Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Eli Manning Arrives... Late, or Right on Time?

A lot of folks have been jumping on the Eli Manning bandwagon this week. I've been a big supporter of his from day one. In my New York Sun column, I urged the Giants to make the bold move to trade up in the 2004 draft. I saw him play early in training camp before the start of his rookie season, and I've written a lot about him during his four seasons.

Manning's three playoff wins have made most Giants fans feel as if their patience with the young quarterback is finally paying off. But when did we begin to think that four years was a long time for a quarterback to develop? I tackled that question in my New York Sun column this week.

As fans, our expectations for young quarterbacks have been dramatically skewed by the sudden success of two recent signal callers. In 1999, Kurt Warner led the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl in his first season as an NFL starter. Two years later, Tom Brady achieved the same feat with the New England Patriots. That sort of immediate achievement is exceptionally rare. Historically, it has taken longer for quarterbacks to develop and achieve success at the professional level.

Terry Bradshaw struggled through his first five seasons, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in each of those years as he struggled to hold on to his starting job. Roger Staubach didn't become the Cowboys' starter until he was 29 years old, and Steve Young turned 30 before he finally took the helm in San Francisco. And there are plenty of examples of great quarterbacks, from Johnny Unitas to Brett Favre, who only found success after failing with their first team (or in the case of Len Dawson, after failing with his first two teams).