By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 4, 2008
GLENDALE, Ariz., Feb. 3 -- For the second time in as many years, Archie Manning stood in a stadium tunnel Sunday night, surrounded by microphones, calmly talking about his NFL champion son.
A year ago in Miami, it was Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton, the smiling pitchman for one product after another, who was the Super Bowl most valuable player, having led the Colts to an NFL title. But now Peyton stood several yards down the hallway as his father, wearing a suit jacket and talking about how proud he was of little brother Eli, the MVP of the New York Giants' 17-14 upset of the New England Patriots.
And Archie, who spent 11 years as a quarterback with the New Orleans Saints, was again trying to explain how this had happened.
"Oh my God, no," the Manning patriarch, 58, drawled when asked whether the family had envisioned such success. "I never thought about them playing even college football, much less pro football, much less winning Super Bowls and MVPs. No, no. That wasn't in the plan. We tried to raise kids. We just raised kids like other parents. I don't understand it. I can't explain it."
Eli's Super Bowl success appears considerably harder to explain. While Peyton has been NFL royalty for much of his 10-year career, setting records on the field and creating an impressive portfolio of sponsorship deals off it, Eli has been a magnet for criticism and jokes. The younger Manning, the first player selected in the 2004 NFL draft, had taken the Giants to the playoffs in three of his first four seasons. But he always had been the goofy younger brother, prone to untimely mishaps, excessive interceptions and frustrated scowls.
Former Giants running back Tiki Barber, who retired after last season and became a television broadcaster, pointedly criticized Manning's leadership this summer, calling his speeches "almost comical" and adding "his personality hasn't been so that he can step up, make a strong statement and have people believe that it's coming from his heart."
Teammates defended him, but even as he led the Giants to a 10-6 record this season, Eli ranked 25th in the NFL's complicated passer rating formula -- behind such middling at best players as Damon Huard and Kyle Boller -- and threw 20 interceptions, tied for the most in the league.
Archie Manning said Peyton has comforted his parents about Eli, insisting everything would work out for the youngest of three brothers. (Oldest son Cooper was a star wide receiver who had to give up the game after high school because he required surgery to correct spinal stenosis.) Both Archie and Peyton said the sniping didn't faze the Giants' quarterback.
"This is his time, this has been his year," Peyton Manning said. "He's never wavered in the criticism he's faced. He's always been the same Eli, so consistent, which is unbelievably admirable."
And something seemed to change in the 27-year-old over the past month. He threw one interception in four playoff games, and that on a tipped ball Sunday night that was not his fault. He seemed less anxious when passing, and more in control of the offense.
"I give their mother all the credit," Archie Manning said, when asked about his sons' late-game poise. "I call her the great equalizer. She's calm, she never gets upset, she always makes good decisions. I think that's carried over to them."
When Eli Manning got the ball back late in the fourth quarter Sunday night with his team trailing by four, he again was the calm leader. In the game's defining play, Manning eluded two defenders who had his jersey in their hands and heaved the ball 32 yards to wide receiver David Tyree, who somehow came down with the ball.
By the time Manning threw the go-ahead score four plays later, he had become the second winning Super Bowl quarterback to throw two fourth-quarter touchdowns, joining Hall of Famer Joe Montana.
"Everybody wants to compare him, he's always being compared to somebody, whether it's his dad, his brother, or [former Giants quarterback] Phil Simms," New York center Shaun O'Hara said Sunday night. "And I think Eli built a platform today for others to be compared against him."
Eli Manning has never shied from his last name. He said he sought advice from Peyton this week, primarily about handling his media and off-field obligations. His performance ensured he would win his first Super Bowl in five fewer seasons than it took Peyton.
"I didn't know when this would happen," Eli said. "You've got to be patient with these things."
Soon, he was rushed off the podium to attend to his MVP responsibilities and continue the celebration, and so Archie and Peyton Manning were left to speak of the first family of football's newest Super Bowl champion.
"I couldn't be prouder of him," Archie said. "He's a good boy, he really is."
"You try to remember the emotions that you felt at this time last year, but it's hard to believe I could have been much happier than I am right now," Peyton said. "It's one of the happiest times of my life, I promise you."