DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This past Sunday, Eli Manning, the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants quarterback, was benched after 210 consecutive starts. This move was handled so clumsily and to such ill effect that the coach who benched him, Ben McAdoo, was fired the next day. And Giants fans cheered. Here's more from commentator Mike Pesca.
MIKE PESCA: Super Bowl-winning quarterback - it must be the epitaph that goes further in our society than any other. In sports, there are heroes, Hall of Famers, all-stars and icons. And then there's this other category - a higher one - the Super Bowl-winning quarterback. That guy never has to buy drinks in this town again, unless the town is New York and the coach has steered the team to the second-worst record in the NFL. Ben McAdoo, who, in a desperate measure to save his job, wound up getting fired when he announced the benching of Eli Manning in an almost tossed-off remark at a press conference - as one might announce the status of the backup center's pulled hamstring.
In truth, Manning has not been very good this year, and at 36, he's a little old for a football player. Although the most obvious quarterbacks that Manning is compared to are older, Eli's brother Peyton won an MVP award when he was 37 and won a Super Bowl when he was 39. And then there's Tom Brady, who is having another masterful season at 40, defying the constraints of age, as well as strawberries - the guy has never had a strawberry. So Eli has his flaws, but he still has the armor of Super Bowl-winning quarterback - a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. It's a combination of words we most value. Winning's in there. Winning - that's always a good result. Then Super Bowl, which is like the Super Bowl of championships and, at this point, of metaphors. And then there's quarterback.
You know the quarterback is the most important position in sports, but it's even more central than you thought. Consider this - the quarterback plays less as a percentage of his sport than any soccer player and most basketball players do in theirs. Everyone in those sports play both offense and defense. No quarterback has ever affected even most of his team's plays - not even close to most. We know the quarterback isn't on the field during defensive plays, but don't forget field goals, kickoffs and punts and special teams account for 10 percent of all plays. And then even the most pass happy team will run the ball a third of the time. So a quarterback is actually doing the thing that defines him - throwing the football - at most 30 percent of the time. But what he does that 30 percent really does make a giant difference in a team's fortunes. And when the fortunes are at their most fortunate, it could mean a Super Bowl.
When Eli Manning wasn't winning Super Bowls, he wasn't a great quarterback. But in those two years, his skill really did bring home championships in what is still by far the most popular sport in America, and so Eli earned the coveted title. And with it comes rings, Dunkin Donuts commercials and, as we found out this week, the power to destroy even a titular superior who does not fully grasp the import of your status. And this was how Eli Manning, who will indeed be starting again this week, in a roundabout way bestowed a gift upon the miserable lot of Giants fans suffering through a 2-and-10 season. He delivered the season's most cathartic moment.
The coach, who did not respect or genuflect to the holy status of the Super Bowl-winning quarterback, got fired, and for one day, Giants fans exalted. The team might have two wins, but their quarterback has two Super Bowls, and because of him, they do as well.
GREENE: Commentator Mike Pesca - he hosts the Slate podcast The Gist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.