I think about Eli Manning's Super Bowl performance and I feel a great sense of pride.
Whoa, that's a sentence I never thought I'd write. Eli Manning. Super Bowl. Pride. Somehow, it all ties in. Let me explain.
I had every reason to dislike Eli prior to Super Bowl XLII. Two weeks before the big game, he and the other Giants ruined my first trip to Lambeau Field. I went there to see my favorite team earn the chance to play in the Super Bowl for the first time in 10 years, and to see my all-time favorite player possibly play at Lambeau for the last time.
You know the story. The Giants, huge underdogs, go into frigid Green Bay and spoil the coronation. When the non-TV network media members were allowed on to the frozen tundra for a few minutes after the NFC Championship game ended, Eli ran off the field about 5 feet away from me. I thought about tripping him.
That mindset slowly changed during Super Bowl XLII. He slowly won me over just by keeping the Giants in the game against the evil Patriots. But when Tom Brady drove New England down the field and put his team on top in the final minutes, my hope dwindled.
I don't think I'll ever forget the image of Eli running on to the field for his final drive. He ran kind of awkwardly toward the huddle, and with his hair sloppily hanging out of his helmet, he shouted encouragement to his teammates.
Yeah, this is the guy who's going to ruin the Patriots' perfect season, I thought.
I should have had some faith. Eli is, after all, the youngest sibling in his family. If you're the youngest in your family, you know where I'm coming from and where I'm going with this. You know that no matter what you do or accomplish, your older siblings will always be bigger, stronger and faster, and have personality traits you'd like to trade with them. They know how to fix things. They have nicer cars.
I'm the youngest of four brothers, and believe me I love my older bros like nobody's business. But growing up as the whipping boy makes you just want to beat them at things.
I wonder if Eli went through the same thing.
Could anyone had ever imagined Eli Manning would win a Super Bowl and be named the game's MVP? Ever? If you did, I think you're lying. His older brother had thrown 49 touchdown passes, won a league MVP award, won a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl MVP award.
Eli was just the younger brother in his shadow. The one who refused to play in San Diego and the player the Giants wasted a bunch of money and draft picks on.
That changed shortly after he took the Giants down the field against the perfect Patriots. The play where he escaped a sure sack in the backfield and pinned a pass on the helmet of receiver David Tyree? Had me cheering and going crazy in a way that I hadn't since Packers cornerback Al Harris returned an intercepted Matt Hasselbeck pass for an overtime touchdown in the 2003 playoffs.
Eli had the ball and he was going to score.
He took his Giants into the end zone, ruining New England's season, with a touchdown toss to Plaxico Burress. With that pass, he stepped out of his older brother's shadow and created his own legacy.
Two times since that happened, I've had people tell me, "Eli might have won a Super Bowl, but I still don't think he's a very good quarterback." Those people couldn't be more wrong. What else does a quarterback have to do to validate his career than drive his team down the field for a winning touchdown in a Super Bowl?
Eli showed he wasn't a wasted investment by the Giants. He proved he belongs among the league's elite players at quarterback. He did something his older brother didn't he was the difference-maker on the biggest stage in American sports.And he won one for little brothers everywhere.
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