Before last season’s postseason run for the New York Giants, Eli Manning was that yokel who couldn’t complete a sentence. But now … well, now he’s our yokel who can’t complete a sentence. When was it that we started loving Eli Manning for what he was and accepted what he was not? The answer is, when he won the Super Bowl. But wait, it’s not as obvious as it sounds!
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to win to be loved in New York. But you do if you’re like Eli: reserved, low-key, and monotone (his brother, hardly a firebrand himself, is charismatic by comparison). Nothing seems to bother Eli at all, and nothing seems to rouse him. He is a flatline, and that always made his pre-draft insistence that he’d rather play in New York than San Diego so odd. He seemed like he’d fit better somewhere like that, where you could just be an athlete—not here, where if you’re not a gutty folk hero (like Starks and Chrebet) or a champion (like Jeter and Simms), you’re run out of town and remembered with bitterness (like everyone else). Eli appeared to be headed that way, a loser who didn’t even lose with fire—but it turns out that seeming lack of fire was exactly what the Giants needed to win. Football today is not about rah-rah speeches in the locker room. These are grown men, professionals, millionaires. What defines a great quarterback these days is an inner calm, a Zen peace, an even keel. A great quarterback needs to reassure his team that all will be okay. Eli’s slightly zapped, off-kilter, loopy, four-steps-removed-from-whatever’s-happening nature served him well.
We are a city of transplants who fancy ourselves the best and brightest. Eli Manning is not from here, but now he belongs.