It’s true. You can’t spell elite without Eli. But while Eli Manning was never truly an elite quarterback -- despite his claim in 2012 that he was, which led to the elite-Eli saying -- he was one of the most impactful quarterbacks in NFL history and, save for Tom Brady, the most impactful of this generation.
Now, in full transparency, I am a Giants fan. But this goes beyond fandom. Manning is unquestionably the greatest quarterback in his franchise’s history. He threw two of the most important passes in Super Bowl history. He beat the best quarterback in NFL history, the best coach in NFL history and the greatest dynasty in NFL history in the Super Bowl. Twice. He even derailed a perfect 18-0 season.
No quarterback, not even Tom Brady, can say that. No quarterback except Manning ever will.
That’s more than a legacy. It’s a one-man Mt. Rushmore.
Johnny Unitas deserves to be on the list of impactful quarterbacks because he was the first prolific passer in NFL history. Joe Montana and Brady, of course, are on that list too because they were the engines that launched two dynasties (sorry, Terry Bradshaw was not that for the Steelers). Peyton Manning deserves inclusion on that list because of his ability to run the offense on the field. You can also make an argument for John Elway, Brett Favre and Roger Staubach for their impact on the Broncos, Packers and Cowboys, respectively.
Beyond those seven quarterbacks, all of whom were recently ranked among the Top 10 in NFL history by the NFL, name a quarterback outside of Manning who had a bigger impact on both the NFL and his individual franchise. Not saying you can’t, but I am saying none of them accomplished what Manning accomplished.
Of course, I'm not insinuating Manning is a Top 10 quarterback of all time. He’s not. But his impact on the NFL is Top 10 for quarterbacks.
Another important point to clarify is Manning did not win those Super Bowls alone. Truth is, the Giants' defense played as big, if not a bigger, role in beating those Patriots teams. But without Manning's escape and throw to David Tyree and without the sideline pass to Mario Manningham, those defensive performances are forgotten, those games are lost and the Patriots have eight rings instead of six, including a 19-0 season. That’s how impactful Manning's moments were.
Throw in the fact that he’s seventh all-time in passing yards and passing touchdowns and you can book him a trip to Canton now, though he already has memorabilia there from those unforgettable Super Bowls.
Now, the naysayers will bring up the fact that Manning was never the best quarterback in the NFL in any year he played. They’ll point out his penchant for turnovers, his 117-117 career record as a starter and his inability to lead the Giants to the playoffs consistently. Those are all valid points.
But in the future, when we look back on the NFL's history and Manning’s place in it, none of that will matter. What will matter is those throws, against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and those Patriots teams in those Super Bowls. It changed the course of NFL history, Manning changed the course of NFL history, and no quarterback before or after will ever be able to say they accomplished what he did.