PHOENIX – This is the platform on which numbers become meaningless, on which previous faults are pardoned, on which an NFL quarterback’s reputation is elevated regardless of past performance. Super Bowls are that massive, and leading your team to one is considered that important.
Eli Manning basks in that level of admiration now, some of it warranted and some of it a result of making this season’s final game. Whether you believe his emergence to be permanent or temporary, those within the Giants organization are sticking out their chests a little further about that day in 2004.
Whether you deem his future in the same prominent realm as big brother Peyton or the forgetful state as Trent Dilfer, the feeling is that Manning has more than justified New York’s initial belief in him. A moment like this can do that.
A month ago, you would have been correct to state the Chargers swindled the bolt out of New York when trading the rights to Manning for the rights to quarterback Philip Rivers and draft picks that resulted in San Diego choosing linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding and trading for offensive lineman Roman Oben.
A month ago, Manning wasn’t preparing his team to face unbeaten New England in Super Bowl XLII on Sunday.
That’s all it takes, really, for the trade now to be considered a victory for both teams. One game. This game. Quarterbacks own that great an influence. Manning is here and Rivers isn’t. Manning has delivered his team to the doorstep of a championship and Rivers hasn’t. Manning sits 60 minutes and one implausible upset from millions of additional dollars in endorsements and Rivers doesn’t.
"I sat down with Eli after last season and let him know that no matter what anybody said, if we had to make that deal over again, we would," Giants co-owner John Mara said. "I told him we had all the confidence in the world in him, and that if he just kept doing what he had been, we would get better and start to win.
"I don’t think he felt he needed to reach (a Super Bowl) to validate (the trade). I don’t think he feels a need to justify this or justify that.
"We made the deal. There is no looking back on it. He’s the guy here. But until he wins a Super Bowl, I guess people will say we gave up way too much for him. Our philosophy was that if you have a chance to get a guy you think is a franchise quarterback, you pull the trigger. There just isn’t that many opportunities."
Forget stats. If you solely consider how those involved in the trade have performed based on numbers, the Chargers that draft day unearthed a treasure more valuable than anything Nicolas Cage has discovered on screen and the Giants were left with a tall, gangly, gold-plated trinket who at times still seems one misguided throw away from disaster.
Manning this season led the league in interceptions with 20 and slumped to 25th in passer rating. His rating of 75.5 in the last two seasons is far below Rivers’ 87.4. Merriman is headed to his third Pro Bowl in three years, and all Kaeding has done is lead the league in field-goal accuracy over that time.
Still, this never was Herschel Walker going from Dallas to Minnesota for what essentially became three Super Bowl trophies for the Cowboys. This wasn’t that awful a deal even before Manning led the Giants to 10 straight road wins and the NFC championship. Now that he has, New York can defend the deal without feeling a need to explain.
"I think everyone is well aware of what we are playing for and what it means and what makes it so important," Manning said. "But I also think the goal is to understand getting here isn’t enough. The goal is to win. That is our purpose for being here."
He then used about five seconds to rumble around a question regarding the trade that became reality an hour after the Chargers made him the No. 1 overall selection. He wouldn’t travel back and discuss why he and father Archie wanted so badly to avoid Eli making California home, and really wasn’t required. He is in the game every quarterback at every level insists they want most to make, the one all those traded for and drafted by the Chargers that day in 2004 have yet to experience.
Said Chargers general manager A.J. Smith: "I wish them all the best — Eli, Archie, the family, (agent Tom) Condon. Good luck to you all. It was a win-win situation for everybody. No one was slighted on that deal. No way."
Whether he was being sarcastic or serious isn’t important. Manning is in the game, the trade paid off and no further debate is needed. That’s how massive a Super Bowl is.
Ed Graney’s column is published Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or firstname.lastname@example.org.