In January 2020, long-time New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning officially called it a career, retiring after 16 seasons and two Super Bowl victories.

Manning was supplanted by rookie Daniel Jones out of Duke after two losses to open the season in 2019. Though he would split a pair of starts towards the end of the season, Manning’s time in New York as the starting quarterback was clearly over. After stating he didn’t want to be a backup quarterback or coach, Manning also made it clear he wouldn’t be testing the free agency market, instead closing the book on a story-tale career.

When athletes retire, we’re quick to judge their career as a whole, and question their Hall of Fame possibilities. Manning in particular raises an intriguing debate. He was never the best quarterback in the league, and probably never even in the top five. He was never voted to the All-Pro first or second team, and he never won league MVP. He didn’t have a dominant record as a starter (retiring at .500 with a 117-117 mark) and besides a couple standout years, wasn’t exactly putting crazy numbers either.

But Eli Manning is a Hall of Fame quarterback, through and through. His two Super Bowl victories, longevity and availability as a starter, and his presence as of the face of one of the league’s biggest franchises all make it necessary to enshrine Manning among the greatest to ever play the game.

Breaking down Manning’s career resume:

  • 57,023 passing yards (7th all-time)
    • Ahead of him are two Hall of Famers (Brett Favre and Dan Marino,) three future Hall of Famers (Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning,) and Philip Rivers.
  • 366 passing touchdowns (7th all-time)
    • Same group ahead of him, with Aaron Rodgers (Hall of Famer in my opinion,) and Ben Roethlisberger (borderline, same for Philip Rivers,) just a couple touchdowns behind him.
  • 210 game regular season consecutive start streak
    • 2nd all-time to Brett Favre at the time, now 3rd with Philip Rivers at 224.
  • 2 Super Bowl victories, 2 Super Bowl MVPs
    • Only  20 quarterbacks haves started multiple Super Bowls. 12 are in the Hall of Fame, 2 are on their way (Brady, Peyton Manning,) 3 are on the fence (Eli Manning, Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson,) and just 3 didn’t make the cut at all (Jim Plunkett, Joe Theismann, Craig Morton.)
  • 117-117 career record
    • 117 wins is 11th all-time, tied with Joe Montana. Behind 5 Hall of Famers, and 5 more potential Hall of Famers.
  • 4 Pro Bowls

Just showing up and being mediocre for a long period of time isn’t a good enough case to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Manning wasn’t mediocre, and that’s why he was given the chance to start for so many years. His career record, which was dragged down in the post-Tom Coughlin era, isn’t mediocre either. Going .500 in the NFL isn’t an easy task: ask franchises like the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, or Washington Redskins.

Following a playoff appearance in 2016, Manning had a rough end to his career, going 9-26 over the course of his final three seasons. Before that, his career record was 108-91. Obviously, you can’t erase what happened and every quarterback experiences a tailend to their career. But it’s still worth pointing out that his career mark was brought down dramatically to reach .500, with some botched seasons under Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur.

His .500 career winning percentage wouldn’t be the lowest among Hall of Fame quarterbacks, with Philadelphia Eagles/Washington Redskins QB Sonny Jurgensen going 69-73-7 (.486) in an impressive statistical career. New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, best remembered for an underdog victory in Super Bowl III, also went sub-.500, posting a 62-63-4 career record.

In a league that’s all about results, Manning’s two Super Bowl victories can’t be looked at enough when evaluating his Hall of Fame career. Yes, they were the New York Giants victories and not Manning’s alone, but his ability to keep his composure in the toughest of situations helped to earn New York two Super Bowl titles.

The stakes of the games only raise the mystique of Manning’s resume. Not only were they Super Bowl victories, but against historically great competition. First in 2008, against the previously undefeated, perfect season New England Patriots, then again in 2012 against the same Tom Brady and Bill Belichick-led squad. To get there the second time, the Giants would have to go through the 15-1 Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

Manning is the only quarterback in NFL history to down two teams in the playoffs that had 15 or more regular season wins.

Image result for eli manning super bowl
Eli Manning finishes 2-0 in the Super Bowl, with both wins over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Only five other quarterbacks have gone undefeated in the Super Bowl in two or more starts, and four are in the Hall of Fame. (Photo: John W. McDonough via Sports Illustrated)

Manning’s long career with one team has just a few comparisons. Among active players: Tom Brady (for now?), Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers (will be coming to an end?), Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan. You can do your own math on who the Hall of Famers are out of that group. Among retired players with 100 or more career wins: John Elway, Dan Marino, Terry Bradshaw, and Jim Kelly. All inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Of course, Manning’s eventual induction shouldn’t indicate longevity alone gets you into the Hall of Fame. Is Matt Ryan (109-80 career record, one Super Bowl loss) a Hall of Famer? Joe Flacco has 98 wins and a great playoff record including a Super Bowl victory, is he a Hall of Famer? Even Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, and Andy Dalton (all tied at 69 wins) will likely retire with 100+ wins and some incredible stats in a pass-happy league. Are they Hall of Famers?

So far none of those quarterbacks have what Manning had: not one, but two Super Bowl victories. It’s such rare air to start two Super Bowls, let alone win both of them. For everything Manning did over his ironman regular season career, he will be remembered most for his two improbable Super Bowl victories.

The other thing Manning will be remembered for is being the face of a franchise for nearly two decades. Though he had some flashy sidekicks in the form of Tiki Barber, Plaxico Burress, Victor Cruz, and Odell Beckham Jr, Manning was always the emotional leader on and off the field. He was relatively soft-spoken, but his calm demeanor was a strong presence in the Giants locker room for 16 seasons. Teammates absolutely loved the opportunity to try and win football games with Manning under center. The New York media can be unforgiving, especially at times the Giants weren’t doing too well. But Manning always took the adversity in stride and represented the team with passion.

In a standout season, Manning passed for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns en route to his second Super Bowl victory. It was probably the best statistical season of his career, though he achieved a career-high in completion percentage in his last full season, completing 66.0% of his passes in 2018.

If I’m a voter for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I’m sending him in on the first ballot. Although Manning was never the best or second-best player on the field, his career and the results he brought to the team are things you can only dream of when selecting a player in the draft. Eli Manning was the perfect quarterback to lead the New York Giants, and his presence led to two Super Bowl titles the franchise and league will never forget. There haven’t been many players like Manning before, and there probably won’t be many like him after. For that reason, he deserves enshrinement into the Hall of Fame, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be on the first ballot.

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Header Photo: Steven Ryan/Getty Images

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