I don't watch any TV shows about the NFL, and I also don't play fantasy football. I just watch the NFL for the football parts, and sometimes just for the particular team I follow. This casts me among the minority of viewers (an NFL hipster! Neat!), and rates me as grossly unqualified to analyze the industry perception of the two quarterbacks in Sunday's Giants-Falcons Wild Card game.
But I've caught a few moments here or there of the various TV shows about the NFL for this analysis, and I've come to understand that everyone on TV really, really hates Eli Manning, and a lot of people on TV are starting to hate Matt Ryan, too. I think I know why: The NFL TV shows like two kinds of quarterbacks, and hate the rest.
Type No. 1 are the best quarterbacks in the NFL. You’re allowed to be an absolutely amazing quarterback in today’s NFL. I watched ESPN for 20 minutes during lunch this week and gleaned that Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers play football like Jesus Christ fighting dinosaurs on a spaceship. They're the greatest quarterbacks of all time, ever; the grist for the mill of the 24-hour pro football news cycle. Without them, countless superlatives, hyperbolic quips and premature king-making chatter would go unspoken among countless ex-players and ex-coaches prattling for four hours every Sunday morning.
But for guys like Rodgers and Brees to be touted as the absolute greatest quarterbacks ever (Possibly of all-time? Let's debate it! Or simulate it on a video game! Right now!), you need a baseline of comparison. So in today's NFL, you’re also allowed to be a really, really bad quarterback, or Type No. 2. It makes the really good ones achieve the aforementioned dinosaur-deity conflict awesomeness - plus, we love highlighting draft busts and statistical embarrassments because we’re a really mean-spirited society (also, most of us knew at least one Texas fan who wouldn't shut up about Vince Young for five years, and we're still not done feeling good about that turn of events).
You have to have both kinds, or NFL TV shows are reduced to polite conversation and alarmingly low levels of hollering. With both - and only those two kinds of quarterbacks - you can chortle to the other guys on your studio show - "[Bad quarterback] sure isn't going to look like [good quarterback], even against [bad football team's] defense! HAHAHA! Look at these Windsor knots!" (Nailed it!)
What the NFL TV shows hate is a work in progress, a merely mediocre talent or, worst of all, an above average player whose identity isn’t easily described in two flashy sentences. Hard to scream about that. That’s been Eli Manning’s problem his entire career. I'm pretty sure he's a really good quarterback, but I don't know if he's an "elite" quarterback, and apparently that makes a lot of people mad - not that he isn't "elite," but that they don't really know if he is.
Manning played for Ole Miss at the same time I went to school there, and I spent three years covering his every game as a sports writer. He won a Super Bowl against a really good football team a few years ago, and he seems to be doing a good job this year, but cheese and crackers, do some folks hate his guts, or what?
I think I've discovered why. I've noticed that at any given point during any week of the season, every TV show about the NFL is required by law to instantly rank and grade absolutely every player, team and achievement in comparison with every moment in the entire history of the sport and then scream out their answers, like an analyst fire drill. Federal law mandates at least 35 hours of up-to-date clip shows to be available at all times. Since Eli is merely really good and maybe not the best, people on TV are at a loss for what to do with him, and that has consequences:
GOVERNMENT AGENCY: OK NFL on CBS broadcast team, we're two games into the season, and this is an unannounced test of the all-time perspective hyperbole drill.
SHANNON SHARPE: (nervously) ELI MANNING. IS. THE. BEST! ELI MANNING IS AN UNQUESTIONED MASTER OF THE GAME! HE WOULD CORNHOLE JOE NAMATH ACROSS BRYANT PARK IF THE TWO WERE PAIRED IN A BATTLE FOR MANHATTAN IN A FOLD INSIDE THE SPACE TIME CONTINUUM!
BILL COWHER: ARE YOU KIDDING ME SHANNON? (/slaps knee with a frightened, feigned chuckle of indignation) ELI MANNING IS THE WORST! HE'S A FESTERING CARCINOMA TEARING AT THE VERY LIFE FORCE OF THIS FOOTBALL CLUB AND ITS PURPOSE IN THIS WORLD! CLIP HIS BALLS OFF NOW TO PREVENT FUTURE GENERATIONS FROM SUFFERING THIS PLAGUE!
GOVERNMENT AGENCY: Actually, you're both completely wrong. Neither of those analyses came with any kind of fact-based justification, or even standard logic. I'm afraid we're going to have to place both of you inside the hibernation tubes. You'll be in a state of suspended animation for six months, and we'll revisit this matter at that time.
That last part of dialogue might have been wishful thinking, but you get the idea. Eli Manning throws touchdowns and wins games, but not like Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, so he's not really ready to fight those dinosaurs with space captain Jesus just yet.
TV shows about the NFL operate on a pass/fail system (and a lot of hollering), so a "B" grade really gums up the gears. Eli is also a Manning, so a lot of people are always comparing him to his brother and father. That's a tough lot, because most of those TV shows really want to talk about an entire family of Supreme Space Jesusi protecting football from the triceratops, but Eli only has the one Super Bowl title and a few playoff wins, and even though that's about what his brother has, that's apparently not good enough, and angers NFL TV shows.
Matt Ryan is a pretty good quarterback. He was drafted by my favorite team, the Falcons, and I've watched almost every game he's played in since coming to the NFL. I think he's pretty good. But Matt Ryan has never won a playoff game in the history of the NFL, and after watching NFL TV shows this week, I have to say that's pretty damn awful when you consider the NFL has been around since 1920. In fact, he wasn't even born until 1985 - what kind of discipline is that?! - and has failed miserably and totally at football despite having two chances total to win a playoff game.
The NFL TV shows think this is unacceptable, but the problem is that like Manning, Matt Ryan is still pretty good - again, that terrible status - at playing quarterback so far. Yet there's absolutely no guarantee that Ryan will win a playoff game this weekend or ever, despite putting up franchise-leading numbers for the Falcons. What if he wins? What if he loses? Nothing about this situation allows chuckling 40-something jocks to blindly assign Son Of God And Ace Raptor Wrangler status, which is tantamount to treason.
One quarterback is going to win the football game on Sunday, and one is going to lose. It's entirely possible that neither will be the quarterback of the team that wins the Super Bowl, and thus this impenetrable fog of performance evaluation could dog NFL TV shows for months and years to come.
I'm pretty sure both Manning and Ryan will be pretty good for the duration, but their stubborn refusal to be the absolute greatest quarterbacks of all time or the hands-down worst is really disrespectful. It's easy to see now why they're so hated by TV shows. They're so pretty good, it's offensive.