Manning brothers hit crossroads in Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS — Eli Manning has little chance of matching his brother.
He probably won't be counted among the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, probably won't wind up a four-time MVP and probably won't elicit so much as a chuckle if he ever films a credit card commercial.
That's all Peyton.
Mr. Indiana, as he's commonly called here.
Mr. Everything for the Colts, who were champions with him and 2-14 without him.
But Elisha Nelson Manning, the youngest of Archie Manning's three sons, can achieve something Sunday in Super Bowl XLVI that Peyton hasn't: He can become a two-time champion, having already won with the New York Giants four years ago, also against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Will it be enough?
"As a player, I don't think you think about your legacy," Eli said when asked about matching up with Peyton. "You prepare to play games, to win games. We have an opportunity to win a championship. That is all I'm thinking about, what this will mean to the New York Giants organization and our fans. You put your teammates and coaches above yourself."
That's Eli Manning in a nutshell: He won't blow your mind off the field, but he'll say — and mean — exactly the right thing. He won't blow away many on the field, either, but he'll win.
In the regular season, Manning threw for 4,933 yards to rank fourth in the NFL and had a 92.9 quarterback rating that was seventh. The Giants' lowlight was a four-game losing streak that dropped their record to 6-6. But they won three of the final four to qualify for playoffs, then knocked off Atlanta and the NFC's top two seeds, Green Bay and San Francisco. In the playoffs, Manning has passed for 923 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception.
And yet, maybe because of Manning's MVP performance in leading the 2007-08 Giants to the Lombardi Trophy — remember the pass famously lodged against David Tyree's helmet, as well as the winning fade to Plaxico Burress• — not much of this second surge seems to have caught folks by surprise.
"When you're in the regular season, your focus is just on winning that next game," Manning recalled of that four-game losing streak. "You're not envisioning the Super Bowl. You're not envisioning the playoffs. If you start thinking about those things, it takes the focus off your job that week."
Sure, but no one on the New York side is complaining.
Someone asked usually stoic coach Tom Coughlin if Manning might now be considered among the NFL's top five quarterbacks, and Coughlin quickly came back: "He's always been among my top one."
The primary reason cited by nearly everyone was on the boring side, too: He prepares really hard.
"He's progressed steadily since he came into this league because he has the great work ethic and great pride," Coughlin said. "He works very hard with the wide receivers, for example, to communicate to them. He has increased his leadership role. That has coincided in the way in which he's played this year in which he has literally carried us on his shoulders and taken us to so many fourth-quarter wins."
Six, to be exact. And Manning's 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes this season set an NFL record.
"He has a great mastery of where the protections are, where the strengths and weaknesses are," said offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, formerly of the Steelers. "And the guy's worked at it. I don't know if people appreciate that."
"He knows the game better than anybody," tight end Jake Ballard said.
Manning's counterpart Sunday, Tom Brady, might have something to say about that.
So might Manning's brother, assuming Peyton ever returns.
The great irony of this Super Bowl week is that Eli is the one going for glory at the palatial home of the Indianapolis Colts that's essentially founded on Peyton's greatness. And Eli's arrival among the elite might well coincide with the elder's farewell.
Peyton Manning was paid $18 million without playing this season following spinal fusion surgery on his neck. He's due $28 million next season, and there have been strong signs that Jim Irsay, the Colts' owner who is engaged in unprecedented front-office shuffling, will cut Manning loose.
The surgery went well, and Manning resumed throwing in December. But recent reports from Sports Illustrated and Yahoo said he isn't showing improvement in velocity, and those outlets quoted doctors as describing possible issues with nerve regeneration from the neck to the arm. It could take up to a year to determine if that will happen.
As is his wont, Manning hasn't exactly ducked the spotlight, even with this being a huge week for Eli. He granted an interview with the Indianapolis Star last week in which he was bitingly critical of the Colts, prompting Irsay to shoot back that Manning is "a politician." And this week, Manning told ESPN he will return in 2012: "I'm very encouraged. I'll be cleared and ready to play."
Eli and Peyton usually talk throughout a football season, but they have no plan to see other this week.
Their paths appear divergent in more ways than one.
Eli Manning, in his eighth NFL season, already ranks among the league's all-time best at engineering fourth-quarter comebacks:
36: Dan Marino
35: Peyton Manning*
31: Joe Montana
30: Brett Favre
29: Vinny Testaverde
27: Johnny Unitas
26: Warren Moon
24: Tom Brady*
22: Jim Kelly
21: Kerry Collins
20: Eli Manning*
Add Dejan Kovacevic to your Google+ circles.
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