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Tiki calls the Mannings "the Kennedys of football," which might make the Matthews clan the Rockefellers. Like Peyton and Eli, Clay and Bruce Matthews are separated by five years, but they played in the same division in the 1980s and '90s, the physical old AFC Central. Their father, Clay Sr., spent four seasons with the 49ers in the 1950s as both a pass rusher and an offensive lineman, and the boys essentially took sides: Clay was a Pro Bowl outside linebacker with the Browns, while the younger Bruce had a Hall of Fame career as an Oilers and Titans offensive lineman. They faced each other 23 times in the NFL, with Clay's teams going 12--11. And unlike the Mannings, who'll never deliver forearms to one another on the field of play, Clay and Bruce—defense versus offense—collided often.
"He had always been my favorite player and my hero, and it became an adjustment for me when we were on the field at the same time," Bruce says. "We'd be at our meetings [before the game], and the coaches would say, 'We have to stop the Matthews kid,' or 'We have to stop Bruce's brother.'"
The first time they faced each other, at the old Cleveland Stadium in 1983, the Oilers called a counter trey designed for Bruce to pull and take out the outside linebacker—Clay. "Right before the play there was a TV timeout, so I'm just playing [the call] over and over in my head," Bruce says. "It felt like I was waiting for 10 minutes. [At the snap] I go over there and just try and kill him. He stepped out of the way, and I got a faceful of stadium kitty litter. I whiffed."
"Bruce was coming to knock me out," recalls Clay, who has two sons who are also linebackers—Clay III, with the Packers, and Casey, a senior at Oregon. "All the years I had been the older brother, never letting him beat me in basketball; he was going to make up for it. Being the veteran, I moved inside, he landed face-first and had a big wad of dirt in his face mask."
While Clay says Bruce kept him from the quarterback "hundreds of times," the brothers distinctly recall one occasion in 1986 when he didn't. On a blitz of Houston quarterback Warren Moon, Clay sprinted around a lineman so quickly that he didn't even know who it was. He then grabbed Moon, dragged him down for a sack and looked back to the line of scrimmage to see which Oiler he'd beaten. When Clay saw that he'd victimized Bruce, an unfamiliar feeling settled over him. "I felt like Judas," Clay says.
For years Peyton has sidled up to Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney before the kickoff and urged him to get after the opposing quarterback. Peyton offered the All-Pro pass rusher no such directive against Eli, and it wasn't needed. Freeney and Robert Mathis had Eli on the run and on the stadium carpet for much of the night. (Eli was sacked four times.) Eli completed just 13 of 24 passes for 161 yards and a pair of second-half touchdowns, when the game was comfortably in Indy's control.
"You can learn from what the Colts did," Eli said afterward. "They got beat pretty good [in Week 1] by the Texans, and they came out and had a little fire under them."
Peyton, meanwhile, was breathtaking in his brilliance, throwing darts and rainbows in all directions, connecting on 20 of 26 throws. His drives over, he would gaze up at the big screen from the sideline and watch the little brother who'd followed him into the family business. Peyton's face betrayed nothing. "I'm sure it's hard to shelter yourself with all the hype," Colts right tackle Ryan Diem said of his quarterback, "but he knows how to handle it."
At midfield after the Colts' victory, Eli told Peyton it was a good game, and Peyton told Eli he loved him. If in recent years the talent gap has closed between the brothers, Peyton forced the wedge in for a while longer. The brothers missed an all-Manning Super Bowl by a mere 12 months, but there is still time.
Peyton, at 34, remains the prototype NFL quarterback. Eli, 29, who three years ago led the Giants to three road playoff wins and a shocker over the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl, has the brio to one day return to the title game. If the brothers arrive together, there will be more baby photos and home movies and analyses of the remarkable Manning family tree.