Among the many things I have come to accept and even love about living in Texas1 is the incessant playing of The Cowboys Quarterback Game, or what heretofore shall be referred to as The CQG.
It is amazingly fun. It has no discernible winner. And the rules are simple enough so everybody can and does play.
1. Pick any NFL quarterback making news at the moment.
2. Ask the question: Who would you rather have Aforementioned QB or Tony Romo?
3. Step back and watch as hilarity ensues.
I am not kidding when I say that, as recently as six weeks ago, there were many CowFaithful playing The CQG who were arguing they’d take Romo ahead of Eli Manning. Yes, they acknowledged, The NYG quarterback had a ring, but Romo is more talented, has more upside and other not-exactly-salient points2.
This is the genius of Eli, of course, this sneaky eliteness. He lulls everybody into thinking he’s just OK until that moment when he gut-stabs you with an impossible pass to Mario Manningham that propels another great Super Bowl comeback and another Giants championship.
Rings. Parade. Group Eli hug.
Now all we want to talk about is Eli’s legacy when six months ago we could not even agree that he was elite. And therein lies the real legacy of Eli Manning.
He is hope for everybody who wonders if they have the right quarterback.
Somewhat predictably, The CQG has changed considerably since The NYG won the Super Bowl. Everybody is backing away from the Eli-Romo argument, quickly, and with a “Who, me?” smirk on their face.
Now debate has turned into whether Romo is as good as Eli, and this is not simply a Texas pursuit.
I am guessing New Yorkers of the NYJ variety are wondering if Mark Sanchez can be Eli, as is SoCal about Philip Rivers. Questions already have bubbled in St. Louis about Sam Bradford’s ability to be that guy, in Minny about Christian Ponder and just about everywhere else there is a young to young-ish quarterback without a ring.
This is not to be confused with this silliness about whether Eli is better than his brother, Peyton, or if Eli’s legacy has eclipsed that of Tom Brady. Hell, as recently as November, New Yorkers were doubting Eli’s ability to be that guy. Certainly nobody was worried about his legacy back then.
This takes us back to the genius, and the hope.
The thing about being an elite quarterback in the NFL is, it is impossible to tell them until they are right up on you, with the Lombardi Trophy in their hands and the confetti falling and the video highlights of the play you absolutely had to make are playing.
Absolutely, we think we know who those guys are, but sometimes those guys fail. And sometimes the guy who was coming off a season of turnovers and who looked like a hot mess in training camp wins the whole damn thing again, forcing you to acknowledge his greatness.
This is the thing about greatness and legacies that we too often forget or willfully ignore in our instant-analysis society. We want so much to declare a player as elite or a failure that we do not wait until the whole story is written.
In The CQG, of course, you take Eli over Romo now.
Eli is in a championship parade. And Romo is playing in a pro-am with Tiger Woods, still oblivious to the power of perception.
This is hardly an indictment. If I were a general manager, I’m not sure I’d take anybody ahead of Eli right now. Of the three quarterbacks I’d consider — Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees — two were beaten by Eli in this playoff run. There is no substitute for clutch, no amount of talent that is better than a guy who finds ways to win games3.
And you do not know until they are in that moment whether your guy has it or doesn’t. This is why there is hope for Romo, for Sanchez, for every fan asking themselves:
Who would I rather have — the guy I got or somebody else?
And before you answer, remember that a lot of Giants watchers were saying that other guy coming into this season.
There is the legacy. There is the hope.
1 The other things, in no particular order, are how Cowboy boots go with everything and how meat is cooked one of two ways—BBQed or deep fried.
2 The biggest knock against Eli, for the longest time, is he did not look the part. I am not talking simply of body composition or pedigree. He was the No. 1 overall pick and is Archie’s son and Peyton’s brother. He just has this goofy thing about him that hides his killer instinct.
3 This is not to be confused with the bus-driver phenomenon. Eli is a good quarterback. That throw to Manningham was one of the best I have seen in a long time, the balls to attempt it and the accuracy to make it, and, of course, the catch itself. This is what I mean about winning games. He has a hand in it.