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Many don't know it, but Eli is among NFL's toughest

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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One reason Eli Manning might be the most underappreciated player in football is because he's a bit of a dork.

Not that I'm Denzel Washington, but Manning looks like a cross between Dwight Schrute from The Office and Will Ferrell. Since our society loves airbrushed superficial gooeyness and Us Weekly Bieber boy looks, dorks get dissed.

Eli Manning will be the sixth quarterback to start at least 100 consecutive games. (AP)  
Eli Manning will be the sixth quarterback to start at least 100 consecutive games. (AP)  
There's also the fact Eli is the little brother of Peyton, which is like being the younger sibling of Marlon Brando and going into acting.

Eli just plods along: quietly, dorkily and efficiently. He's something that seems impossible, and that's a Manning rolling under the radar.

Under the radar because of the following fact many people don't know. This weekend, barring a slip in the shower or trip over Cliff Lee's new contract, Eli will start his 100th consecutive game.

One hundred straight games.

It's a highly underrated achievement for a highly understated man in a mostly underappreciated career.

Whenever I ask other players around the league to list the most important Giants, Manning's name is always third or fourth behind the team's defensive stars and running backs. I had a Pro Bowl quarterback once say Manning's contribution to New York's Super Bowl run a few years back was minimal. It was a remarkably dumb statement made by a very smart man.

The sentiment isn't unique. There's something about Manning that makes him forgettable to almost everyone. He's a human cloaking device.

When Manning got his first start in November 2004, among the NFL's starters at the time were Quincy Carter, Tim Rattay, Craig Krenzel and Shaun King. The careers of those players were buried long ago. So were many others.

Manning rose from horrid days, like the one against Baltimore in 2004 when his quarterback rating was zero, a four-interception game against Minnesota three years later, as well as bloodied faces, hurt shoulders and a bad foot. He has been one of the league's true tough guys despite a non-tough-guy rep.

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Manning's 100th straight regular-season start is sixth best in league history behind Brett Favre (297), Peyton (204), Ron Jaworski (116), Tom Brady (111 from 2001-2008) and Joe Ferguson (107).

Does Eli throw bad interceptions? Sure he does. But his positive moments far outweigh the bad ones.

Eli, at times, simultaneously has the accuracy of his brother, the resiliency of a Muay Thai fighter and hair like Bill Gates. He's borderline great despite the fact many in and around the NFL believe he isn't.

Only San Francisco's Frank Gore, Atlanta's Roddy White and Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew are less appreciated than Manning.

"You don't get too worried about that," Eli said of the streak when speaking to reporters recently. "...I like being out there. I work hard trying to stay healthy and taking care of my body. In this league, you get hit. There have been a couple games where it's been kind of iffy and can come down to game-time decisions. Last year with the foot. In 2007 with the shoulder. Either one, I could've probably sat out. I want to be out there, and if I think I can play, I'm going to go play."

Manning will likely never breach Favre's consecutive start territory –- or break Favre's record for inappropriate cell-phone texts -- but it's impressive nonetheless.

Maybe if Manning did more screaming at teammates publicly he might earn more respect from everyone.

Manning is quite simply one of the NFL's toughest, even if he doesn't always look the part.

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