No matter your opinion of Eli Manning or where he ranks among quarterbacks past and present, there's no denying his longevity. His durability has been paramount to his 12 years of success. It might actually be his most impressive quality. Coming into his 13th season, he has never missed a start, a remarkable statistic in any era of the NFL.
Manning and Romo have been NFC East mainstays for over a decade, and they've put their fans through as wide a range of emotions as just about any quarterbacks ever. Manning, though, has managed to stay on the field, and that's far from insignificant.
Any evidence needed that Manning has accomplished a few things in his career should be satisfied by the fact that he has already thrown more touchdown passes than Joe Montana. He's also thrown for more passing yards than Montana.
The same can't be said of Romo, who didn't start a game until his third season, but has also been often hampered by injuries. Romo might have had the chance to pass Montana in touchdown throws last season if not for numerous injures, and would have had another opportunity this year before injuring his back. He is only 6,000 passing yards shy of Montana, which he may have thrown for by the end of this season if not for the accumulative time missed in 2015 and 2016.
These statistical differences can't just be explained with a theory that Romo is in a lower tier of quarterbacks than Manning. Romo's career quarterback rating of 97.1 is actually higher than both Manning's and Montana's.
And yet, availability is the first thing an athlete can offer his team, and it is not lost on head coach Jason Garrett just how available Manning has been to his franchise.
[embeddedad0]"He shows up every week," said Garrett. "He shows up year after year. He's someone who's carried the burden for them at different times throughout his career and always handled it well."
According to Manning, there aren't any secrets to staying healthy. It's just a combination of factors with varying degrees of influence.
"Some of it's luck," he said. "Some of it is not taking certain hits a certain way or being able to heal quickly on certain things. … That's why you work out hard in the offseason and [work on] flexibility. You try to be able to handle some of the hits and the wear and tear of the season."
Will durability really be the difference between one of these two quarterbacks, who have faced off so many times, making the Hall of Fame and one not? Obviously you could argue Manning's two Super Bowls victories to Romo's zero are the biggest differences on their résumés, but there's always causality involved when we start talking legacy. If Romo had the same health then he might have the Super Bowls. His injuries have derailed very talented Cowboy teams. These are hypotheticals that will never be answered, but it goes without saying that Romo's body hasn't done the perception of his career many favors.
They both have a reputation among many NFL fans as almost comically high-risk quarterbacks, just as likely to cost their teams a game in the fourth quarter as they are to lead them to victory. That may or may not be true, but it ignores a definitive reality: They are the two most consistent and successful quarterbacks in the NFC East this century.
Only one of them will take the field in the opening matchup between the Cowboys and Giants.
"Yeah, I want to be there for my teammates," Manning said. "Sometimes, throughout the course of the season, you're going to be banged up and have some things that are hurting and nagging. But you want to try to be out there each day of practice and on game-day and try to push through some of the little things, if possible, to show your commitment to the team."
This isn't a matter of toughness. Romo has played games with a broken back. There aren't many questioning his commitment to the team. But it's hard to determine the degree that luck plays a part. Proper preparation, diet, exercise and specific treatments go a long way in terms of injury prevention.
Though who is to say that Manning or anyone else would have come out the other end of Cliff Avril's tackle from behind any better than Romo, who broke a bone in his back on the play? Perhaps Manning simply would have gotten rid of the ball or hit the ground sooner. It's always been a double-edged sword with Romo's desire to keep a play alive.
"You try to be prepared for all games so you're not taking guys running freely at you," Manning said. "You try to get the ball out in a timely fashion."
It seems unfair to criticize Romo for his health issues. On the other hand, it would be quite an oversight to deprive Manning credit for his durability.