Less Flash Suits Manning Just Fine
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
CHANDLER, Ariz., Jan. 28 -- All last week, his week, in his town, the hordes chased another Super Bowl quarterback through the canyons of Manhattan. Look, there's Tom Brady on the stoop of the supermodel's house cradling a bouquet. Look, there he is stepping into the camera's glare. A real TMZ treasure, his face flashing off the racks at the checkout stands like any Tom, Brad or Britney. No surname necessary. Simply Tom.
Shunted across the Hudson River to a less fashionable locale known as East Rutherford, N.J., sat Eli Manning, forever the last to retrieve his car from the barren parking lot outside Giants Stadium. It is not even a fancy vehicle by NFL quarterback standards, a small sport-utility vehicle that might run somewhere under $30,000.
He is not the fabulous quarterback at this Super Bowl. When Tom arrived to the interview tent at the New England Patriots' hotel on Sunday night, he peeked his head through a curtain and into a blaze of photo flashes. His skin glowed. His suit was crisp, black and expensive, shirt unbuttoned at the collar, the model of chic. Even his hair was mussed just right as to be stylishly disheveled.
Then there was Eli. On Monday he stepped off the Giants bus at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in a black suit that appeared it might have come off the rack the way it wrinkled easily around his lapel. Across the ballroom here from where Manning sat at a nondescript news conference no more special than the one of the team's punter, wide receiver Plaxico Burress was also clad in black, boasting that the color symbolized an end to the "hoopla" surrounding the week.
Manning looked as if dressed for an initiation rite.
He smiled shyly at the questions, his face scruffy with a light day's growth of beard and insisted he did not follow the exploits of the more famous quarterback in the Super Bowl. If he was serious it was hard to tell, because it would seem to be impossible for anyone to be alive and not hear something of the infamous Brady boot. Yet there is a chance he might be right. Manning's teammates always have said he buries himself in film rooms, studying, preparing, analyzing. It is quite plausible he simply knows nothing of the tabloid mass that congealed around Brady a few miles away.
While Brady dodged the sordid details of his fantastic life in the eye of the camera, Eli revealed that his mother, Olivia, advised him via text message on Monday that he should smile a lot at his news conference. He tried to do this a few times but it looked painful and forced. So he ultimately settled for a disheveled gaze and droll but heartfelt answers to the questions that came his way.
"I never tried to be any different or talk in a way that people will want me talking," he said. "If you fake it, it will be obvious. The players will see right through that. If you try to say or do something to please the media, they'll notice.
"You can't be someone you're not."
So Eli played the dutiful third child in Football Camelot. Last year's Super Bowl was all about his older brother, Peyton: a coronation to justify all those Gatorade and DirecTV commercials. Peyton never sat at a small news conference table as Eli did on Monday. Peyton commanded his own room, his own booth, his own galaxy of information. Eli simply answered the questions thrown his way with the best candor he could muster.
"I don't think of it that way," he said when asked if he finally felt as if maybe for a day he was not the little brother in the most famous football family.
"I mean I am Peyton's little brother," he continued. "You can say that."