Eli Manning is a dopey looking motherfucker.
That was meant with no malice.
Eli Manning, this season, is an elite quarterback. A running subplot throughout the season is, “How elite? Tom Brady elite? Aaron Rodgers elite?” These are very important questions because ranking quarterbacks based on various individual statistics is a valid sub-genre of sports arguments that I do not care about.
I will never have enough of an affinity for sports to learn about statistics or even understand basic tenants of the games. I’m sorry I prefer actually engaging society by eating a lot and reading various comedians’ Twitters. It’s called LIFE. Get on board.
The athletes I develop an unhealthy love for are generally troubled or off-kilter; something about them is decidedly “Not mainstream.” If old white men like an athlete and those athletes represent the old school way to play a sport, that’s an automatic turn-off. He scored a touchdown and just pooped on the ground? How much is his jersey and how much is his poop?
Even though the Philadelphia Eagles are a disgusting organization filled with horrible fans who booed Santa Claus and created AIDS, I like Mike Vick and DeSean Jackson because most people hate them. I like that in a game that is rigidly defined by uniformity, these two guys try to break out of that mold by creating the largest dog-fighting ring in the Mid-Atlantic and being an asshole, respectively.
Eli Manning is a different animal; I mean, he’s human, I’m using animal as a metaphor or simile. I don’t know. I didn’t study “English” per se or “percy” if we were in the South but I am a student of cultural zeitgeist.
Everyone thinks Manning looks like a dullard. No one thinks he’s stupid or a bad quarterback, but when they look at Tim Tebow, they think “Leader” or “God.” People see Tebow and state he has that X factor, that quality we all want in a leader; he exudes confidence that makes you confident in him and Jesus and you suddenly hate abortions.
When you watch Eli Manning, you are not inspired. Has there even been a quarterback as good as Manning who has inspired less confidence in his fans? He is a commercial airline pilot: you only notice if something goes wrong like too much turbulence or you are #37 on the runway to take off. If you get to your destination 35 minutes early? Random luck.
At some point during this season, probably right after they beat the 49ers and the Giants were heading to the Super Bowl, I decided I loved him.
Now you are thinking, “Riphoweveryourpronouncethat, you only like him now because he’s taking your team to your second Super Bowl in four years?”
No. No you dick.
If you are over the age of 28, you remember the Fab Five from Michigan but more importantly, you remember they wore black socks and black Nikes. This seems like nothing now, but in 1991, it was a statement of defiance. It was a fist pump towards the sky at the Olympics albeit with a more commercial tint. I became drawn to Michigan and their players because in this strict paradigm of sports with its rules and discipline and uniformity, they found a way to subtly stand out.
Then it became piercings and tattoos and at some point most of the NBA looked like Lil’ Wayne; outsiders looked like the norm. As I got older, it became less about how an athlete looked and it became more about my perception of their personality.
An athlete’s personality is tightly controlled because they’ve all become media-savvy over the past twenty years; it’s much easier to toe the line, win games, and leave your actual personality behind the scenes so you can sell sneakers. Or maybe they are just really boring; it’s possible, I don’t think it should be fair these guys are all good looking, athletic, rich, AND are interesting. That’s too much.
While they do try to control their emotions and personalities as much as they can, on the field, it’s much harder to rationalize and control; it’s much more about visceral instinct and reaction as the game develops on the field. And Manning’s reactions are so … odd.
When Eli does well, there’s a smirk and a fist pump, but he looks like he’s thinking, “This is how I am suppose to celebrate, correct gentlemen? Raise my arm? Smile? Is this how you smile? OK, no one has said anything so I will continue to keep my arm raised. It’s been two minutes. OK, I should put my arm down now.”
It’s when Manning does something poorly that everyone (and by everyone I mean Twitter) collectively grunts, “Get angry! Don’t look like a sad puppy!”
It’s Manning’s inability to get sufficiently mad, a defining male characteristic when something sports-related goes wrong, that particularly irks the sports community. I, at one point, hated it as well. I like anger on the sports field; the Pistons/Pacers riot is one of my favorite sport events of all time.
But as I search for small differences that make athletes more human, more palatable to my particular taste, Manning’s pouty face has become endearing. No player looks more sad, more like a child caught doing something bad, as Eli when he throws an interception. He puts his head down, stares at the fake grass, shrugs his shoulders, and shuffles off the field. Essentially the same dance I do every day when I leave work.
And that’s why I love Eli Manning now. He seems to have all the attributes of a normal human being who is a successful QB in the NFL but as hard as he tries to be “normal” nothing he does seems “normal.” Even his Toyota commercial seems incredibly stilted…
He’s 98% normal, but that 2% of genuine awkwardness, not forced Zooey Deschanel awkwardness, but legitimate, “I think I know how to properly show my emotions in this situation,” is an endearing trait and I love him for it.
Another reason I like him is because he’s won a lot of important games and may win another Super Bowl for the sports team I root for but that’s still a
distant very close second to loving his sad face.