Eli Manning was still on his feet early Monday morning, sliding past members of Lady Antebellum and Counting Crows, reveling in a party at the Circle City Bar and Grille in downtown Indianapolis that had momentum to threaten the dawn.
Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, tag-team defensive ends, arrived resplendent in gray suits, ducking behind a black curtain into the mayhem. "We are going to shut New York down!" Umenyiora shouted into his phone. "We are going to shut the whole city down!" Running back Brandon Jacobs came next, in a burgundy golf shirt and khaki pants, carrying a glass in his left hand. "This champagne is just too good," Jacobs said. Manning stood in the middle of the bar, knot of his tie loosened down to his chest, top button of his shirt unfastened, a light beer and his older brother Peyton by his side.
"This isn't about me," Eli said above the din, following the Giants' 21--17 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. "It's about the organization and coach [Tom] Coughlin and all our coaches." He paused and started again. "It's about a bunch of young guys," he said, "with something to prove."
Hours earlier, one block away at Lucas Oil Stadium, Manning stepped into the huddle with 3:46 left in the fourth quarter, trailing 17--15. You could almost draw a line to the Arizona desert, where four years earlier he and the Giants had overcome a three-point deficit on a last-minute drive, shocking the world and short-circuiting New England's perfect season. Several principals from that game were back for the rematch: Manning and Coughlin, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, plus enough A-list stars, on the field and off, to give Super Bowl XLVI the feel of a long-awaited sequel.
In the Giants' owner's box, team matriarch Ann Mara reached into her left jacket pocket and pulled out her rosary beads. Three weeks earlier on national television she had scolded Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw for picking the Packers to defeat her Giants. Now, her right arm in a sling after a fall in church, she said a prayer for Eli. "I asked the Blessed Mother to tell him where to throw the ball," she said.
On first-and-10 at the New York 12, Manning took the snap and surveyed a defense in Cover Two. From experience he knew that the Patriots' safeties didn't play very wide toward the sideline, and that might allow him a small window to find a receiver deep. Manning looked right; Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz were covered. On the left Mario Manningham had run a go route up the sideline, sprinting past rookie cornerback Sterling Moore as safety Patrick Chung slid over to help.
Manning let fly a rainbow that dropped perfectly into Manningham's fingertips (page 38). The receiver stuck both feet inbounds, tumbled over and held on to the ball. The completion went for 38 yards, the longest play of the game. "Put it where only [Mario] could catch it," Peyton, the longtime Colts QB, said at the postgame party.
"That throw," Giants co-owner John Mara said of Manning, "epitomizes why we gave up all those draft picks to get him."
At the practice facility in East Rutherford, N.J., in the wide receivers' meeting room, a chart tracks a season's worth of big plays. Cruz had more check marks by his name than any other New York receiver—at least until the Super Bowl. "I might have tied Vic with that one," Manningham said.
For the eighth time this season, Manning marched the Giants to a winning score in the fourth quarter. When running back Ahmad Bradshaw tumbled backward into the end zone for an excuse-me touchdown (page 42), the Pats had only 57 seconds to salve their wounds from Super Bowl XLII.