If there is one word which gets thrown around today more often and irresponsibly than any other in the sports world, it is the word elite. Who it applies to and why is something which is as completely subjective as the person using it.
Recently, former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms questioned current Giants signal-caller Eli Manning as to whether or not he deserves the elite label. In fact, Simms even questioned where this pretentious elite label has come from, since it did not exist during his playing days a couple of decades ago.
When Simms won a Super Bowl with the Giants in 1986, few could question the fact the Giants had the best team in the league when they went 14-2 during the regular season. During the Giants 39-20 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI, Simms was awarded MVP of the game as he completed a record 88% of his passes.
By contrast, Eli Manning has won two Super Bowls with Giants teams which have been good, but nobody will ever confuse them with the best to ever play the game. These two Giants teams were not even close to being the best teams in the league those two seasons. The reason the Giants won was more of a result of questionable effort by superior opponents, bad officiating, human “error” and just plain luck.
In 2007, the Giants finished 10-6 and made the playoffs as a wild card team. As their record would indicate, this team was no better than any of the other multitude of teams who have historically made it to the postseason as a wild card entry.
The Giants would win all three of their playoff games on the road and would go on to play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, who were prohibitive favorites to win the big game. The Pats had been undefeated up until that game and had set a record for points scored during the regular season with 589.
Although the Giants did play a spirited game, the Patriots high powered offense pulled a complete no-show for the game. There were also some very strange clock stoppages in the final two minutes of the game, which would “help” the Giants drive down the field for the winning score late in the fourth quarter. Of course, the shady clock operation would be overshadowed by Giants WR David Tyree’s spectacular one handed reception against his helmet.
Thanks to the Patriots uncharacteristic offensive incompetence and score clock operation which would not even cut it in Pop Warner, Manning had his first Super Bowl title. Obviously, not quite as well deserved as Simms’ title, but a title nonetheless.
Manning’s second Lombardi Trophy in 2011 was under even more questionable circumstances than his first one. After once again going through a mediocre 9-7 regular season, the Giants went to Green Bay for their second playoff game to meet the 15-1 Packers. Just like the Patriots failed to show up for Manning’s first Super Bowl victory, the high-powered Packers too tanked the game with an absolutely awful performance.
The following week, the Giants would travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. An obvious Giants fumble with approximately 2:20 left in the 4th quarter deep in Giants territory was blown dead by an official, sending the Giants to yet another Super Bowl appearance against the Patriots, albeit undeserved.
After beating San Francisco thanks to a gift from the zebras, the Giants would go on to beat the New England Patriots, who once again played a stinker of a Super Bowl game against the Giants. Funny how the Giants would get hot at just the right time, which would coincide with the postseason collapse of some powerhouse teams.
There must be something about that Giants mystique which causes these great regular season teams to freeze in their tracks during the playoff. Regardless, the story makes for some great drama which people love to eat up.
Simms is correct in stating that Manning may not be the elite quarterback many have made him out to be. Manning has had the incredible good fortune of winning two Super Bowls as a result of some rather improbable and strange circumstances. On the other hand, there was nothing strange about how Simms won his 1986 Super Bowl title in rather elite fashion.