It has been while since I hammered out one of these. I was tempted to recently, when the great Patrick Knight (whose classy exploits we have previously chronicled here and here) had his Texas Tech team put up 167 points in a 40-minute basketball game against some poor Division II squad. They were up 77-57 at half-time and then felt the need to put up 90 points in the second half while the opposition was putting up 58. I guess when you are up by 30 points midway through the second half (and you have already broken the all-time school scoring record of 128), using up the clock on every possession is a loser strategy . What manly-man winners do is keep scoring at a frenetic pace for the entire game. So what if the margin of victory swells to 50? The other team should have played better! Who says that having an egomaniacal arrogant prick with abusive tendencies for a father can cause any psychological harm to the son? Pat Knight is All Right!
But I digress.
This post is not about Pat Knight. It was inspired by a question recently posed to me by the talented Scribbler50 that could be summed up basically as: Whatcha got against Eli Manning? And since some football ‘experts’ and ‘analysts’ are gradually beginning to bring up Eli’s candidacy for the MVP award this year, the timing couldn’t be better for Scrib50’s Ques. or for yours-truly’s Ans.
How did Eli Manning enter the NFL? This is the official record of events: Eli was drafted #1 by the San Diego Chargers in 2004, who then turned around and traded Eli to the New York Giants for their first round pick Philip Rivers as well as three draft picks (which they used to draft, notably, Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding). Great! Win-win and all’s good, correct?
Well, not exactly. The story that gets buried is that before the draft Eli was the widely believed to be the #1 pick as the Chargers wanted him. But Eli didn’t want to play for the Chargers, an organization with historically dubious management. What’s more, he wanted to play for an organization with historically outstanding management, the NY Giants. Can’t blame the kid; pretty smart of him actually. By the way, the Giants reportedly also wanted Eli as their QB.
The problem doesn’t lie with Eli’s desire to play for an up and coming stud team and solid organization, or with its desire to have him. It lies, rather, with the fact that the NFL Draft is not, as Comrade PhysioProf would put it, a fucking care bears party. It is not the NFL Job Fair or NFL Open House, or NFL Buffet, where you‘d waltz in and pick your choice of team. No, it is the NFL DRAFT. Teams pick the players they want in an order that’s part of a well developed, negotiated, structured system, and then the players get paid large amounts of money in accordance with another well developed, negotiated, structured system. Then the players cash these nice fat checks, become ‘professionals’ and they shut the fuck up (or not) and play for the teams that drafted them. The NFL is set up on somewhat socialist principles (revenue sharing, draft etc) to ensure that all teams, regardless of their market-size, will have reasonably even chances to be competitive. This setup has proven to be wildly successful and is one of the main reasons why the NFL has kicked baseball’s ass and taken over as the dominant pro sport in this country.
Year in and year out, talented players get drafted by bad organizations and teams, but they go, play out their 3-4 years as mandated by the League and the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and then earn a right to free agency, i.e. they earn, in time, the right to choose the team for which they want to play. But not Eli. Eli was special. He decided that the day he entered the league he wanted to play for the Giants, and that he was never going to play for the Chargers. To top it all, his camp actually leaked all of that news and made it common knowledge. By draft day, every new outlet had reported the news that Eli would not, under any circumstances, sign with the Chargers if drafted by them. This put the Chargers in a bind. They wanted him to be their QB, but that wasn’t going to happen. They couldn’t waste the #1 draft pick by drafting him and having him not sign a contract. They couldn’t pass up on drafting him as that would be giving in to blackmail, and would also lose them value by their appraisal of the available talent. Their best hope to salvage the situation was to deal Eli in a trade and get as much as possible in return for him. Their hand was forced.
The only organization that would (/could?) really step up to a deal was the Giants as, by all accounts, they wanted Eli to be their QB too---but thanks to Eli’s blatant repudiation, the Chargers lost valuable negotiation leverage. The Giants knew they had the upper hand---they weren't desperate to land Eli whereas the Chargers had no viable option but to unload him. This vital extra leverage was probably why the Chargers settled for a trade that included draft picks but not Osi Umenyiora, the emerging stud Giant D-lineman that the Chargers originally wanted in the deal.
That the Chargers used the picks to draft Merriman who is good (but no Umenyiora) and Kaeding (their current kicker) is irrelevant; that Rivers is a better QB than Eli in any measurable aspect is irrelevant. What is relevant is that drafts are highly unpredictable and that at the time nobody knew for sure what anyone was getting. It may well have turned out badly for the Chargers----Rivers may have turned out like Ryan Leaf and Merriman like Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones. It may have also very well been that if Eli had to play for SD, he may have flamed out a la Ryan Leaf. We will never know, and I don’t care because all that is irrelevant.
What’s relevant is that if every high and coveted draft pick played this blackmail game the league would be in chaotic shambles. So the powers that be wouldn’t let it happen and they usually don’t let it happen. Furthermore, if a black athlete from a poor background had pulled this stunt, everyone would be all over what a fucking primadonna and a thug he was. For Eli though, the rules were different. He got #1 draft-pick money and got to name his team from day one. The Chargers were pressured from all sides---the league, their fans, and the media---to resolve the situation swiftly rather than having a long drawn out ugly battle for their rights. The last name ‘Manning’, representing all the credibility banked by his father and brother with the league, paved the way for Eli’s free-agency from day one. It was blackmail, pure and simple, and it should not be condoned.
It is impossible to say who would have won SuperBowls or not if the Eli blackmail-trade hadn’t occurred. What can be said is that even through the Giants’ SuperBowl season, Eli was mediocre by any measurable standard. A case can be made that if the Giants had drafted another QB in 2004 they’d have won more than one SB by now, given their talent and performance on every other facet of the team.
But the main point is that Eli Manning had no right to rob Philip Rivers, or any other potential draftee, of the opportunity of playing with the NY Giants (already a young, studly team on the rise, and one that would have had more studs joining them via the SD-bound draft picks that the Giants wouldn‘t have had to sacrifice).
But he did, because that is what Fortunate Sons do---they steal opportunity from the less pedigreed.
I have more to say (with supporting data) about (1) Eli’s Fortunate Son-hood after arriving in NY, and (2) How Peyton was overrated for a long time (one can be very good and still overrated), but all that will have to wait till another time. Stay tuned.
Thursday, December 4, 2008