It’s one of the more confounding questions in sports: Is Eli Manning-winner of two Super Bowl titles and one of only five players in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowl MVP’s- worthy of enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Of course, Manning’s career isn’t over just yet; and since he has the luxury of throwing to Odell Beckham Jr, who knows what the future has in store for the thirty-five year old? But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that Manning decided to retire right now. I’ll address the implications of any future success Manning has later.
Here’s what Manning has going for his Hall of Fame case. First, his cumulative stats look great: Manning already ranks very highly on many of the all-time leaderboards in some of the most important passing statistics. For example, he currently ranks 11th all-time in passing yards, 8th in touchdown passes, and 9th in fourth quarter comebacks. He’s poised to move up many of these leaderboards too, seeing that he has at least a couple more years left in the tank.
Yet who am I kidding? The main case for Manning is his playoff success. He led the Giants on two of the most memorable Super Bowl runs of all-time, defeating some of the best regular season teams the NFL has seen in decades along the way. First, he took a 10-6 Giants team and led them to three consecutive road victories during the 2007 playoffs, which included wins over a 13-3 Cowboys team and a Brett Favre-led Packers squad in a frigid Lambeau Field. Then, of course, Manning engineered the greatest drive in Super Bowl history- with a little help from David Tyree- to help the Giants topple the undefeated Patriots in football’s greatest upset.
Four years later, Manning was even more outstanding during the Giants’ next Super Bowl ride. Ironically, this 2011 run had a similar feel to the previous one. Before the Super Bowl, Manning’s most notable accomplishment was once again leading the Giants into Lambeau and upsetting a 15-1 Packers team in impressive fashion. After withstanding a ferocious San Francisco 49ers defense in another road NFC Championship victory, Manning led a second game-winning drive on the game’s biggest stage to defeat the favored Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
Aside from Manning’s heroics when the Giants needed him most, he was statistically brilliant in both of these playoff runs. He combined for a touchdown to interception ratio of 15/2 and had quarterback ratings over 110 in four of those eight games. Simply put, those who say that Manning was lucky to win both of those Super Bowls are missing the point. Manning was consistently outstanding against many great teams. Of the eight opponents he and the Giants beat in the ’07 and ’11 playoffs, their average win total was roughly 13. Sure, maybe Manning was lucky to escape the clutches of the New England defense and have the ball stick to Tyree’s helmet; but it wasn’t a fluke that he beat teams like the 13-3 Cowboys, the 16-0 Patriots, and the 15-1 Packers all away from home.
Do two playoff runs for the ages make you a Hall of Famer? Normally, the answer is yes. There are twelve quarterbacks who have won multiple Super Bowls. Of those twelve, seven of them (Elway, Bradshaw, Montana, Staubach, Aikman, Griese, & Starr) are in the Hall of Fame. We can expect three others (Brady, Peyton Manning, Roethlisberger) to end up in Canton as well. With Manning’s status up in the air, that leaves only one player from that group who is not in the Hall: former Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett.
It’s vital to compare Manning’s credentials to Plunkett’s. If he’s not better than him, than Manning shouldn’t be in the Hall, right? So first, let’s figure out why Plunkett was left out.
For a quarterback who won two Super Bowls, Plunkett really wasn’t much of a winner. His career record of 72-72 places him a mere 53rd all-time in wins among quarterbacks. There is precedence for QB’s with a .500 record or worse making the Hall of Fame (see Namath, Joe), but the reality is that there are twenty-three quarterbacks with both more wins and a better win percentage than Plunkett who aren’t in the Hall.
Now let’s look at his stats. For his career, Plunkett threw 34 more interceptions than touchdowns- that’s never a good sign. In addition, if we look at Plunkett’s rating+, which measures his quarterback rating relative to others in his era, his career mark of 97.5 proves that he was an average at best quarterback (100, for the record, is considered to be an average rating+). But you know what makes Plunkett’s case for the Hall of Fame look even more pathetic? Not once in his ten seasons as a starter did he finish in the top 10 in passer rating. I’m not kidding! I combed through ten+ years of passing stats from the 70’s and 80’s, and indeed it’s true. Simply put, Plunkett deserves to be left out of Canton.
Does Manning warrant the same fate? That’s the ultimate question because if Manning’s credentials are closer to Plunkett’s than they are to other Hall of Fame quarterbacks, then Manning should become the second two-time title winner to be left out of the Hall.
Unfortunately for Manning, he does compare very favorably to Plunkett in many respects. While Manning has led the league in game winning drives twice in his career, the only other major passing category he has led the NFL in is interceptions– and he’s done that a whopping three times! Manning also doesn’t have quite the win percentage that a Hall of Fame quarterback usually has. His .530 win percentage is well below the average mark of .624 the thirty quarterbacks either in the Hall of Fame or on their way to Canton have (Peyton Manning, Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, and Rodgers are safe bets to be inducted).
Furthermore, Manning’s rating+ is only 97. This suggests that, relative to other quarterbacks in his era, Manning has been pretty average. However, in fairness to Manning, he’s bogged down by a few bad years early in his career. If we neglect his first two seasons and look at how he has performed since 2006, then his numbers look a little better…but not by much. This only brings Manning’s rating+ up to 100.3. Compare that to other greats in his era:
- Tom Brady: 117 career rating+
- Peyton Manning: 117 career rating+
- Drew Brees: 115 career rating+
- Ben Roethlisberger: 113 career rating+
So here is what we know. One, Manning is closer to being this generation’s Jim Plunkett than he is to other Hall of Famers. And two, Manning is nowhere near as good as other quarterbacks in his era. I think we know what direction my argument is leaning towards, but here are two final points. As great as Manning has been in the playoffs, he’s been lucky in the sense that he’s capitalized on the few opportunities he has had. In fact, Manning has missed the playoffs more often than he’s made it (5 playoff appearances in twelve seasons). Moreover, it’s interesting to note that Manning’s own peers haven’t thought of him as one of the league’s best quarterbacks. Since the NFL launched the Top 100 back in 2011, in which NFL players vote for who they think are the top players, the highest ranking Manning has earned is 31st. He’s been left off of those rankings altogether as many times as he’s appeared on it.
In simple terms, the standard I use to judge Hall of Famers is this: Were they consistently excellent for a significant amount of time? In Manning’s case, the answer is an unequivocal no. As it stands now, he’s not a Hall of Fame quarterback.
However, when it’s all said and done, he could be. Manning has flourished statistically under Ben McAdoo, who is now New York’s head coach. If he builds off of these last two seasons, Manning will continue to ascend many of the statistical leaderboards and enhance his case. What he really needs, though, is another legendary playoff run. Yeah, I know I sound like a hard-ass, aren’t two Super Bowl runs enough? Yet when looking at how Manning’s case for the Hall stacks up to other great quarterbacks, it’s clear that he needs at least another Super Bowl appearance to solidify his credentials. My gut feeling is that this won’t happen. But, as Patriot fans like me can attest to, he has surprised everyone before.
Manning photo #1 courtesy of Bill Kostroun/Associated Press
Plunkett photo courtesy of Getty Images