INDIANAPOLIS — When Eli Manning told a New York radio host in August that he was an elite player, it set off a debate among NFL fans and experts that raged all season.
Manning backed up his uncommon bravado with the best season of his eight-year NFL career. The Giants quarterback changed the opinions of many, including Michael Kay, the radio host who asked Manning if he was elite.
We caught up with Kay at Radio Row on Monday and asked him if he was surprised how one innocent question became one of the season’s major storylines.
“I’m shocked. I really am shocked,” said Kay, who hosts “The Michael Kay Show” weekdays on ESPN Radio. “You just keep watching NFL shows, ESPN, NFL Network, NBC, CBS, FOX. There doesn’t seem to be a week that that’s not referred to.
“Boy, when I asked the question, I never thought it would have those legs, ever. I thought it would maybe be a story for a week, but he’s made it the story because he actually has been an elite quarterback.”
Kay believes the Giants have been rewarded for their Axl Rose-level patience with Manning, who threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns this season.
“It all came together this year,” said Kay, also the longtime voice of the Yankees on YES Network. “He’s tough, he’s accurate, he’s a leader, and maybe it just shows everyone you have to have patience. This is a pretty good test case for Jets fans: Don’t give up on Mark Sanchez so soon.”
A Bronx native who’s been reporting on the New York sports scene since the mid-’80s, Kay believes a win in this year’s Super Bowl would put Manning on sacred ground.
“He’s not Broadway Eli at all, so I don’t know if he’ll ever be thought of (as a pantheon New York athlete),” Kay said. “But in terms of ultimate winners, he’s going to go down as one of the great ultimate winners. Because quarterback is so identified with success of a football team, if he wins two, it’s going to be pretty special.”
— Dan Hanzus