The Man Behind the Mann
by Jacob Sugarman
After time to sort out the questions – “how did Tyree make that catch?” and “how did Belichick become such a smug prick?” we arrive at the sphinx-like riddle afflicting the minds of all New York sports lovers since the Giants completed their improbable run to a Super Bowl championship.
“Who is Eli Manning?”
“He’s a folk hero!” posited one of my co-workers.
The Patriots are coming!
To quote another: “He’s Joe Namath! Splashed with Judge Reinhold! By way of Clifford the Big Red Dog!”
Eli Manning is a hybrid of Broadway Joe, Brad Hamilton and a benevolent, red canine.
There is an undeniable element of truth in all of these analogies. Both Namath and Manning led their New York football teams to stunning Super Bowl upsets against teams led by more established quarterbacks (Johnny Unitas and the ’69 Colts, Tom Brady and the ’08 Patriots). Both also tend to slur their words—Manning because of his southern lilt, Namath because he’s three sheets to the wind and panting after a sideline reporter.
As far as Judge Reinhold goes, I think that it’s easy for any Giants fan to imagine Eli masturbating with mouth agape to the image of a bikini-clad Giselle Bundchen emerging from a swimming pool a la Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
The Clifford parallel is slightly less obvious but equally relevant. Both characters are unlikely anti-heroes that have labored to earn the trust and adulation of their fans despite their obvious shortcomings. Clifford’s massive size puts him in constant jeopardy of crushing small children while Eli’s penchant for wobbly passes and game-blowing interceptions have always given Giants fans cause for alarm.
eli and a local
You also get the sense that like Clifford, Eli is a wet kiss kind of guy. I could be wrong, but something about Manning’s goofy grin tells me that he was universally feared in pre-adolescent games of spin-the-bottle.
Given the scope and size of his heroics, however, Eli Manning deserves loftier allusions than these three side-notes in the lexicon of popular culture. Sports and film have always enjoyed a healthy, if somewhat saccharine relationship. One of the most effective and affecting story arcs is that of the plucky team of underdogs. No matter how predictable these stories are, the viewer cannot help but empathize with the team’s failings and revel in their triumph.
Dennis Hopper inspired alcoholic sports fans across the country in the 1986 film, “Hoosiers.”
By the same token, commentators often set the stage for sporting events by using the dramatic language of cinema. In its myriad pre-game shows to the Super Bowl, ESPN not only provided analysis of each team’s strengths and weaknesses but a greater narrative by which each of their seasons could be defined.
Occasionally, as in the case of the 2008 New York Giants, a player’s performance bears an aesthetic similitude to a movie character outside of the sports genre. I present to you Eli Manning, the Benjamin Braddock of the NFL.
“Mrs. Robinson” – The Lemonheads (mp3)
After a stellar collegiate career at Ole Miss, Eli Manning was selected by the New York Giants as the first overall pick in the 2004 draft. For the next four years, he played with the confused, skittish demeanor common to many recent college graduates. You can almost envision him at Giants camp sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool in a full scuba suit while an enraged Tom Coughlin waits for him to surface.
I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics.
First round playoff losses are what happen when a talented quarterback succumbs to the crushing ennui of life in the NFL. But just as we were about to dismiss Eli as a hopeless child, unable to meet the demands of New York City and greater adulthood, he put together a playoff run that best resembles Benjamin’s triumph in the final 15 minutes of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. Through Dallas and Green Bay, you could see Manning riding his team’s injury-depleted receiving core like an Alfa Romeo with no gas left in the tank.
The Super Bowl itself was nothing short of the film’s climactic wedding scene. Watching Manning evade New England’s defensive line on his miraculous completion to David Tyree, you couldn’t help but think of a wild-eyed Dustin Hoffman shedding Murray Hamilton from a horse collar in the Methodist church lobby.
Like the ending of The Graduate, Eli’s future is ambiguous. Will he become a Nietzschean Super(bowl)man or revert to the mediocrity that afflicts so many professional adults? No one can say. But for all us recent college graduates whose professional aspirations have not yet panned out like we might have wanted, Eli gives us hope.
Jacob Sugarman is a contributor to This Recording. He last wrote for these pages on Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money.
The Legends’ influences
the legends wiki
In chronological order: Depeche Mode, Fad Gadget, Fancy, Pet Shop Boys, Lloyd Cole, The Cure, Front 242, Nitzer Ebb, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Smiths, Go-Betweens, Television Personalities, Felt, McCarthy, Field Mice, Orchids, My Bloody Valentine, Shop Assistants, Would be goods, The King of Luxemburg, Spacemen 3, Shoestrings, Softies, Halo Benders, Sukpatch, Kahimi Karie, Fantastic Plastic Machine, Denim, Astrud Gilberto, Brigitte Bardot, Leonard Cohen, Stina Nordenstam, Avalanches, Bonnie ’Prince’ Billy, Ulf Lundell, Múm, Comet Gain, Kraftwerk, The Russian Futurists, DAF, OMD, The Mary Onettes
“Play it For Today” – The Legends (mp3)
“Make It Right” – The Legends (mp3)
“He Knows the Sun” – The Legends (mp3)
“All the People I Like And Those That Are Dead” – Felt (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
We still love you baby.
Britney had an embarassing night.
Mick McGovern on Korrektur.