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Yes, Eli Manning belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

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Here’s why

NFL: New York Giants-Eli Manning Retirement Press Conference Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Of course I’m going to tell you that I believe Eli Manning should be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I will make my case in a minute. First, though, to help us understand just how divisive Manning’s Hall of Fame candidacy will actually be, let’s look at the results of some SB Nation ‘FanPulse’ polling.

When news broke that Manning was retiring from the New York Giants after 16 seasons SB Nation asked NFL fans whether or not Manning belongs in the Hall of Fame. The results, broken down into four categories of voters, are indicative of the wide swath of opinion about Manning.

Giants fans, perhaps basking in the warmth of the outpouring of love for Manning in recent days, overwhelmingly believe Manning had a Hall of Fame career.

That 93 percent “yes” vote is a far cry from how league-wide voters see Manning’s Hall of Fame worthiness.

How about a couple of sub-groups?

First, how fans of the NFC East rival Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles see Manning.

With Manning’s teams having denied Tom Brady and Bill Belichick a pair of Super Bowl titles, the other sub-group worth polling is, of course, New England Patriots fans.

All of that frames quite vividly how there is little agreement right now as to whether or not Manning should one day wear a gold Hall of Fame jacket.

Now, let me tell you exactly why I think he absolutely should.

First, let’s acknowledge that I have long defended Manning from the slings and arrows of the fans he referred to as “unique” during his Friday press conference. I have always believed Manning took more criticism than he deserved when things went bad. More on that later.

When Manning and the Giants won their second Super Bowl, I thought Manning would be a Hall of Fame lock. As the losing seasons piled on top of each other in recent years it was easy to see that making the Hall of Fame case for Manning, a guy who was never a regular season dominator, would be more difficult.

That even culminated with me, in August of 2018, saying that I would vote “no” on a Manning Hall of Fame candidacy.

Here is part of what i wrote:

If I had a vote, and I had to cast that vote today, would I cast a “yes” or a “no” for Manning as a Hall of Famer?

The answer is that I would vote “no.” Sadly. Regretfully. Unfortunately. I would vote “no.”

I want to vote “yes.” I think Manning has been a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback. I just think that — if I had to vote today — I couldn’t vote “yes” in good conscience after the way the last six seasons have unfolded for Manning and the Giants.

What was I smoking? The answer, by the way, is nothing. What was I thinking or feeling that made me write that? Probably that on the heels of 3-13 and with the avalanche of criticism he and the Giants were buried under, that even I was having a hard time separating Manning’s accomplishments from the mess.

I think you absolutely have to do that. You absolutely have to separate what Manning did when given the opportunity, what he did on the biggest stages and in the most historic moments, from what he couldn’t overcome as the Giants’ organization let the roster crumble around him in his later years.

First of all, I don’t want to hear this “well, if you take away the Super Bowls Manning is a mediocre quarterback” argument that some people make.

You can’t take away the Super Bowls. They happened. He was an integral part or them, MVP of two of the greatest and most unlikely Super Bowl upsets of all time.

The game is about winning — it’s about winning the Super Bowl. That’s the big prize. Manning pulled off a pair of two-minute drives to beat the best quarterback and best head coach in modern history, maybe in history, period.

Those count. In fact, they count far more than anything else. The 8-4 playoff record counts. The great playoff performances, particularly in the two NFC Championship Games that got the Giants to those Super Bowls against the New England Patriots, count.

We hear over and over that, ultimately, quarterbacks are judged by winning. They are judged by what they do on the biggest stages, at the biggest moments, when their teams need them the most and every throw, every decision, can have huge positive or negative ramifications.

Both times in his career that Manning was put in that situation, he played brilliantly and emerged victorious. It’s not his fault he didn’t get more of those opportunities.

I don’t want to hear about his 117-117 regular-season record and his supposedly average yearly statistics.

Chris Pflum tweeted this on Friday:

I will also remind that Joe Namath, owner of a 62-63-4 regular-season record and 220 interceptions to only 173 touchdown passes, is in the Hall of Fame. He is there on the basis of one NFL-changing game against the Baltimore Colts in 1968, a game in which he didn’t throw a single touchdown pass and made his biggest contribution with his mouth. Ken Stabler is in the Hall of Fame with 222 interceptions to only 194 touchdown passes.

If those guys belong, Manning belongs. He probably belongs more than they do.

If you’re blaming Manning for all that went wrong with the Giants since they won that last Super Bowl, you’re wrong. Dead wrong. In how many games over those eight seasons was Manning’s play the difference between winning and losing? A handful, maybe. Certainly not enough to turn bad seasons into good ones.

The Giants didn’t lose games the past few years because of Manning. They lost because they stopped supporting Manning. They couldn’t find the right offensive linemen. They couldn’t, before Saquon Barkley, build the semblance of a running game. Manning spent too much time in recent years throwing to too many receivers who probably didn’t belong in the league. Manning didn’t build those defenses that were incapable of playing defense. He didn’t punt the ball to DeSean Jackson. He didn’t hire Bill Sheridan. He didn’t hire Ben McAdoo or Pat Shurmur, head coaches who proved not to be up to the task of being head coaches.

I’ve said it many times — the organization let Manning down, not the other way around. So, please, don’t come at me with a won-loss record or a mediocre stats argument.

Oh, and before I forget, Manning didn’t put the bullet in the leg of Plaxico Burress that wrecked the 2008 Super Bowl opportunity of the best regular-season team Manning ever played on.

I don’t want to hear that “just because he played a lot of games doesn’t make him a Hall of Famer.”

Isn’t availability the best ability? Manning was more available than any other quarterback during his 16-year career. He never missed a game because of an injury, only sitting when coaches told him someone else was playing.

For what it’s worth, Ben Roethlisberger has only played 16 games four times in 16 years. He’s missed 38 games.

“There was a couple games where it was close, I didn’t practice most of the week and maybe went out on a Friday for the first time. I think what it was, was a lot about trying to be there for your teammates. You saw guys playing through injuries. You saw offensive lineman that were sore, beat-up running backs that were sore every week, but they did what they could to be there for their teammates, ownership, their coaches and that’s really what it was more about,” Manning said. “I didn’t want to let them down. I didn’t want to let them know they were working and doing everything, so I knew I would always — hey, if I had to be in the training room all day, Ronnie Barnes, with the training staff and make them — hey, whatever it took to get healthy, I was going to do it, and if I felt I could play and play well enough to win a football game, then I wanted to be out there. That was always the mindset to do everything possible to be out there for my team.”

That’s leadership. Responsibility. Being a good teammate. All things that were hallmarks of Manning’s career.

Think he wasn’t a leader? The number of teammates, past and present, who made sure to be at his retirement celebration or who expressed appreciation even though they couldn’t attend, says otherwise.

He’s a Hall of Famer in my book. Period.