Thursday, January 31, 2008

What Matters Most: Tom Brady vs. Eli Manning - The Brotherhood of the Slighted

Normally, TiT throws up the Five That Matter each week, discussing the important games to be watching for. This is the Super Bowl, however, and in two weeks, everything is going to matter. But because we can't discuss every single part of the game, we're going to spend the time in between now and then looking at the characters, settings, and conflicts that matter most to Super Bowl XLII. Today, Tom Brady vs. Eli Manning.

It strikes me that for most people, the Super Bowl that rapidly approaches is the least interesting quarterback matchup of any of the possibilities. Brady-Favre was the obvious big ticket, Manning-Rivers was one by which I was personally intrigued, and Favre-Rivers would at least have had Favre on the ticket for one last go around. Brady-Manning, on the other hand, lacks an obvious draw, or even easily accessible storylines. Yes, we all know that Eli is Peyton’s younger brother, and that Peyton and Brady are archrivals. Nobody cares; if you let me trace it far enough, I’m sure that Tom Brady is MY archrival, and trying to turn this into some quest for brotherly vengeance is more manufactured than the constant portrayal of Tiki Barber as everything that was wrong with last year’s Giants.

Perhaps what makes this matchup so uninteresting at a glance is the fact that this feels like more of a mismatch than any of the other matchups. After all, it’s obvious by this point that Brady is going to be involved in the debate for G.O.A.T signal caller. Eli, by contrast, is certainly developing, but it has become obvious that his team’s success this year is linked to his NOT being asked to take over his team like Brady or his brother or any of the quarterbacks he’s beaten to get to this point. Brady is the face of his franchise and of the modern conception of the quarterback; Eli looks like he might have a birth defect. The point is that this isn’t even apples and oranges; on paper, it’s like apples and that funk that builds up in your drain when the garbage disposal is broken (read: I need to fix my sink)

Yet there is a common thread between these two, one that has become more obvious this year than in year’s past: Chips on their shoulders.

For Eli, that chip has been growing quietly since he first arrived in the League, built from the deepest kinds of stereotypical pressures. The overbearing father’s legacy, the hyper-successful older brother with a shadow, the multimedia empire of a city, all are parts of the mass that has been growing on Eli’s shoulder, weighing more and more heavily each year. Now, having finally overcome the hurdles that the media, his coaches, and even some of his teammates suggested he couldn’t, these playoffs finally have him primed to turn around and unleash the quiet fury that revealed itself before this season, when he lashed out at Tiki in an interview. If he can win the big one, putting him on a level equal to that of his brother years ahead of schedule, New York will be Eli’s city for the stomping; nothing short of a full page NY Post apology would be sufficient to make up for his mistreatment.

For Brady, it’s a case of the chip that won’t quit, the grudge that won’t budge. He’s more schoolyard bully than Eli-style serial killer. Falling to the sixth round of the draft, shelved behind two other quarterbacks on the bench of a perennial loser, and yet knowing the whole time that he’s been this good, one can only imagine how Brady’s own sense of being slighted festered. In the end, it leaves him the only Patriot justified in constantly playing the “they don’t respect me” card; he’s the one who’s overcome the most egregious disrespect. Success, rather than calming this anger, has only stoked its sense of righteous indignation, justifying his conquests. Fuck a magazine image; Tom Brady would rather be remembered as a destroyer than a pretty boy. He said as much this year, announcing his team’s desire to not only win, but also leave scorched earth in their wake.

In essence, these two are more similar than any tale of the tape would ever reveal. Despite coming from completely different pedigrees, and following completely different paths, I’d venture to say that if these two sat down to talk before they played on Sunday, Eli would find he had more in common with his brother’s professional nemesis than with his flesh and blood. This season has been a revealing one for both of these quarterbacks, highlighting a shared vindictive side that doesn’t play well with the images of either quiet, soft spoken Eli or GQB, and it is this side that will undoubtedly be driving both men n Sunday. And whether it is Brady’s ultimate conquest or Eli’s delivering sweet comeuppance, we can rest assured that someone will leave that field finally satisfied, a feeling which, for both of these particular characters, is the chief prize.

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