Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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IITS’s Seven Days of Xmas: A Near Christmas Miracle for Eli Manning

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 30, 2007

*Disclaimer: The Good Dr. still does not wish to appear to believe himself any sort of expert on matters athletic, therefore he acknowledges that his opinions on the matter continue to be self-indulgent and often largely suspect, unlike with all other matters, on which his word is final

So yeah, Patriots. 16-0. No more “what if”s, no more speculations, no more feuds, no more opportunities to repeat history or reverse history, no more empty guarantees from second-string safeties, and most importantly, no more late-game leads dissolving under the seemingly infallible arm of Tom Brady. It’s done. In all fairness, I can’t really act like this feat is some huge burden on my soul, since my hatred for the Patriots is at best a one-season development, and I’m still pretty terrible at articulating its root cause in the first place. In any event, I was rooting for the Giants tonight, to say the least. But I had another reason to pray for the Giants’ victory: Eli Manning.

Whenever I see Eli Manning play, I can only think about one thing: Thanksgiving dinner. For some it’s probably New Years, but for me (and for Eli as well, I’m guessing), Thanksgiving dinner is the pressure point of the year, the day where you’re forced to evaluate everything about the past 365 days of your life, as well as the day where you’re forced to best predict the events of the next 365 days of your life. And that’s because you’re seeing all the members of your family, occasionally for the first time since last Thanksgiving, and they’re asking you all sorts of questions that essentially ask you to sum up your life in the most positive way possible. This is hard enough in the first place, since unless you have a great new job or promotion, financial security and a wedding proposal in your pocket, you’re going to feel insecure about some aspect of your answer.

The only thing that makes it harder, though? Having an older sibling for a negative point of contrast. And this is why I can’t help feel for Eli–in just about any other family in the world, he would be the hot dog of Thanksgiving dinner, a former #1 draft pick currently QBing a legendary athletic franchise to the playoffs for the third straight year. But in the Manning family, he’s a perpetual loser, permanently the Younger Brother.

So, Peyton, what have you been up to recently?

“Well, me and the boys got to the Super Bowl for the first time this year.”

Really! How did that turn out?”

“We won. And I was voted the Bowl MVP!”
How nice!! And you, Eli?

“Oh, uh, my team got to the playoffs too.”

Splendid! And did you get to play in the Supreme Bowl as well?

“Actually, we lost in the first round.”

That’s a shame…were you an MVP like your brother, at least?

“Well, I had the 18th best passer rating among Quarterbacks this year.”

Oh…well, I’m sure you’ll do better next year.”

And up until tonight, it didn’t look like Eli Manning had much of a Thanksgiving to look forward to next season, either. After a strong run the first half of the season, the Giants had dogged three of their last seven games, and Eli Manning had a particularly embarrassing Week 15 game against the Redskins, nearly setting the NFL record for incompletions with a stunning 34. The Giants were headed to the playoffs again, but it was arguably more attributable to the future-star hands of Plaxico Buress and the bulldozing brawn of Brandon Jacobs than any particular ingenuity or leadership on Eli’s part. Meanwhile, Peyton led the Colts to yet another AFC South title and a #2 playoff seed, while snagging a sixth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance for himself.

But there was one thing that Peyton failed to do this year–to put a stop to the Patriots’ juggernaut of a season. Not only that, but this failure led to a second straight loss in a bout against the Chargers, a game where Peyton looked even worse than Eli with a career record six interceptions. If there was one game where Eli would finally have a chance to show up big bro, this was it. And if I could have seen that fantasy realized and watched the Patriots lose their assumed place in history stimultaneously, well, tonight would truly have been the greatest Christmas present of them all.

Needless to say, it didn’t happen. But it could have. This is inevitably going to get lost in the shuffle in the great rush to congratulate Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Bill Belichick on their myriad accomplishments, but Eli Manning had what would in almost any other circumstances be considered a career game tonight. Had the Giants managed to win–which they were perpetually one penalty burn, one missed tackle, one kick recovery away from doing–tonight would’ve ranked among Janet Jackson’s Control, Stephen Baldwin’s performance in The Usual Suspects and Charlie Murphy’s Chappelle Show appearances in the grand scheme of great sibling shadow escape acts.

Most importantly, it was the first game (of the admittedly few) I’ve seen of Eli’s where he didn’t play like a younger brother. Bill Simmons likes to go on about the Manning face–the face shown by Peyton and Eli when they are stricken by the realization of their undeniable mortality as QBs–but for my money the Eli face is far more panic-inspiring than Peyton’s. I can’t really say how it used to look, but by now, I think older bro’s been around for long enough, established himself enough, that there’s traces of humor and self-deprecation in the Peyton Manning face–a sense of self-preservation underneath the frustrated exterior. Eli’s, on the other hand, is the face of a man looking for the exit, an unmistakable mix of anger, fear and self-disgust that belies the obvious thought, “why the hell didn’t I just go to Dental school?

In the Redskins game, I must’ve witnessed the Eli Manning face at least a dozen times–roughly once per three incompletions. Tonight? A grand total of once, on the only bad set of downs Eli played the entire game. And usually, one appearance the Eli Manning face inextricably leads to further appearances, but tonight, Eli came back for a 75-yard drive capped by a last-minute (well, last-1:03) touchdown–his fourth of the game, a total greater than that of his last four efforts combined. And though they didn’t win, which means that practically no one outside of New York is likely to be saying word one about Eli’s season (and possibly career) best performance–there’s at least one person who’s bound to take note of his accomplishments come Thanksigiving time, and who, by the way, only managed one TD toss against the Pats.

In the meantime, I wouldn’t count the Giants out come playoff time. You should never want to mess with a younger brother with something to prove, much less one who suddenly seems to know what he’s doing.

(Yes, I am aware what a stretch this is for a “Holiday” entry. Consider your indulgence in this matter your Christmas/Hanukkah gift to me, dear IITS readers.)

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