Monthly Archives: October 2005

the “eli experiment” revisited

i haven’t written much about sports in a very long time – perhaps not since elementary school when i used to self-publish a little sports magazine (using our family’s copy machine) to hand out to friends – but after watching one of the more inspiring regular season NFL games in a long time, i feel the need to touch upon a topic that has been on my mind since the season started.

“He’s going to be better than his brother, if not better already,” I declared to some of my friends early in the season regarding Eli Manning, the starting quarterback of the New York Giants. His brother is Indiannapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, record-holder of the most touchdown passes thrown in one regular season – 49 – set last year. Manning, a second-year player out of Ole Miss, has never won on the road and was a dismal 1-6 as a starter in his rookie season. But this year, the Giants are 4-2 and Eli has already established himself as one of the quickest rising stars in the league.

Although I worked for a year at the National Football League headquarters in New York as an intern, I was never a rabid fan. Since elementary school, when I first began to watch football seriously, I never let myself become a loyal fan to one team. While I admired certain players such as Jerry Rice or Barry Sanders, I was less interested in one team’s domination than in the storylines and dramas that unfolded each week on Sunday: the dynastic battles of the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers , the perennial hope that maybe this year the Buffalo Bills would finally win the Super Bowl, the 500 push-ups Ray Lewis did each day in his jail cell to stay in shape, the explosion of black quarterbacks in the NFL (Vick, Culpepper, McNabb, Brooks, etc.), and many more. I sought out these background plots and conflicts and sat back to see them played out on a gladiatorial setting. This was how I came to love football as a fan.

Last winter, I picked up a copy of New York Times Magazine and saw Eli Manning’s face on the cover – an elegant black and white photograph in the usual artsy style of the Magazine. It was a piece called “The Eli Experiment” by Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball. The story was about the $54 million “crapshoot” known as Eli Manning, the son of former NFL quarterback Archie Manning and younger brother of NFL MVP quarterback Peyton. Eli Manning – introverted, aloof, and maybe too laid back – seemed to be the antithesis of the quarterback position – an alpha-male dominated role that recalls legends such as “Broadway” Joe Nameth, Joe Montana, and John Elway. But Ernie Accorsi, the Giants’ general manager up until last season, believed that Eli possessed “intangibles” – he called it “magic” – that held the promise of a great quarterback. This “magic” was Eli’s ability to single-handedly keep his team in the game and to give his team a chance, or at the least the hope of a chance, to win any game. His poise, his arm strength, and his ability to make big plays – all these things were recipes for greatness that convinced Accorsi to trade up in order to draft Manning as the first pick of the 2004 NFL Draft.

When I read the article last year, I became curious as to what sort of player Eli would turn out to be and the question that came to my mind was – could he ever escape the long shadow cast by the greatness of his brother? My first serious exposure to Eli’s game was in Week 3 when the Giants were pummeled by the San Diego Chargers 45-23. And while the score turned out that way, the game never seemed to be a blowout because with each Giants offensive drive, there was an expectation that Eli would somehow find a way to move the ball down the field and score. In another loss in Week 6, I watched as Eli drove his team downfield with less than 2 minutes left against the Dallas Cowboys, leading them to a tying score with an ease that made me wonder where the hell such grace had been for the other 48 minutes of the game – as the Giants had failed to score a touchdown until the very end. The way he moved in the pocket, sensing blitzes and approaching linemen, letting go of the ball just in time – I quickly realized why it was that Kurt Warner, a proven veteran, was replaced by Eli last year: (Lewis mentions this in the article) Warner held the ball for too long and made himself vulnerable to sacks while Eli was quick and firm with his decisions.

And it was this past Sunday game against the Denver Broncos that sealed the deal for me in terms of acknowleding Eli as a true up and coming star: with his team down 23-17 and having been intercepted by Champ Bailey on the previous series, Manning coolly led his team eighty yards downfield, making crisp, perfect passes, making zero mistakes, and heroically, backpeddling away from defenders while chucking up a perfect ball for Amani Toomer in the endzone with only seconds left on the clock. In all the choas, there seemed to be a degree of order orchestrated by Eli at just the right time. The Giants converted the extra point and won the game.

In the NYT Magazine article, Eli mentioned that he never wanted to be the quarterback who runs around sticking his finger up in the air as if he’s just saved the world — and it’s funny that he mentions it because when you come to think of it, most quarterbacks in the NFL do stick their finger up in the air and run around as if they’ve just saved the world after an impressive victory. Given all the pressure, not only of the media and fans, but also of his legacy and the burden of being a top draft pick as well as QB in big-time New York, it’s nice to see someone who isn’t so intent on taking himself so seriously. Yet another storyline which will hopefully develop as Eli continues to improve. What other plots await? Peyton versus Eli in the Super Bowl? A Phillip Rivers-to-New York Jets trade – the continuation of the story of Eli’s spurning of San Diego and the emergence of a rivalry between the top two QB picks of 2004?

I once interviewed writer Ray Robinson, author of numerous books on baseball, about his recent book on the 50 Greatest Baseball Players. I asked him how he came up with the list. He told me that it was completely arbitrary and that no science was involved. I asked him why he wanted to make up such a list. “You make a list and some people will agree with it and some people will disagree with it, but most of all, it’ll make everyone want to talk about it and put in their own two cents. It’s all for the sake of passionate, enjoyable argument. That’s the beauty of sports.” And I’m willing to stake my claim that Eli is on his way to greatness – and is better than his brother.

The High-bouncing Lover

note: obviously not written by me (too good!). guess where it’s from!

There must have been moments
even that afternoon
when she tumbled short
of his dreams –
not through her own fault,
but because of the colossal vitality
of his illusion.

He had thrown himself
into the illusion
with a creative passion,
adding to it all the time,
decking it out
with every bright feather
that drifted his way.

No amount of fire or freshness
can challenge
what a man will store up
in his ghostly heart.

another overnight jersey retreat

i had some stomach and fever issues this week, which made work a living hell and the routine of waking up each morning a truly nightmarish experience. but it all passed and i went in on friday with a good amount of energy. after work, i decided to go home (as in, where my parents and grandma live) to new jersey to spend the night there. so here i am, sitting in my dad’s study room and just casually posting an entry because there’s not much else this house really affords besides sleeping, eating, pooping on clean toilet, and Korean dramas.

well, of course, then there are the people. my dad picked me up from metropark and in his usual upbeat mood, asked me how i was doing, how i felt while being sick, and what i had been up to. i told him about a writing piece i had read on the train ride home – an account by science fiction writer Ian Watson on his time spent with Stanley Kubrick as they collaborated on the story that would eventually become A.I. – the movie Spielberg would finish because Kubrick died. i told my dad how crazy, paranoid, and straight up funny Kubrick was – the way he wore the same exact outfit (same color, same bagginess of trousers) every single day (the author figured out that Kubrick owned multiples of things he liked, like same pants, jackets, shirts, and even golden retrievers – he had four) or the way he refused to fly in airplanes although he had a pilot’s license. And I love the advice Kubrick gives to Watson when Watson sets out to write the entire story in ninety pages: “Put some vaginal jelly on the words.” My dad listened intently although I omitted the vaginal jelly part.

At home, I was welcomed to the sight of samgyupssal and gool (oyster) kimchi. I ate heartily after a week of eating little scraps for my meals. After dinner, my parents and grandma sat around me and we talked. And this was where a perfect homecoming was ruined — okay read on only if you like the smell of word vomit —

and I can’t really say it was preventable or if I was particularly at fault. I asked my mom if she had seen my Vermont page with the pics, since I knew she’d like to see scenic pictures. She told me confidently, “Oh, I haven’t had time in the past few weeks.” To which I was surprisingly amused and let out a little laugh. It wasn’t meant to be dismissive or disrespectful – it was more like a curious laugh to see what kept her so busy. But I should have known better since my mom is a sensitive person. She asked me – I wrote you an email the other day about a project I was working on; how come you never wrote back to ask about it? “Well Mom, you told me you’d tell me in detail when I came home,” I said, which was true. “Oh.” But then my mom was still feeling disrespected and by this point I could see that she had no desire to elaborate on what she had been working on. She mumbled some things about how different people had different lifestyles, so reading someone’s website wasn’t something she did on a regular basis. I don’t know why, but I ended up going on the defensive and telling her that I found it hard to believe anyone could be “so busy” as to not browse some websites or read this and that for a few minutes in a day. Anyhow, I could see that all feelings of warmth and cheer had evaporated, and all I could hear was my dad desperately trying to explain my mom’s efforts to translate a book on East Asian philosophy into Korean. my mom soon got up from the table, washed the dishes, and disappeared.

my dad and i continued to talk about other things – books we had read recently, a reiteration (on his part) of why East Asian philosophy was relevant, and my defense of American history and the history of race in America as relevant and important topics. my dad did tell me some interesting things about japanese history and how Korean aristocrats were the ones who held power when they went over to Japan before becoming nationalistic (or empire-driven) Japanese themselves. my grandma tried to interfere in our conversation a few times by mentioning some blind Korean guy who became successful. she’s apparently been reading his biography as of late. while i usually would have gotten pissed really quick and yelled at her, i was a lot less annoyed because i hadn’t seen her much in the past half year. i just smiled and nodded but told her i had some important things to talk to my dad about. she stuck around and tried to listen in, but retired when too many english words were being thrown around. i enjoyed the long conversation with my dad, but in the back of my head, i felt bad that my mom was upset. but i was also annoyed that she would be upset at such a minor comment.

but in the end, i realized – we’re a family of stubborn, prideful chiefs. we each have a self-righteous view and if we ever partake in group discussions as a family, every person will believe he or she is right and everyone else is wrong. we don’t really like to keep quiet. it’s what brings us grief at times and joy at times – but best of all, it’s what keeps us, at least to me, interesting. okay, let’s stop before the schmaltzy stuff kicks into full gear.