Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) looks for an open receiver during training camp on Aug. 1, 2018, in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

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Keidel: Manning Can Cement Case For Canton With Another Strong Season

Giants Offense Has Plenty Of Weapons, Improved Line

Jason Keidel
August 08, 2018 - 10:36 am
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Jim Plunkett is the answer to a fairly recycled trivia question: Who is the only NFL quarterback to start and win two Super Bowls and not end up in the Hall of Fame?

When juxtaposed against the gaggle of greats who were enshrined in Canton last weekend, it's understandable that Plunkett was not among them. 

Football fans in the world west of the Hudson River think there will be a second such QB to join Plunkett with two rings sans a gold Hall of Fame jacket. Even a fair share of New Yorkers think local quarterback icon, Eli Manning, should not get the required votes to get his bust bronzed five years after he retires from the NFL. 

It says here that Manning is worthy of his hot summer moment in Ohio. His next 15-minute monologue will be his first. But the ever-humble Manning, with his Southern mien and "aw, shucks" affability, has done enough to enter that Midwestern portal into immortality. If Plunkett is your proof that Manning isn't worthy, then you should find another argument against Eli. 

LISTEN: Boomer & Gio: Eli Manning Interview

Plunkett started just 144 NFL games, going 72-72. He completed 52.5 percent of his passes, for 25,882 yards with 164 touchdowns and 198 interceptions. By contrast, Manning started 214 games (in the regular season), completing just under 60 percent of his passes (59.8), for 51,682 yards, with 339 TDs and 228 interceptions. Granted, Plunkett played in an era when the line plunge was the most ordered play on the football menu. But Manning's stats are considerably more impressive than Plunkett's. 

Not to mention Manning was the MVP of both his Super Bowl wins (Plunkett was only MVP of his first Super Bowl) and also played in four Pro Bowls, while Plunkett played in none. Manning also beat the team about to be crowned the greatest in NFL history, the 18-0 New England Patriots. Add the fact that Manning has done all of this in the main nerve of American media -- the Big Apple -- and no one doubts he did this with biblical pressure on his shoulder pads. 

But even with his 50,000 yards, over 300 TDs and two Super Bowl MVP awards, Manning's low-key regularity gives off the patina of indifference. And, as always happens with humans, the farther we get from our most glorious moments, the more people tend to forget or trivialize them. 

So for some, Manning is not a two-time champion but rather the captain of a 3-13 team in 2017, who was grotesquely benched for Geno Smith -- a move so abjectly wrong that it got coach Ben McAdoo fired. 

MORE: Davis Webb: McAdoo Told Me I'd Start Final 3 Games

But now, Big Blue has the new sheen of a remade offense. With the selection of all-world running back Saquon Barkley in April's draft, the return of wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard from injuries, and a revamped offensive line, the G-Men are expected to be exponentially better this year than they were last year. 

Like all NFL clubs, the Giants' overall fortunes largely pivot off the play of their quarterback. So, in that sense, this is Manning's best chance -- if not last chance -- to add the final glittering strokes to his legacy. Even those who don't find him Canton worthy admit that he's a borderline candidate. So if the G-Men win more games than they lose, reach the playoffs and Manning is largely seen as the reason why, he will have done enough to nudge the cynics into his Canton camp. 

None of this is meant to dismiss Plunkett's prowess or accomplishments. His late-career resurgence in Oakland is more a testament to his skill and will than a statement about his anonymous failures in New England. It's not his fault that he accidentally became the unfortunate NFL avatar of saloon squabbles. 

Unlike last year, when Manning became a victim of biblical injuries and coaching incompetence, he enters this season as an aging gunslinger with a full swath of bullets in his belt, weapons on each flank and a millennial robot of a running back behind him. For Manning to burnish his Hall of Fame resume, he can't go 4-12, 6-10 or 7-9. He has to post a record over .500 and at least contend for a playoff spot deep into December. Especially when you consider his 2004 draft comrades -- Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers -- are playing better than ever and are expected to reach the playoffs (if not the Super Bowl, in the case of Big Ben). 

The man Manning beat in two Super Bowls, Tom Brady, just celebrated his 41st birthday, and just played in his eighth Super Bowl. So the 37-year-old Manning can't hide behind his age or wage or faulty personnel. We gave Manning a mulligan in 2017 because he earned it. This year, he has to earn your trust. And a playoff run wouldn't hurt. Then we no longer have to battle over his Hall of Fame bona fides. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel