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Theirs, too, had been an inspired run to Indy, the dominant team of the '00s looking to start a new run in the '10s. Over the summer the Patriots dedicated the season to owner Bob Kraft's late wife, Myra. On the night before their playoff opener against the Broncos, Belichick had given the players a rousing speech, going around the room and telling each one why he was on the team. "Probably the best pregame speech I've ever heard," Moore said.
Now, Brady needed inspiration on the field. He found wideout Deion Branch for 19 yards on fourth-and-16 from his own 14, and five plays later he had the Patriots on their own 49, ready for one last, desperate heave. On the game's final play Brady threw a Hail Mary that Tuck said was in the air long enough for him to finish a novel. One member of New York's traveling party fainted in the owner's suite.
When the pass fell incomplete, the Giants' sideline dissolved in celebration, players and coaches dashing in all directions. Manning, Super Bowl MVP for the second time, won a 2012 Corvette, the keys of which ended up in his 10-month-old daughter Ava's mouth. Ann Mara scaled nine stairs of a makeshift stage to retrieve the franchise's fourth Vince Lombardi trophy. A long line of Giants followed her, victorious over New England again.
"When somebody has your number, there's just nothing you can do about it," Umenyiora said of the Giants' hold over the Patriots. "Apparently we've found the way to beat an unbeatable team."
Manning, 31, has been traveling to Indianapolis for nearly half his life to see Peyton with the Colts, and Eli's comfort in guiding the Giants through Super Bowl week was evident. Even as a family drama played out publicly, with the injured Peyton's football future a source of endless fodder for the media horde in Indy, Eli went through the hours unbothered, focused and sharp during practice, happy and confident afterward.
On the Monday of Super Bowl week, the Giants' first day in town, Manning took more than 20 teammates, plus friends and family, to St. Elmo's steak house, treating them to the shrimp cocktail and its famously incendiary sauce. On Wednesday, tired of hotel room service, Manning went to Peyton's downtown condo and had chicken, shrimp and sliders from Harry & Izzy's with Peyton and his wife, Ashley, plus mom Olivia and Archie. "They cut up and laughed a lot," Archie said. "I think Peyton's a little embarrassed that he's been in the news so much, but Eli probably likes it. He just doesn't worry about much. If Eli orders steak and they bring him flounder, he'll just eat it. What would Peyton do? You ought not bring Peyton the flounder."
"I don't think people understand our relationship," Peyton said, speaking of Eli. "I always used to look after him. I used to drive him to school. He used to come to all my games. Our relationship is so much one of support and help. I've given him every piece of knowledge I've had about playing quarterback, and he gives it to me. Love is what that is. I want to do the best I can for my team, but when that's done I hope Eli surpasses every record. I hope he wins five more Super Bowls. I hope I win five more too."
The night before the game, as they often do, Eli and Peyton talked strategy on the phone. "Four years ago [before Super Bowl XLII] we had a more specific Patriots talk, because I was so familiar with them," Peyton said. "This year Eli played them, so he knew them as well as anybody. I always ask him, 'Has it been a good week?' He goes, 'Good week, good week.' He has to say it twice."
Peyton's faith in his brother echoed the Giants' sentiments. Thanks to their belief in Eli, they stood pat during the frenzied days of free agency following the end of the lockout in late July. While the rival Eagles signed big names, New York hardly made a whimper. "This was our off-season: [signing] a guard, a center and a punter," says general manager Jerry Reese. "Everybody's like, You've got to be kidding. We're not about splash, or sexy moves. We're about making the best football moves. We knew we had a good nucleus of players coming back."
Manning threw a career-high 25 interceptions in 2010, but Reese believed that was because he had tried to do too much with a banged-up offensive line and receiving corps. "Eli is one of those guys who can self-correct," Reese says. "We thought this year was going to be the best we've seen him. It was right in his wheelhouse."