Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Little Brother Makes Good

I can imagine the thoughts going through Eli Manning’s head.

“Finally! I did something Peyton didn’t do!”

“Look Daddy! I’m in the playoffs!”

“I told ‘em I was just as good as HE was. Nobody believed me. Who’s in the conference championship now? Huh? Who? ME, that’s who.”

Maybe I’m projecting. But I’m sure Eli Manning felt a huge sense of relief at making the playoffs, and more than a little happy twinge at doing it when his illustrious big brother didn’t.

Let me share something here. I've never really been big on the Mannings. (Well, the Mannings Farm in PA, the fiber arts nirvana, I’m sure I’d be a fan, but that’s for another blog.) Archie Manning may have been a gifted quarterback, but he squandered his talents with clubs that didn’t live up to his potential. I have a theory that he liked it that way, but that’s just my pop-psychology take on it. His college career was unspectacular due to a mediocre team. Third place in the Heisman trophy voting wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar these days, never mind that the actual Heisman winner usually does little when moving on to the NFL. Ten losing seasons with the Saints, most of them spent on his rear end at the hands of Jack Youngblood. Two pro bowls. Two more losing seasons, one with Houston and one with the Mini-Vikes. His record among starters was the worst in NFL history (.263%! Really!) among QBs with 100 starts or more. So I’ve never really understood the adulation.

Peyton Manning was put in the catbird seat early on. He had a better college career than his dad, natch. He compiled some impressive stats and trophies, lots of plaques and an accusation of sexual harassment, but no Heisman for this Manning. (Charles Woodson beat him out, and actually went on to do something in the NFL.) No national championships either, and early indications of not responding well to teams that knew how to pressure him. Peyton moved on to an even better position with the Indianapolis Colts. He’s been the subject of much foaming at the mouth and outright hero-worship, second only to Tom Brady, from all the top analysts, reporters, pundits, and talking heads of American Sport. His noble profile, his sense of humor, his ability to coordinate the offense while ACTUALLY ON THE FIELD. Wow. IMAGINE. It took him nine years to finally win a Super Bowl, surrounded by some of the best players in the league and an intelligent and indulgent coaching staff who let him have free rein on the field. Some of his commercials are clever, but his adenoidal intonation annoys me beyond all reason, possibly because I used to have adenoid issues. In general, though, I think he’s treated like some sort of football demi-god in a way that is really mostly undeserved. Yes, he’s a good quarterback. But he needs to listen to his offensive coordinator more often and stop being so damn twitchy in the backfield. Also, he chokes.

Which brings us to Little Brother Eli. Eli went to Ole Miss like a good boy, his Dad’s alma mater. He had a decent college career and set some records, a bit more nondescript than Peyton’s, but good. He didn’t get into any (reported) trouble while there, unlike Peyton. He ran third in the Heisman, and never really contended for a national championship. The well-known kerfluffle around his draft day trade with Philip Rivers probably had less to do with the Chargers being bad for his career (LT anyone?) and more to do with not wanting to play in the AFC, where he’d be likely to face Peyton on a regular basis. Eli’s always struck me as someone who wanted to please his Dad and maybe someday PLEASE show up his big brother if possible.

Now I grew up an only child. But I’ve watched my kids, and my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and I can see how Eli must feel, finally, achieving something Peyton didn’t, not this year, and having a decent chance to win the big game besides. I hope he’s not ruining the experience by worrying about when Peyton’s going to come up behind him and give him a wedgie.

Good on you, Eli. Brett Favre's probably going to eat you for lunch and laugh the whole time, but I wish you luck on the Frozen Tundra anyway.

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