Fire and Ice

by Tuesday Morning Tailback

NFL2ToiletNew York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has long been criticized for lacking the “fire” needed of a leader who wants to motivate and inspire his teammates. Eli’s demeanor appears calm and business-like no matter the situation.

Perhaps this was never more evident than following last week’s collapse when, in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles to determine first place in the division, the Giants gave up 28 points in the final 7 minutes to lose a big lead and the game. Clad in business attire after the game, Eli took the podium for the normal press conference in spite of the fact that only one junior reporter had bothered to show up. This was because, despite his fine talent, Eli is not the greatest quarterback the world has ever seen. That honor belongs to the quarterback in the other locker room – where those absent reporters, no doubt, were on that day – Michael Vick.

After spending nearly two years in prison for abusing, torturing, and killing fighter dogs, Vick signed with the Eagles in 2009 as a third string quarterback behind Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb. After McNabb was traded to Washington in the offseason, Kolb was named starter for 2010, but after an injury early in the season, Vick got has chance and has played tremendously. After just a handful of starts, he was being lauded as the league’s M.V.P. and, after his part in the incredible comeback last week against Eli’s Giants, Vick is being called “a rare talent like we have never seen”. No quarterback has been so highly praised and hyped after playing about a half of a season since Tony Romo in 2006.

After taking over for Drew Bledsoe as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys part way through that season, Romo was a surprise pick for the Pro Bowl that very season. Finally, “America’s team” had their quarterback of the future and would be back, in no time, to the Super Bowl glory of their heyday. It was sure to happen that very next year, in 2007, when the Cowboys finished 13-3 and had home field throughout the playoffs.

But in the very first playoof game that year, Dallas was knocked off by the New York Giants and Eli Manning, who had long been criticized for lacking the “fire” needed of a leader to motivate and inspire his teammates, but who went on to claim the crown for his team that year.

The previous year (2006), Eli’s older brother Peyton Manning, won his own Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts after that team had been written off late in the year as not being “serious contenders” for a championship. According to the experts, the team to beat going into the 2006 playoffs was the San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers had made a couple of “brilliant” moves in the years leading up to 2006. During the 2004 draft they traded their #1 pick, Eli Manning, who would later be criticized for lacking the “fire” needed of a leader to motivate and inspire his teammates, for the Giant’s #1 draft pick, Phillip Rivers. Then, following the 2005 season, the Chargers elected to go with Rivers over then-starter Drew Brees, who was traded to the New Orleans Saints.

Brees and the Saints would go on to win their own Super Bowl in 2009, while Rivers and the Chargers would be hyped as a “Super Bowl contender” for each of the years post-Brees, but would promptly lose in the AFC playoffs each season. Earlier this season (2010), Rivers was being touted (like Vick) as an M.V.P. candidate due to his “rare talent” and any other superlative that the fawning press could bestow upon him. But as the Chargers floundered with a mediocre record and got eliminated from the playoffs this week following a loss to the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, it appears that the air may finally be being released from the Rivers hype-bubble. And then last night, prior to the Monday Night game, I saw that adolation has now found a new home.

Matt Ryan, affectionately known as “Matty Ice”, has been a very good quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons since they drafted him 2008 (ironically, because they were left without a quarterback when former-Falcon Vick went to prison). His nickname comes from his cool demeanor, especially when the game is on the line, and despite being called “ice”, no one claims he lacks the “fire” needed to motivate and inspire his teammates.

In fact, in the team’s 45-year history, Atlanta had never put together three consecutive winning seasons until Ryan arrived and did just that in his first three years with this year being the best of them all (12-3 with a game remaining). So there is no doubt, Ryan is good and all indicators point to a bright future.

But then the ESPN analysts came to town and bestowed upon Ryan the new deity-among-quarterbacks label. All I can think of is poor, poor Phillip! It’s like in that Eagle’s song (by the band, not the team that Michael Vick currently plays on) –

they will never forget you ’til somebody new comes around…

Now Matt Ryan can do no wrong! And hype! hype! hype! hype! hype! -all of this before an important divisional matchup against the defending world champion New Orleans Saints and their suddenly overlooked quarterback Drew Brees. You just knew the Saints were going to somehow go to Atlanta and win this game – and they did.

It’s fine to get excited about talented quarterbacks like Vick, Romo, Rivers, and Ryan, but a little perspective is in order. None of these guys have done it yet – reached the pinnacle, won a Super Bowl. Not one!

Brees and the two Manning brothers (even the one who has long been criticized for lacking the “fire” needed to motivate and inspire his teammates) have reached that pinnacle. And so has the true M.V.P. of this year, Tom Brady.

In fact, Brady has won as many Super Bowls as Brees and the Mannings combined – three. The first of these coming in 2001, when Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe as starting quarterback for the New England Patriots (years before Bledsoe would again be replaced, by Romo, in Dallas). Ironically, Bledsoe himself was once one of those over-hyped talents back in the 1990s, but was never able to win his own Super Bowl as a starter.

On the flip side, even after that first upset victory, Brady was considered a mere “manager” of a team with deep talent. It wasn’t until he and the Patriots won a couple more (in 2003 and 2004) that Brady started to be considered as “one of the greats”.

Although Brady and New England have not won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, he has accomplished some remarkable feats in the years since. This season, he broke the all-time record for pass attempts without throwing an interception. To put this in perspective, Brady has not thrown an interception since October 17th – 10 full games ago – while Rivers, Brees, and the Manning brothers have combined for 10 interceptions in the past 2 days. But this is not the only record Brady holds.

During the incredible 2007 season, Tom Brady threw an NFL record 50 touchdown passes as the Patriots became the first team to win every one of their games since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. New England won both their AFC playoff games to bring their record to 18-0 and a birth in the Super Bowl, where they would make history if they won, as the leagues first ever 19-0 team (in fact, they trade-marked the term “19 and 0” for a future book and MSNBC’s Morning Joe show set up in Boston to join the imminent celebration the next day).

But someone forgot to tell the Patriot’s opponents in that Super Bowl, the New York Giants, who spoiled the perfect season by defeating New England and Tom Brady, thus scrapping the publishing of “19 and 0” and making the Morning Joe show extremely lame that Monday.

The Giants were led by quarterback Eli Manning, who had long been criticized for lacking the “fire” needed of a leader to motivate and inspire his teammates.

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