Friday, February 09, 2007

Eli Manning: Under Pressure [J. Mark English]

Peyton Manning can now enjoy his Super Bowl ring, and join the ranks of elite athletes who not only excelled in their position, but led their teams to the pinnacle of success.

Before last weekends Super Bowl, there was little doubt that Manning carried the most pressure of any professional athlete to win the "big one." Had he finished his career with out a Super Bowl ring every sentence about him would have finished with "but he couldn't win when it counted."

Now he exits the conversation of players with immense pressure to deliver. Who takes his place on the pedestal of pressure? Some might argue Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod sure has Peyton Manning qualities. Like Manning, he may go down as one of the greatest regular season performers in his respective sport. A-Rods numbers have been flat out amazing. His career BA is .305, he has 464 HRs (and was the youngest player ever to reach the 400 HR mark), add to this 1347 RBIs, 241 SB, and a .573 SLP...he is surely on a path to Cooperstown.Yet, when the playoffs roll around, his numbers drop dramatically. The last two years consecutively his BA was a mere .133, and .071. Last year his OBP was a jaw dropping .071. Earlier in his career when he was with Seattle he was a bit better, but still, his numbers just are not the same as they are in the regular season.

Logic would seem to dictate that he replaces Peyton Manning as the athlete in professional sports that needs to win the big one.

I beg to differ.

Chances are next year he'll opt out of his contract and play somewhere else. He may never win a championship again, and will never be loved by the Yankee fan. But, by the end of his career his Yankee stint will be a blip in the picture of his overall performance. One day he'll break all the record breaks...if he continues on his current torrid pace. He'll dismantle the home run record. The lack of controversy of steroid use will serve him well, and he'll retire to great fanfare.

I believe that A-Rod's pressure pales to that of Peyton Manning's little brother, Eli Manning. And here is why:

Eli Manning was drafted ahead of both Phillip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger. This means that on the draft board, the Giants considered him the best of the three players. It is only natural to compare him to the two for the rest of his career. So far, Rivers and Roethlisberger have shown far more ability then Manning. Roethlisberger has already won a Super Bowl, and Rivers had potential MVP of the NFL status last year.

On draft day, Manning demanded that he not play for San Diego, and instead play for a 'winning franchise' in New York. Being quarterback, the pressure will always be on him to deliver or the tantrum on draft day will look silly. New York gave up a whole lot to bring him in and for one reason: To win a Super Bowl. If Eli Manning doesn't win then their draft day would have been worthless.

In trading for Eli Manning, the Giants gave up an awful lot. They gave up Phillip Rivers, and an assortment of draft picks. One of those draft picks was used by the San Diego Chargers to pick up Shawne Merriman. Merriman was the defensive rookie of the year in 2005, and was considered one of the best all around defensive linemen this year. Chances are he would have led the league in sacks if it were not for his steroid suspension. The Giants missed out on both of these players, at the expense of Manning.

Eli Manning, unlike A-Rod, will likely play a significant portion of his career in New York. The pressure and spot light of New York is brighter then any other city in the entire country. Every mistake he makes, ever botched throw, every fumble, every interception will be scrutinized. Every loss the team has will be put on him. It is not enough for him to be a good quarterback, he must be an excellent quarterback. And he must win.

Fair or not, Eli Manning can thank his own kin for being handed the immense pressure of winning the 'big one'. At least he can always rely on advice from his brother, who knew how to handle the pressure himself, and in the end persevered.

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