EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Competing against each other is relatively new to Peyton Manning and Eli Manning. They didn't do it much when they were kids. When Eli's New York Giants host Peyton's Denver Broncos on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, it will be the third time the brothers have faced each other in an NFL game. And it still doesn't feel right to them.
"When he left for college at 18, I was 13," Eli pointed out after practice Wednesday. "So there's only so much you can compete against in terms of sports. Peyton and I, we really didn't compete a whole lot growing up."
The age difference is a big reason for that. In analyzing this matchup of the brothers, it's important to understand the difference in perspectives. Peyton, nearly five full years older, is immensely proud and supportive of Eli. And Eli is the same way in reverse, but with one crucial difference that's got to make it tough for him to win: Eli is the one who grew up in awe of his brother. And that doesn't tend to ever go completely away.
"I've been watching Peyton's games since the sixth grade, and he's one of the best," Eli said. "Just as a quarterback, you enjoy watching him because he plays at such a high level. He's in the argument of best all-time, and I'd probably compliment him a little bit more if we weren't playing him this week."
Don't mistake this point here. Eli Manning is a supremely gifted and confident champion. He has won the Super Bowl twice, whereas Peyton has won it just once. There's nothing to indicate that Eli would rather be Peyton or that he feels in any way inferior to his big brother as a football player.
It's just ... how do you beat someone you grew up believing was a larger-than-life, could-do-no-wrong superhero?
Eli spoke Wednesday about memories of awaiting his brother's holiday trips home from college, and soaking up lessons from him about what they were working on in the SEC, then trying out the drills and the footwork Peyton had taught him on his own high school field. And it was hard not to think that one of these guys grew up idolizing the other, and to some extent still does.
"Having an older brother who's a college quarterback and then an NFL quarterback, that gives you an advantage," Eli said. "Peyton and Cooper, they were good big brothers, and I'm sure I took a little bit of torture like any little brother should. But I think it made me tougher."
It's hard to use a word like "cute" about a 32-year-old NFL football player who's accomplished the things Eli Manning has accomplished. But the kid-brother thing really does shine through when Eli speaks about Peyton, and Peyton plays the opposite role well.
"Eli's a great player. He's a consistent player," Peyton said on a conference call about an hour after Eli got done addressing all of this. "I think he's gotten better every year, and I've always thought that was a goal for any player, to be better than you were the year before. He's been very flexible to adjust to the different players that he's played with, but his consistency as a player has been very impressive."
You know it still thrills Eli to hear that from his big brother, even after all these years. It has to, first of all, and Eli doesn't really even hide it.
"It's still neat to see your big brother there on the sideline," Eli said. "These are moments we'll never forget, and hopefully, when I look back on games me and my brother played in, hopefully I'll be able to remember at least one win."
To this point, he cannot. Peyton's Indianapolis Colts were the winners the first and second times the Manning brothers faced off in NFL games.
The Broncos, after Peyton threw seven touchdown passes to beat Super Bowl champion Baltimore in their opener and Eli threw three interceptions in a Giants loss to Dallas, will come in as the favorite to win Sunday. And while it surely will come down to more than just the fact that the two starting quarterbacks grew up in the same house with the same parents, what little we know about the way these two view each other makes it hard to believe Peyton's not going to come out of this thing 3-0 against Eli.