ELI MANNING WAS TOO YOUNG TO REMEMBER THE SUNDAY NIGHTS when his father, Archie, walked through the front door, carrying the burdens and bruises from an afternoon of losing in the NFL. Archie would gather Eli's older brothers, Cooper and Peyton, on the couch and have them participate in a regular competition: Who could best massage the bumps and knots out of daddy's aching arms and shoulders? � Eli would learn about burdens and bruises soon enough, though. He followed Archie and Cooper to Ole Miss and Peyton to the NFL, the youngest, quietest Manning boy having to live up to impossible expectations. Just when it looked like Manning might never reach the level expected of the top pick in the draft, he surprised fans and detractors alike by engineering a turnaround that will make him a New York legend. On the road in Tampa, in the hostile confines of Texas Stadium, on the frigid ice of Green Bay and, finally, in the Arizona desert against the undefeated New England Patriots, Eli Manning grew up right before the nation's eyes. � With Manning directing the offense, the Giants reeled off 11 consecutive road victories to conclude the season, including a 17-14 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. With one magical playoff run, he emerged from the considerable shadow of his father and brother, carving a niche as a star in his own, shy way.
Before the 2007 season, following three up-and-down years in the league, Eli took a shot from his former running back Tiki Barber, who questioned his skills as a leader and called his motivational speeches "almost comical." Manning then spent much of the regular season fluttering passes off his back foot, throwing 20 interceptions (tied for the league high) and earning the wrath of many New York fans.
At various points during the season, angry Giants fans called into sports talk radio stations, asking if their quarterback would ever mature into a winner. Would he ever be accurate enough? Why wasn't he more emotional? Would the Giants ever bench him for backup Jared Lorenzen?
If Manning ever heard the shouting, he says it never got him down. In victory and defeat, he offered a poker face, punching the clock and saying little.
"You just have to learn to accept it," Manning says of the criticism. "It happens after a loss sometimes. You never know when it is going to happen or what is going to cause it or what strikes it up. But it is out there, and you can't let it affect your personality or the way you are in the locker room or your approach. You have to stay the same and have a good attitude about everything and show everybody that it doesn't bother you and doesn't affect you and you are going to go out there and still practice hard and perform hard."
Says head coach Tom Coughlin, "He is very resilient. He is very focused on his job. He never bats an eye about saying what his responsibilities are or whether he performed well or not. He is an elected captain on the team. He is fully aware of that responsibility as well."
Growing up in a hypercompetitive family, Manning had to be resilient. His father and brothers dominated the dinner table conversation and the backyard football games, while Eli mostly stayed out of the way. When his brothers graduated high school and were out of the house, Eli spent a lot of time with his mother, Olivia, and seemed to adopt her quiet demeanor.
But Peyton said he never doubted that Eli had the makeup to be a Super Bowl champion. "When I call him on Tuesdays, on his off day, he is always at the facility lifting weights or studying film," Peyton says. "When I call him on Wednesday nights or Thursday nights, what is he doing? He is always studying film. As a quarterback, I just can't tell you how much I appreciate that kind of work ethic, because I'm very much in the same mode. I can just tell how seriously he takes his profession. I can tell how disappointed he is when I talk to him after a game on Sunday that they haven't won. He feels accountable."
In the playoffs Manning's preparation produced unmistakable results. Before facing Tampa Bay, Eli called Peyton and asked him for advice on going against such an aggressive defense. The Colts had beaten the Bucs, 33-14, in Week 5. Peyton's instructions to Eli were clear.
"Be patient and take the short stuff," Eli says Peyton told him.