Philip Rivers, the Giants' first-round draft pick in the '04 draft, signed a six-year contract extension earlier this week worth $93 million, with at least $38 million guaranteed. Yet again, Eli Manning's turn came first. The two Quarterbacks who were swapped during draft day between the Chargers (who drafted Eli 1st overall) and the Giants (who drafted Phillip 4th overall) would forever be linked. Eli Manning became the highest-paid player in football earlier this month, signing a six-year contract extension of his own. But here is what I don't understand: Even though Eli has won a Super Bowl (he was the MVP in that game) and Rivers has yet to make it to Super Sunday, Eli caught exponentially more guff than Rivers.
Reactions to the official agreement of Eli Manning's contract extension to the New York Giants were trumped by the news that the Philadelphia Eagles had signed Michael Vick to a one-year contract that same weekend. But, news following the initial announcement of a monetary agreement between Manning and the Giants the week prior to the official signing brought high criticism from analysts and journalists alike.
Eli, unlike Rivers, has always been the Little Brother of the NFL, thanks to big brother Peyton's celebrity. Rivers has had the opportunity to make his own name, where Eli came into a name and had to live with high expectations.
Vick, on the other hand, has recently been the face of villainy/reform for the NFL, after serving almost two years in prison for orchestrating a dog fighting ring. In a time when athletes and their actions are larger than life, we pay more attention to off-the-field antics and press conference video clips than the performance on the field.
The sporting world lacks great, hardworking athletes who play the game right. The way as children we are taught to play the game: play hard, play fair, always put the team before the individual, don't boast, don't argue calls, don't be a sore loser, and always have fun playing the game (because it is just a game). In an age where athletes have reality shows, and openly lie about taking performance-enhancing drugs, why do the media and an entire fan base knock the highest paid NFL athlete for being a team player?
Eli Manning is a player who came into New York as a first-round pick! That's like being told "you are the messiah, make it happen or else the lions [I mean the media] will get you." Watch Marc Sanchez this season, and see how he handles aforementioned lions.
Manning started his rookie year behind the then-washed-up Kurt Warner (who led Arizona to the Super Bowl last year). In the 10th game of Eli's rookie season his pedigree would be put to the test. He failed miserably, going 1-5 in his rookie campaign, winning his first game in the final game of a rebuilding year for the Giants. The New York papers railed into Eli; the little brother of Peyton was a bust. Eli handled the abuse like a professional, never backing down, never challenging the media. He preached he would have to put in the work, and over time the team would get there.
The Giants have made the playoffs the last four years since his rookie season. Eli has thrown for 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in each of those four seasons -- he is the only Giant to accomplish such a feet. He engineered a playoff run not replicated by any Quarterback in my lifetime in the '07-'08 march to the Super Bowl. Eli went into Tampa, Dallas, Greenbay, and then to Arizona for the Super Bowl, engineering a final possession drive winning score in each of the final three games to propel the Giants to their third franchise Super Bowl victory. Oh, Eli also started the last 71 games for the Giants, the third-longest streak of consecutive games started for active QBs behind only big bro, and that guy who won't quit.
One may argue he is not a top five Quarterback based on his stats, unlike draft-mates Rivers and Roethlisberger. What happened to on-the-field results? The Giants as an NFL program have never been a throw first team, they are a run-it-down-your-throat, smash-mouth, defensive-minded franchise. Can Eli throw? Yes. But his real job is as a field general on offense that calls out the middle linebacker, and checks down calls on the line before every snap. He is a leader who moves his team down the field, capable of making plays when necessary. When he fails, he stands in the pocket (he has slow feet) and takes the boo's of the fans, and jeers of the media. Mind you he plays in New York, how would Tony Romo, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, or even big brother Peyton deal with such intense scrutiny? Let us also not forget the kind words he received from former teammates Jeremy Shockey, and Tiki "my foot is down my throat/I messed up so bad" Barber.
Maybe statistically he is not the best Quarterback but he has more Super Bowl victories (one -- it's hard to win) than Dan Marino who held all QB statistics until that other Quarterback who also recently just signed a contract (ugh) with the Vikings broke them. As a fan, I'd rather have a Quarterback who brings me opportunities to win multiple Lombardi trophies than a player with great stats. Players with great statistical numbers haven't worked for the Yankees this decade, haven't worked for the Redskins, and certainly didn't work for the Jets last year. I want a professional leader who is focused on promoting the success of his team year round. That's what the Giants signed until 2015 for 97.5 million (35 million guaranteed). If you are a Yankee fan or hater that is five more than what A-Rod makes annually (30 Million).
In an age where few professional athletes play the game the way we teach our children to play, we get upset that a good guy got the biggest bucks? A guy who worked hard, took his lumps, and proved he was a winner by posting winning seasons in all of his full seasons and throwing 98 career touchdowns to his 74 career interceptions. Eli in the eye of the media and public will always be an underdog if not a runt. Give the kid a chance, get off the statistical data, and be happy that someone who actually worked hard in an era of cheaters, and egomaniacs actually got the money he and all the players like him deserve.
For those of you who still disagree with me -- this is temporary. Your Tom, Peyton, and Tony will get their money like Philip. Eli is just the one who set the precedent.
Follow Eugene Michael Santiago on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EugeneMSantiago