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Underdog

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Well, he could win the Super Bowl, for starters. After an up-and-down season that seemed destined for a quick and inglorious finale, the Giants have tallied three straight improbable playoff victories. And each time, the story’s been the same. Eli was not terrible! He actually played pretty well! He steered the offense and stayed away from mistakes! His own dad offered up this not-exactly-peacock-proud endorsement after the Giants dumped Green Bay to head to the championship: “We’re not saying he’s Phil Simms or anything,” said Archie. “I just never thought he was as bad as some people thought he was.” Not as bad as some people thought. Hardly a coronation to the pantheon of New York sports stars.

Yet, having reached this point, Eli can’t lose. The team’s a tremendous underdog to the undefeated Patriots. If they fall, they’re a footnote to history, and everyone will shrug and look with new hope to next year. But if they win—well, then Eli will become a bigger hero than the efficient Phil Simms, bigger even than glamorous, amorous Broadway Joe. What’s more, he will represent the rise of a new kind of New York sports hero; hell, a new kind of New York hero, period. Wait—here he comes, splitting the field between character and ability—it’s unflappable competence! Unflappable competence up the middle, galloping into the lead!

Don’t take my word for it. Let’s examine the story, as told in tabloid headlines, all taken from the Daily News:

SHOULD HAVE PASSED ON ELI: DEAL STANDS AS BIG BLUE BOO-BOO (November 17, 2006)

WHAT KIND OF MANN IS HE? ELI’S STRUGGLES FUELING QUESTION OF GIANT MISTAKE (January 14, 2007)

SERIOUS PLANS FOR BIG UPSET. SIMMS: ELI CAN MANAGE, SCALED-BACK ATTACK FITS QB (January 11, 2008)

That’s right: Eli can manage. That’s the big twist that no one saw coming. This story’s not about character or ability; it’s about the triumph of risk-averse management. And Eli’s timing couldn’t be better, not just for the Giants but for New York. Not to get all world-historical about it, but in the midst of a chickens-home-to-roost economic spiral and the darkening shadow of recession—not to mention a number of knotty, ongoing overseas entanglements—this isn’t a bad time to locate and celebrate managerial proficiency. You know: the competent caretaker over the inveterate renegade; the safe bet over the all-or-nothing gamble; the sensible breakfast over the budget-blowing prix fixe. Even Eli’s inscrutable, What Me Worry? demeanor no longer seems maddening. Now it’s endearing. It’s inspiring. All hail the steady hand! Eli’s no longer a frustrating riddle. He’s the perfect New York hero for these times.


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