At different points this season, even harsh critics like myself argued the fact that Eli Manning wasn’t “Elite.”

To me, he stood not even near his brother, Peyton, — who will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, next to Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Elway, Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw, Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas.

I always thought Eli was a good quarterback. He wasn’t the game manager like his brother. When the Bears were going through their quarterback controversy before the acquisition of Jay Cutler, I would have liked to have had Eli. But when I compared elite quarterbacks in this season, only his brother Peyton, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger came to mind.

Eli wasn’t in that group.

But a second Super Bowl win over Brady and his Patriots in a four-year span should diminish any argument about Eli’s status: Eli’s in that group.

Eli is Elite. And you can’t spell elite without Eli. And without Eli Manning, the Giants aren’t Super Bowl XLVI champs, just like they wouldn’t have won Super Bowl XLII without him.

No more should Eli be looked at as Peyton’s younger brother. Hell, Eli has more Super Bowl rings than Peyton, and Super Bowl MVP’s, too. Based on the rings along, Eli is the better quarterback of the brothers.

While the critics and most NFL observers will still supplant Peyton over Eli as far as skill and know-how, let’s not forget that we do live in a society that counts championships and MVP’s adamantly in regards to ranking some of the best in sports.

We do it with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant all the time. Brady has been in that conversation with Montana and several others. LeBron James always hears the worst of it.

Even ESPN made note last night of how Tom Coughlin became the oldest head coach to win a Super Bowl, let alone the fact he was the 13th coach in NFL history to win multiple titles.

The United States of America knows how to rank its players. And championships help the cause. In Eli’s case, he’s the Manning brother that has more — that phrase was supposed to be coined for Peyton back in the day.

It’s Eli’s term, now.

And whether or not we see Peyton make one more comeback or if he has to retire due to those neck injuries that hampered him for the entire 2011 season, if Eli is to remain on top in the ring department, and both were to retire that way, it’s safe to say we have a legitimate argument to debate that Eli is better than Peyton.

It sounds almost ludicrous — I know, it’s even coming out of my mouth — but it’s a legit conversation that we need to address more and more now.

Peyton’s the field general — but that’s gotten him only one Super Bowl ring.

Eli’s the gamer, with a team that has a knack for coming on strong at the end of the season.

Peyton’s been able to shake off Brady once in the AFC championship game, but Eli’s done it twice in the Super Bowl.

It might be safe to say we can’t put him in a category as a champion like lets say, Robert Horry in the NBA, who was a journeyman and vital role player for the Rockets of the 90’s and the Lakers and Spurs of the 2000’s.

Clearly with Horry, Horry wasn’t as talented as Michael Jordan or Hakeem Olajuwon. Horry played on some teams and knocked down some epic shots in his time. But he wasn’t anywhere close to Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Manning though, he engineered a Giants offense that was on the verge of collapsing in Week 15. And he won two Super Bowl with drives there were almost out of the book of replica — with help from David Tyree in 2008 and Mario Manningham in 2012.

As the NFL season closes, a year that almost never happened because of a lockout of sorts, the NFL postseason couldn’t have been better than it has ever been. So many close games. So many plot turns.

But now this season is a reflection of Eli Manning. And how he became elite.

We have to place Eli in a category that bounds him to the Hall. We have to stop placing him as “Peyton’s little brother,” even though he’ll always be and we might just have to swallow whatever reservations we have against him.

Eli Manning is an Elite quarterback, a Hall of Famer someday. He’s led the Giants to two monumental wins against very good Patriots teams, and his latest win, a 21-17 win in Peyton’s town, Indianapolis, is a severe notice that Eli isn’t a joke or some marginal quarterback at best.

He is Eli Manning.

And you can’t have the word “elite” without Eli.


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