November 9, 2011
By J.D. Cook
Today my cultural subject is football. Good old pigskin tossing American football! None of that European nonsense here; this is the land of the Gridiron. We are the west, and in the west there lies a dying breed of hero, the Gunslingers. These are men who shoot from the hip; they play fast, lose fast and win fast. Many have claimed to be among this group, but few truly are. Tony Romo was lauded as a king of slinging, but recent years have revealed him to be more of an occasional pop shooter. Aaron Rodgers was a Gunslinger, but he has since moved up in life. Now he is much closer to a Jedi Master who has mastered the position of quarterback. His consistency alone is enough to put him in a class above the Gunslinger. No readers, the NFL really only has one Gunslinger left. His name is Eli Manning.
This past Sunday afternoon he proved this once again. Needing a score to tie or win the game, Manning drove the Giants down the field to a winning touchdown throw on third down with mere seconds left. Fans like me were instantly reminded of the Giants Super Bowl win against the Patriots four years ago. Sunday’s game did not mean nearly as much but it did show that the Giants can be taken seriously as a contender this year. It also showed once more that, while Manning is constantly bemoaned by New York’s fickle fans and the overall sports media, he is in fact pretty damn good. Since Eli’s inception into the league in 2004, I have pointed out time and again that he is an awesome clutch player. If I had to have a score with less than two minutes, I would always pick Eli to be my quarterback.
Of course, gunslingers live by the gun and die by the gun. A few weeks back I saw Eli throw an interception to seal a loss for the G-men, but instead of calling for the back up as most of the crowd did, I simply smiled and thanked God for the fact that I got to see a Giants game live this year. I honestly came away from that game against the Seahawks truly fired up about the Giants for the first time since the ’08 season. This year’s team seems to have a bit of fire to them, and their mix of youth and experience creates a team that is hungry to win, and still humble about it. I digress; Eli Manning is the focus of this article.
So many quarterbacks want to be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but I’d much rather be “Easy E”. The way he plays is in no way robotic or refined. He will occasionally escape tackles, scramble, or completely overthrow his target. He will throw interceptions while trying to make big plays happen, but he will also win. When the game is on the line Manning’s focus and precision are unbelievable. Sunday’s game illustrated this perfectly but so did the games the week before and two weeks before that.
Why the sports media calls someone like Dallas quarterback Tony Romo a gunslinger and not Manning will always puzzle me! The key component to any gunslinger, in my personal opinion, is that ability to elevate your play when the game is on the line. Romo’s play usually degrades when the game is on the line. Manning’s doesn’t.
It’s been funny to hear people talk about the 2004 draft class since 2007. People will not give up on the idea that Manning is not as good as Rivers or Roethlisberger, despite an amazing Super Bowl win and some fine numbers. I think when all is said and done, Eli Manning will be the John Elway of the 2004 draft – he already is if you look at the fact that he’s the second quarterback in NFL history to refuse to play for the team which drafted him. Like Elway, Manning has as many people that hate him as love him and all he does in answer is provide improbable wins with under 2:00 minutes left in the game.
Strangely it was against Elway’s former team, the Denver Broncos in 2005, where Manning’s first true gunslinger moment occurred when, with time running out, with John Lynch rushing him, Eli completed a game winning touchdown throw to Amani Toomer.
The other members of the 2004 class are certainly talented, but I would put Eli just slightly ahead of them in terms of talent. Roethlisberger may have more Super Bowl wins, but I do not think he is in any way a better quarterback. Rivers has skills but, like Romo, fails in the clutch. When all is said and done, I think people will look back at Manning as not only the best of the 2004 draft class, but also as the gunslinger he should be recognized as now.