Eli’s not wack, the Yanks/Sox isn’t dead, and you’re not not dumb

As a Giants and Yankees fan I have almost no credibility in the argument I am about to present; though I believe when an argument is presented well enough said “credibility’s” absence is nothing short of grasped-at ammunition by readers whose minds are so biased to the contrary view that they are egocentrically guilty of feeling, whether consciously or not, that the writer must be equally as biased. Personally, I don’t think I’m biased (neither does anyone I guess).

CHAPTER 1: I don’t think Eli Manning is near the talent level of his brother or Brady, or Brees or Rodgers. I also know he does not put up the numbers that quarterbacks like Rivers, Vick, Schaub, or Romo do; though I feel his critics underrate his raw talent as inferior due largely to statistics and ESPN highlight montages (which is like judging a celebrity’s entire character based on a few clips from an interview and a story some fan recounted about an interaction with him/her on the street one time). My argument to follow is based on my questioning of a) the importance of said statistics, and b) his critics neglect of looking at the entire picture.

Eli’s 2010 statistics are the perfect microcosmic example of why you cannot determine an athlete’s ability or quality of play by numbers alone. He threw for over 4000 yards (I believe the most by any Giant quarterback ever), but also led the league in interceptions. Did he have a great year or a terrible year? The answer: Neither. He had a decent year with a disappointing ending, and an INT number not indicative of his performance (as many were dropped passes or desperate, end-of-game moments trying to force something to happen). Eli, not unlike Derek Jeter (though obviously not as accomplished) excels at intangible contributions that result in victory when it’s most important. The bottom line and name of the game is winning and he has done that, obviously at times with a great defense and run attack, but to compare his success to that of someone like Trent Dilfer or Doug Williams would be equally as unfair and inaccurate as comparing him to Brady or Peyton.

In his third year Eli was a deserving Super Bowl MVP. He might not have given a Phil Simms-like performance, but he did orchestrate three legitimate scoring drives against a defense that had not been beaten all year, and in the end did outscore the great Tom Brady. Was that largely due to the incredible performance by the Giants’ defense? Yes, although ironically in the end it was the defense that faltered and Eli, Tyree, and Plaxico who bailed them out. Was Eli to Tyree flukeish? Yes, but let’s not forget that that was 3rd, not 4th down, and he still had another shot if it had been incomplete. You know what else was kind of flukeish? Eli’s only interception of the game (and only of that entire postseason), in the first half inside the Patriots’ red zone when he hit Steve Smith right in the numbers on a slant pattern – Smith dropped it and bounced it into a corner’s hands, turning what could have been 7 (if not definitely 3) points into zero.

Should Asante Samuel have caught the interception shortly after Tyree’s catch? Sort of… but not nearly as much as Eli’s critics would like to claim so. I’ve often heard people make it to seem like Eli hit him the numbers and it was routine, but if you watch the play you’ll see that one of the most talented corners in the league at picking people off was at the full height of his vertical leap with arms fully extended, and the ball hit off his fingertips – not exactly “a gimme.” All this not to mention the fact that if you watch Eli’s body language after the play you can see him yelling at Steve Smith (rookie wide receiver at the time) for having run the wrong route (which as we know happens plenty of times on many teams and is an obvious example of an INT not being the quarterback’s fault). Speaking of body language…

I think a big part of the reason so many fans “hate” Eli so much is because his body language and facial expressions often seem to represent everything football fans especially, use football to escape from. Probably no sport is more violent, brutal, animalistic, aggressive, and masculine than football. These energies are obviously and consistently exhibited by fans while viewing the game (myself included), cheering for their team, living vicariously through its successes and failures. Eli is atypical in his lack of portrayal of obvious fire, as well as in his lack of concealment of feeling vulnerable, or at times more upset than pissed off. It stands to reason that this would disturb typical fans with typical brains and typical lives who grasp at the weekly opportunity to project their team and/or leader’s toughness onto themselves. Eli though, does not offer that superficial, unrefined, obvious toughness, but instead a more subtle but truer toughness, as he has come through many times in the clutch (a prime indicator of toughness that many quarterbacks, his brother included, cannot really claim), and has now become the league’s active quarterback with the most consecutive starts. Obviously this is due in part to having a great offensive line and playing on a team that likes to run, but if we have to acknowledge that element here, then we also must acknowledge its flip side:

In the past three years Eli’s lost his number one receiver, his center and tackle, his security blanket slot receiver, and another security blanket tight end. They have been replaced mostly by rookies or 2nd year rookies learning on the job. This has undoubtedly contributed to Eli’s recent lack of rhythm, accuracy, and better judgment and painted a skewed picture of his talent to prisoner-of-the-moment critics, who suddenly think they’d rather have Matt Schaub (who the Giants beat up on last year) or Mike Vick as their quarterback, a guy who’s basically had about 10 good regular season games since getting out of jail. Seriously: about ten good games. I know in this league (or any league) you can’t make excuses (and you never hear Eli do so, unlike the recent Vick), but it just isn’t fair or accurate to not at least entertain all of the factors that have potentially contributed to Eli’s recent drop-off in performance from 2008. After all, we know there could have been no Jerry Rice without Joe Montana, and probably no Montana without Rice. There might be no Brady without Belichick, or vice versa, or either one of them without Adam Vinateiri. This is not basketball where five guys play and a few other sub in here and there. This is football. There are 22 guys who start every game, excluding special teams, thus a quarterback’s success, while in his hands more than that of any other indvidual’s, is largely dependant on the supporting cast around him.

I’m sick of hearing about how amazing Phillip Rivers is; not that he isn’t good, but I don’t believe he is necessarily at all superior to Eli in raw ability. Rivers has played his entire career in what is the country’s city most famous for its perfect weather conditions. Eli plays in the notoriously cold and windy Meadowlands. Rivers has played his entire career in a horribly weak division, where 8-8 often awards you first place. Eli is in the NFC East, which is always competitive, and long known as a consistently tough, defensive-minded division. Rivers played much of his career with the support and threat of a first ballet hall of famer as his running back. Eli played with Tiki Barber, Jacobs, and Bradshaw, none of which will probably ever make the hall. Rivers’ stat sheet undoubtedly is way more impressive than Eli’s, and if my life was hollow enough to play fantasy football I’d definitely pick him over Manning, but is he better? Rivers has four division titles to Eli’s two (over the Chiefs, Broncos, and Raiders!). Though he is yet to reach the Super Bowl, whereas Eli’s won one as the MVP, and beat the best to get there.

During Eli’s Super Bowl run he had only the one aforementioned turnover, which was not even his fault. He beat Tony Romo and Dallas in Dallas when they looked unstoppable all year and had beaten the Giants twice already. He beat Brett Favre in Lambeau in a classic ice-bowl-like matchup (I’ve heard suggestions that Favre gave the Giants that game by throwing the pick in overtime, but to be fair that overtime never even should have existed were it not for the two failed, game-winning field goal attempts by the Giants’ kicker already), which really ended up being the genesis of Brett’s demise as he had had a great year that regular season, and played a great game in the divisional round the previous week. Eli then went on to defeat the undefeated in arguably one of the best Super Bowls of all time. Some critics have suggested the Giants’ win as having been a fluke, due obviously to their mediocre regular season performance in 2007; and such a suggestion might have an ounce of credibility had they not gone 12-4 in the following regular season, including two road wins against each of 2008’s Super Bowl teams (Pittsburgh and Arizona), and taking the number one seed in the NFC. They ultimately lost steam and fell apart after their star receiver shot himself, and more importantly, when the coaching staff did not make any appropriate subsequent adjustments in offensive game plan.

The tangible proof of his clutch performances and consecutive game streak proves that Eli is both a winner and tough, though the writer recognizes that for various reasons he is atypical in character, which only confirms the fact that anyone who underrates him is just dumb (unable to perceive past what shows on the surface’s most superficial level).

CHAPTER 2: I’ve heard sarcasms by psi’s (pseudo-intellectuals) in recent years imply that the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox is somewhat dead, and that the quantity of times they play each regular season (19) tangibly negates the possibility of it being an exciting rivalry. I’ll address the latter point first, as it is the easiest to thwart:

Baseball is not a 16 or even 116 game season where 19 games between two teams might be clearly excessive (especially if it were 16!). Instead they play 162 games, which means their games against one another comprise approximately 1/8th of the season. In the NFL divisional teams play each other twice, exactly 1/8th of the season. Okay… now that two sentences have completely refuted that psi-bullshit, let us move on…

First, I’d guarantee that nine out of ten people who are “sick of hearing” about the Yankees and Red Sox or thinks the rivalry is dead and no longer exciting are a) not fans of either team and/or b) not big baseball fans (which would stand to reason because if you don’t root for either of those teams there’s a pretty good chance your team sucks (because your city probably sucks and can’t afford good players (because the citizens of your city are dumb – we’ll re-visit this point)).

I do believe football is strategically the most cerebral sport of all, but ironically that the most intelligent fans are those of baseball. From a superficial, stereotypical perspective we can look at geography: Boston and New York are widely considered two of the better educated, more intelligent cities in the country, if not the world, and also are the two biggest baseball towns. One might argue that the reason we are the biggest baseball towns is because our teams are worth watching; then I might argue the reason our teams are worth watching is because they’ve been able to afford great talent because the fan base is hugely supportive. Chicken and the egg, in which the latter point is obviously correct. It is no secret that baseball is more popular in big cities than it is in rural areas, nor that football is like religion down south. Neither is it a big secret that big cities are often the source of the most progressive socio-political ideas and home to most of the world’s most critical thinkers; and while the south I’m sure has berthed plenty of brilliant people their general population is infamous for being quite the opposite (we’ve all seen what the electoral college looks like). While I love watching football, possibly even more than I do anything else at times, I adore baseball as well, and believe its ability to entertain demands a more perceptive mind (and of course a loyalty to a team worth watching for sure). Football is like an action movie – an intelligent one to be fair, but an action movie nonetheless: High octane, hard hitting, tons of excitement, and tangibly obvious big plays that easily stand out from the rest to the naked eye. A good baseball game is more like The Godfather or One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. There’s a lot going on at almost any given moment, but it is more subtle, often even unspoken, underneath the dialogue and based on a foundation built by previous scenes and heavily developed characters. The pitchers are our protagonist attempting to navigate his way through the enemy’s army, employing much like football, both psychological manipulation (through choice of pitch and location) and physical overpowering. Both parties are playing a constant chess match, the defense with the obvious advantage, as hitting a fastball is hard enough to do, let alone when two guys (pitcher and catcher) are conspiring against you in mental manipulation. The antagonist hitter tries to guess how the pitcher is going to attack him, then attempt to decipher how the pitcher thinks he thinks he will attack him, and then possibly do the complete opposite – or do the same, or something completely different and in the middle… or the always present option of throwing the chess match out the window and go right at him with “good, old country hardball,” challenging him to hit a very hittable, though aggressive fastball. Every one of these scenes and acts are of course enhanced by the psychological back story of the two teams, significance of the game, stage and score of the game, and situation of the at-bat (outs or runners on base). If you don’t understand chess at all and you watch two people play it, it could potentially be one of the most boring experiences of your life. Knowing that the hitter is trying to hit the pitcher’s pitch does not qualify as understanding baseball, thus watching baseball as a less psychologically inclined or shallower thinking person will inevitably make it seem simpler… when in fact you may just be from Alabama. It’s possible.

In the past decade the Yankees and Red Sox have practically split both their season and postseason series, which for as many times as they’ve played each other is pretty remarkable. The Yankees were responsible in 1978 for breaking Boston’s hearts when the Red Sox suffered a monumental collapse at the end of the season, losing a 14-game division lead and missing the postseason, finally as a result of Bucky Dent’s famous home run in Fenway in their one game playoff. 25 years later, shortly following the Yankees’ dominant dynasty, they broke Boston’s spirits again, this time with a walk-off homerun by Aaron Boone in a classic, Game 7, 11-inning match-up between the two in the ALCS. The following year the Yankees would concede revenge, suffering what will probably forever be the biggest postseason collapse in the history of sports, losing four games in a row to their hated rivals, after being up 3-0, and appropriately watching them go on to win the World Series, breaking their 86 year curse. In August of 2006, due to make-up game necessity, the Yankees did the unthinkable and completed a 5-game sweep in Boston, dubbed “The Boston Massacre,” and basically knocked the Red Sox out of playoff contention. The great, unhittable Mariano Rivera has blown probably half of his career saves against Boston, whose team hits him as if he is some mortal pitcher, and during his career Manny Ramirez hit practically .400 against the Yankees. Some might argue the former fact is due to the Red Sox seeing Mo so often, as they play each other 19 times every year, but an unbiased fan of the rivalry can recognize that we face our other divisional opponents equally as often, and Rivera has been more successful against them. The teams still consistently play the longest, thus most dramatic games in baseball, often going into extra innings, and mostly drawing the largest number of viewers. If this doesn’t qualify as legitimate sports drama I don’t know what does.

I recall umpire, Joe West a few years back, complained about the excessively long amount of time the Red Sox and Yankees took during the game to play each other, ridiculing it as embarrassing and unprofessional. Joe West is a fat piece of phlegm whom I guarantee will never split the atom or win any Nobel Prize.

He made some statement to the tune of: It makes no sense. These are two of the best teams in baseball and they take the longest to play the game.

Is it possible Joe West is mentally debilitated? Does he think baseball is track and field or swimming, or even football? Baseball is a slow game by nature. It’s supposed to be slow. Why should quality of match-up or ability of team in any way correlate with a fast pace? It is the only game not on a clock, which in my opinion makes it wonderfully unique and beautiful, and even quite in tune with the law of spirituality that suggests that time is an illusion created by man, and that there really is no time (I know, I know, I know… a bit much for our typical, young, male, skeptical American sports fan, but hey, it’s true…  fuck it). Baseball will never, no matter how much the idiots in charge attempt to “speed it up,” be a quick and “exciting” game that appeals to the demographic of 14-year old girls, obsessed with their iphones and MTV, misdiagnosed with ADD, infatuated with movies and music videos that move faster than Verlander’s fastball. Baseball appeals to baseball fans, who understand the chess match, the plot and sub-plot, and psychology of the game, and history of the game, all of which are quite tangibly no better depicted than between Boston and New York.

I’ve heard this rivalry has a rivalry for being tops by some college bullshit – what is it? Notre Dame and Michigan or UNC and Ohio State, or Ohio State and Michigan or some shit where 19-year olds are still honing their skills? I honestly don’t know, which I think in and of itself is proof that it’s not as big… unless of course there are fans of said colleges that are equally ignorant of the Red Sox/Yankees (doubtful) as I of theirs. The fact of the matter is that major cities in our country set the trends and are consistently ahead of the curve, and major cities care very little about college sports. College athletes, while necessary, are tangibly less talented than professionals, and their sports generate tangibly less income. It’s ridiculous to suggest that the rivalry of any two college teams could ever compare to the 100-year rivalry between two teams at the top of the sport dubbed, “America’s pastime” (obviously football has recently, unofficially taken that reign, but nearly a century on top merits mentioning). Maybe if Boston/New York games had become boring I could give some credence to the idea that the rivalry’s fallen off, but they haven’t. Maybe if the teams were less evenly matched or less dominant against the rest of the league… but they aren’t. Maybe if the individual matchups ceased providing us with dramatic finishes and huge stories, but the past ten years have probably provided even more of this than ever before (as 1999 was actually their first ever postseason meeting, and they met twice more since).

The fact is if you think the Yankees Red Sox rivalry is dead you’re probably a huge fan of college football, and may not have the mental tools or the viewership-credibility to pass such judgment. Only a fan of one of the two teams is both sufficiently emotionally attached and intellectually equipped to decide if and when the rivalry has been exhausted or overdone, and judging by the attendance of the games, passion of the fans, and numbers of TV viewers there’s been no drop-off whatsoever. So… enjoy watching two future NFL second-string players (at best!) run the stupid option while Arnold Schwarzenegger blasts through an exploding mack truck on the highway. I’ll take Mariano Rivera versus David Ortiz in a chess match in the 9th over such unrefined bullshit any day of the week.