Asked about that recently, a player who’s not only enshrined in Canton, Ohio, but is widely considered one of the greatest football players of all time had a simple answer: “No.”
Fortunately for the sports-radio hosts who posed the question, Jerry Rice was more than willing to elaborate. The former 49ers wide receiver said that statistics don’t tell the whole story of Manning’s worthiness and he was eager to point to another veteran quarterback who’s still active in the NFL as a “shoo-in” for enshrinement.
“I don’t see Eli as a Hall of Famer,” Rice said this week on the Bay Area’s 95.7 the Game. “Drew Brees, yes, I do.”
Rice was then reminded of the biggest points in favor of Manning’s candidacy, including the fact he led the Giants to a pair of Super Bowl championships, upsetting Tom Brady and the dynastic Patriots both times. In addition, over 14-plus NFL seasons, Manning has placed himself well within the top 10 all-time in arguably the two most essential categories for quarterbacks: passing yardage, in which he ranks sixth with 54,247 yards, and passing touchdowns, in which he ranks seventh with 350.
Asked if people “get too caught up in numbers” in deciding who should get into the Hall of Fame, Rice said, “I think so, because when I’m judging a player, I’m looking [at] what he brings to the table. What I see with Eli Manning, there’s not consistency.”
“Yes, he has two Super Bowls, but then you look at Drew Brees and what he has accomplished, and all of that. I think in yardage now, he’s the leader,” Rice continued, saying of the Saints quarterback, “He’s doing great things for that team, and that team is getting better as they go. You can tell he’s a great leader, and he makes everybody better around him.”
Given that Hall of Fame voters won’t have to make a choice between Brees, who is all but certain to gain enshrinement, and Manning, but can potentially vote both of them in, Rice’s point in bringing up Brees was likely to contrast Manning with a contemporary who better fits the idea of an all-time great. Manning has two Super Bowl rings to Brees’s one, but Brees easily bests Manning in Pro Bowls (11 to four), all-pro teams (four to zero) and career winning percentage (.584 to .507). And it’s no contest in terms of single-season statistical achievements.
While Brees has led the NFL at least four times in major categories such as attempts, completions, completion percentage, yards and touchdowns, Manning has no such accomplishments. In fact, the only major category in which Manning has ever led the league is interceptions. He’s done it three times to Brees’s one, and perhaps more importantly, the Giants quarterback has rarely even been among the league leaders in positive indicators.
According to a 2017 study by FiveThirtyEight, Manning to that point had finished in the top 10 in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating four times and in passer rating just once, with an average finish of 18th in the latter category. His detractors could also point out that even in those Super Bowl wins upon which so much of Manning’s candidacy rests, he only led the Giants to 17 and 21 points with three total touchdown passes. He did play well in those postseasons to get his team that far, going 8-0 altogether, but on the other hand, Manning has zero wins from four other trips to the playoffs.
It’s not necessarily the case, though, that Rice’s opinion reflects the majority viewpoint of his fellow Hall of Famers. In one February survey conducted by NJ.com, 11 of 13 players already enshrined said that Manning deserved to join them, albeit with some of them couching their responses in terms of future expectations.
“His regular seasons, if you just stacked them up one-by-one and looked at that, you’d probably go, ‘I don’t know if he is. Probably not.’ But you add in those two epic Super Bowl runs and the fact that he beat Tom Brady and he played his best at the biggest moment, and now that equation gets more into that mix,” former quarterback Kurt Warner said of Manning to NJ.com. “I think he’s a borderline guy, but I also believe because he won two championships in the fashion in which he won them, I think that’s probably what puts him over the top and gets him into the Hall of Fame.”
Rice, who helped 49ers quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young reach the Hall of Fame while becoming the NFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards, yards from scrimmage and touchdowns, echoed the notion that Manning might eventually be enshrined. He made it clear, though, that if it were up to him, the longtime fixture for Big Blue would not receive a gold jacket.
“I would think that Drew Brees is going to be a shoo-in. Eli? There’s a chance of him getting in,” Rice told the radio station, “but I’m not going to say he’s a true Hall of Famer.”
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