A Tale of Three Quarterbacks: Eli vs. the Legends

(L to R) Joe Namath, Phil Simms, and Eli Manning.Photo: (L to R) NFL/Getty Images; Focus on Sport/Getty Images; Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Joe Namath: Born in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, to Hungarian immigrants John Namath (originally Janos Nemet), a steelworker, and Rose Juhasz, a maid.

Phil Simms: Born on a farm in Lebanon, Kentucky.

Eli Manning: Son of NFL quarterback Archie Manning; brother of star Colts QB Peyton (and a securities trader named Cooper).

Namath: Namath played at Alabama under the legendary Bear Bryant, who called him “the greatest athlete I ever coached.”

Simms: Attended Morehead State in Kentucky. Despite weak stats, he drew the attention of legendary San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh, who had Simms higher on his draft list than the quarterback he ended up taking: Joe Montana.

Manning: Mississippi. A comeback against Auburn made a huge impression on then–Giants G.M. Ernie Accorsi, who said the performance demonstrated “the difference between a great quarterback and a good quarterback.”

Early Woes
Namath: Led the AFL with 27 interceptions in his second season … then led the AFL with 28 interceptions in his third season. Following a game in 1966, the Times wrote: “After Namath had been intercepted twice within three minutes, many in the capacity crowd of 61,552 started for the exits. That had never happened before … and never before had Namath, the highly publicized, highly skilled quarterback, been booed by a home crowd.”

Simms: In Simms’s second season a Times article noted his knack for throwing interceptions at the worst possible moment. The team finished 4–12. Simms missed his entire fourth season with injuries. When he returned in 1983, he had lost the starting job, and asked to be traded. He wasn’t, and earned the job back—but minutes into his second appearance, he broke his thumb so badly that the bone stuck through his skin.

Manning: Manning’s completion percentage this year was tied for 29th in the league. His passer rating: 25th. In interceptions, though: first, with twenty. Says Football Outsiders editor-in-chief Aaron Schatz, “His playoff performance bears no similarity whatsoever to his career up to this point.”

Flash Of Brilliance
Namath: In Namath’s third year, he became the first quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a single season, a record that would stand until 1979 (after the NFL season had been expanded from fourteen to sixteen games).

Simms: In a 1980 upset of the powerhouse Tom Landry–coached Cowboys, Simms passed for 351 yards and threw three touchdowns. The year after being benched and breaking his thumb, he returned to finish third in the NFL in passing yards.

Manning: In the final regular-season game this year, the Giants nearly upset the New England Patriots as Manning threw for 251 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating for the game exceeded Tom Brady’s.

Photo: Alan Pappe/Camera Press/Retna

Love Life
Namath: “I don’t like to date so much as I just like to kind of, you know, run into somethin’, man,” Namath once said. His penthouse included a llama-skin rug. “A filly with brown hair is all right,” he said of women. “So is one with black hair. But blondes, they come first.”

Simms: Met his future wife, Diana, during his rookie year while she was eating dinner with her mother at a restaurant in New Jersey. They were married the next year and have three picturesque blond sons.

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Manning: Manning lives with his fiancée, Abby, in Hoboken. (See article for further incredulity regarding this point.)

Enduring Image
Namath: Starring in a lascivious ad for Beautymist panty hose.

Simms: Joyously coining the post–Super Bowl proclamation “I’m going to Disney World.”

Manning: Running around after last week’s win by himself with a dopey smile on his face for about a solid minute before celebrating with the punter.

Fearsome Super Bowl Opponent
Namath: The Baltimore Colts. Coached by Don Shula, the Colts entered the game as twenty-point favorites, having dispatched the Cleveland Browns 34-0 in their previous playoff game.

Simms: The Denver Broncos, whose quarterback John Elway had just led one of the most famous comebacks in football history (against the Cleveland Browns).

Manning: Those Patriots, the only team to have ever won the first eighteen games of their season. (The Cleveland Browns, refusing to maintain the continuity of this chart, missed the playoffs.)

Namath: The Jets defeated the Colts 16-7. Namath completed 17 of 28 passes for 208 yards and was voted game MVP.

Simms: Simms dominated the Broncos, completing 22 of 25 passes and leading the Giants to a 39–20 win.

Manning: Pending—a win over the Patriots would surpass Namath’s victory against the Colts as the greatest upset in Super Bowl history. C’mon, Eli!

First Four Full Seasons
(L-R, Namath, Simms, Manning)

A Tale of Three Quarterbacks: Eli vs. the Legends