Eli Manning is on the cover of ESPN The Magazine this week under the headline 'What Makes A Hall Of Famer?' That, of course, is the obvious lead-in to the question 'Is Manning a Hall of Famer?'
I believe that, ultimately, Manning will be enshrined in Canton. Has he done enough at this stage of his career to ensure a place in Canton? Maybe, maybe not. That all depends on your personal definition of what a Hall of Famer should be.
ESPN The Magazine writer Seth Wickersham actually makes the case for Manning -- and describes why he befuddles analysts, and Giants' fans, at times -- quite eloquently:
"Nobody in sports finds himself in the middle of the is-he-or-isn't-he debate more than Manning. The reasons that he and not a quarterback of similar accomplishments -- like, say, Ben Roethlisberger -- sparks such an argument are partially knee-jerk: the comparisons with Peyton, the media stature of New York. But it's mostly because the question of Manning's Canton candidacy is mainly theological, revealing much more about one's definition of a Hall of Famer than about Manning specifically. Yet because of the way he plays, this debate applies only to him: Can you be a Hall of Famer if you're a mortal quarterback during the regular season but an immortal one in the playoffs?"
Eli will never be a quarterback whose regular-season numbers make you marvel. In fact, that regular-season mortality Wickersham refers to certainly has to be part of the reason the Giants can be so maddeningly inconsistent during the year. Yet, the tradeoff has worked out magnificently for the Giants. As Wickersham concluded:
"You recognize greatness not in hitting every shot, just the ones that matter most."