Dear Sports Guy –
Love your columns. I’m turning to you with my problem, not just because of your interest in creating rules like The Five Year Grace Period, but also because it was your most recent NFL picks column that raised the question in the first place. To be specific, it was this one lament:
Hey, I have a question: Is Eli Manning ever going to have a bad game without me screaming at the TV “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU COST ME 19-0, YOU STIFF!!!!!!!!!”
I flashed back to that evening in an instant… my living room filled with a group of friends of different rooting interests. There were two Eagles fans, a Skins fan, a Cowboys fan; even a Seahawks fan. (We live in New Jersey – how does that happen, exactly?) Another buddy who lives in Tampa and follows the Bucs would call in from time to time. As he put it, “Ich bin ein Giants fans.” Everybody wanted Big Blue to win. Patriots vs. the World right there in my living room.
Now for my confession. You sometimes write of Sports Bigamy; this is Sports Treason. I have been a Giants fan since I was a boy, dating back to 1983… but I was secretly pulling for the Patriots. A title is a great thing, but 19-0? That’s history. Part of me wanted my team to be part of that history, even the “wrong” part. Give them all they can handle, make them earn their title, and walk away with your heads held high. Then we all tailgate in Mercury Morris’ driveway, pop champaigne, and chant “O-VER-RATE-ED!” (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!) into his living room.
Of course, instead we got to watch Eli Manning flinging passes off his back foot, the Helmet Catch (which was so outlandish that a Madden game wouldn’t have dared to do it), and Plaxico “Hopalong” Burress catching the winning points.
Happy? Sure I was, I guess. But what happened after that puts the Five-Year Grace Period to a serious test… the next year’s team kicked away the season in egregious fashion, Eli the Lesser was elevated to Elite Reputation before actually bothering to become an Elite QB (and now that he has the ring and the rep, will he ever actually become that player? I say no), and a steady diet of “why aren’t they winning the conference?” media talk that is entirely unwarranted.
The Cowboys game was the perfect example. Eli is about to rally the team to the lead before halftime; his receiver breaks off his slant route (probably by stumbling, but still – he just stopped) and Eli, who has been staring down the route since the pre-game warmups, sees the defensive back jumping into the space.
Eli’s brother Peyton does one of three things here:
- quickly check back to the center and right for another receiver
- a soft lob to the front corner of the endzone – either his guy brings it in for six, or it falls incomplete
- throws it into the second row
Peyton, of course, has had to endure years of “choker” comments, back to Spurrier mocking his Tennessee Volunteers, the repeated inability to climb Mount Belichek, disappointment and heartbreak and pointed character questions. And you know – his determination to finally put paid to that bill of goods is how he has gotten to be an otherworldly quarterback machine… he doesn’t just have amazing talent, he’s brilliant and he works like a maniac.*
*Quick aside – one of the most incredible things about Tom Brady is that he got that miracle ring in his first year, has the GQ lifestyle and the smokin’ hot wife, everything – and he STILL kicks his own butt and works like a maniac. That never happens. You guys are really lucky to have him.
Anyway, Eli lacks that background. He has the ring. He took option D, for Disaster – he threw that pass and hit the defensive back in the numbers, and instead of 10-9 Giants, it was 16-3 Dallas, and a thousand television remotes paid the ultimate price all across the tri-state area.
So, in light of all of this, I have to ask you – is there an extreme circumstance in which a team would have actually been better off losing a championship? Can I officially regret that we beat New England that day? Is it possible to trade it for Baltimore’s win in Super Bowl XXXV, somehow? We’re still within the Five Years here, but…. drat it all, now we’re stuck with Roller-Coaster Eli forever. We’re completely hosed for the next decade, wandering in Schottenheimer Land: ten wins every year and playoff debacles to follow. We’re never gonna get back over the top, and it will take years before we crash out and rebuild – and we won’t rebuild until we’re forced to do it.
That Super Bowl was a huge white elephant, Sports Guy. What’s your ruling?
Your pal, Nightfly