, for example, helped erase early Miami leads. His last, a five-yard toss to Darius Slayton, permanently shifted momentum to the Giants’ side.
Thus ended a Hall-of-Fame career on a chilly December afternoon. A football journey that began at Isidore Newman High School in New Orleans will undoubtedly end in pigskin nirvana.
Put aside Manning’s numbers for the Pro Football Hall of Fame discussion. The fact he’ll end his career at or near the top in almost every major passing category should play a large factor, as should his ridiculously long consecutive starts streak. But they’re not the reason he’ll be forever immortalized.
In fact, arguments can be made that Manning’s final tallies should be far higher considering the decade-plus monopoly he held on the Giants’ starting quarterback job. He reached the Pro Bowl only four times. Numbers of consistency also proved elusive, as Manning finished in the top 10 in passer rating only once.
But Manning’s case is solidified and strengthened by a fellow legend of metropolitan football.
If numbers were the sole factor in earning entry into pro football’s most exclusive club, a cab might’ve been immediately called for Joe Namath. Sure, the New York Jets legend’s era of professional football wasn’t one dominated by fantasy football and relaxed defensive policies, so big numbers were obviously not to be expected. But Namath’s numerals are particularly scary.
He completed barely over half his passes (50.2 percent as a Jet) and threw 47 more interceptions than he did touchdowns. The Manning comparisons even extend to their records. While the win over Miami allowed Manning to retie his ledger as a starter at 117-117 in the regular season, Namath went 62-63-4 (including a brief 2-2 tenure with the Los Angles Rams). In comparison, brief Namath contemporary Ken Anderson threw for over 30,000 yards, earned a touchdown/interception ratio of +37, and visited the Super Bowl in 1981. The former Cincinnati Bengal has yet to get the call from the hall.
One could argue it was Namath’s larger than life personality that got him into Canton. But if that were the case, Baker Mayfield and Gardner Minshew would be in the process of writing their induction speeches. Instead, Namath made a mark on NFL history that was impossible to erase. Thus, opening the Pro Football Hall of Fame would be impossible without his bronze likeness.
With three words, Namath immortalized himself into football history prior to Super Bowl 3. Had social media existed in 1969, Namath would undoubtedly become the punchline of countless memes featuring Baby Yoda, Pikachu, Squidward and every other pop culture icon in between. Yet, he backed up his talk with a dismantling of the mighty Baltimore Colts, putting up 208 yards and setting up big opportunities for points.
Manning did the same thing. His critics will often mention that the Giants made just four other playoff trips outside of his two Super Bowl titles. If not for the antics of Manning, the New England Patriots would be sitting pretty with eight Super Bowl titles. It would be insulting to Tom Brady to even mention Joe Montana in the same sentence. The 1972 Dolphins would’ve had company for their yearly champagne toast in “Perfectville.”
Yet, Manning helped engineer arguably the biggest upset in football history in Super Bowl 42 with his clutch performance, forever remembered for the final drive that featured a holy trinity amongst Giants fans: the escape, the catch and the touchdown.
The century-long story of NFL football, America’s most beloved professional sports institution, wouldn’t be complete without Namath or Manning. Hence, the Jet should expect company from the Giant in at least five years’ time.
Could Manning have done more? Sure. But to deny a prominent author of football’s history would be a slight on the game as a whole.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is not the Hall of Numbers or the Hall of Individual Honors. They strengthen your case, sure, but consideration must be made to the candidate’s grander impact on the game. Much like the discussion centered on year-end awards, it’s all about how well you put the “V” in MVP. How much different would the league, and football in general, be without your involvement?
Manning and Namath each did so in wildly different ways. It’s only just they earn the same reward.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490